A holiday takes on a whole new form when traveling as a family, especially with young kids. Let me start by pointing out that this article is a positive look at family travel! Obviously it’s an absolute pleasure to explore Africa with two inquisitive youngsters constantly bombarding you with questions and giving you the run-around when it comes to keeping them entertained, but it takes some planning to ensure you stay at family friendly places and visit destinations that keep the kids safe.
An African safari…with the kids!? Here’s a few pointers to keep things simple:
1. Choose the destination carefully. In Africa there is the reality of safety and health that needs to be kept in mind when traveling with young kids.
2. Pick your accommodation with kids in mind. This doesn’t just mean the sleeping arrangements are family friendly, but also the set up of the property you choose to stay is child friendly.
3. Make sure there’s more than enough to do for the kids - keep them busy and they’ll be happy. Over and above kids activities many places offer child minders and baby sitters, so it allows you free time to relax while the kids are having fun.
4. Pack in a way that makes family travel easy. For self drive holidays, have books, games and activities available to make the longer journeys fun.
Ok, back to our family safari. We decided to explore the Greater Addo area situated around the famous Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. We wanted to visit some of the larger wilderness areas and game reserves, while not excluding the little gems along the way. These came in the form of quaint little towns, homely farm stalls, secluded beaches and even a few dirt tracks leading to beautiful views. Our route included 3 main destinations to overnight – Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Addo Elephant National Park and Shamwari Private Game Reserve. These were purposefully chosen due to its child-friendly offering. The three game reserves are very different and offer a variety of activities, landscapes and experiences.
Have a look at our Greater Addo Family Safari Self Drive Route on dedicated routes section. We’ve included the map of the route below:
View Greater Addo Discovery in a larger map
Wildlife on safari
If you want to get an insiders view on the three main wildlife destinations we visited, have a look at the separate articles we’ve posted – just click on the links below.
1. Ecca Lodge at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
2. Addo Main Camp and Matyholweni Rest Camp at Addo Elephant National Park
3. Riverdene Lodge at Shamwari Private Game Reserve
Our aim was to visit family friendly places in the Greater Addo area and the kids loved them all!
All three the reserves visited on this route are home to the Big Five (lion, leopard,buffalo,elephant and rhino), but to make the most of the wildlife experience, spend time on the smaller creatures (insects and birds are plentiful so there’s lots to see) to ensure that the kids stay interested and entertained. There are great stories to tell around the many different bird species and insects found in the area. In Addo Elephant National Park you will find a flightless dung beetle (only found there), so make sure you drive around the elephant dung on the roads and let the kids keep an eye open for the dung beetle!
The rangers at Kwandwe and Shamwari are highly trained and if they have children on their game drives they structure the time on the vehicle in a way that will suit the children. Activities that focusses around wildlife includes track identification, short nature walks, wildlife tracking, ‘poo’ walks, making track moulds and insect inspections to name but a few.
Activities on Safari
We measured the success of the trip by the amount of enjoyment the two youngsters got out of the trip. This was very much dependent on how busy they were, and during every part of the safari the kids were either entertained or busy exploring something new! If you as parents need a break, this is an important aspect of a family safari. We enjoy being involved in most things our kids are busy with, but we appreciated the times when we had time on our own. Both private game reserves we visited had interpretive centres for children where they can draw, watch movies and play games.
In Addo Elephant NP we had to be a bit more pro-active in terms of entertaining the kids so we took bird walks in the camp or tried to identify as many bugs as possible. It offered varied accommodation, different experiences and a whole lot of fun. There are day hikes at Woody Cape in Alexandria Forest and we put a day aside to enjoy this beautiful part of the park. We packed a picnic lunch and headed into the magical forests with old yellowwoods, small streams and magnificent birdlife. The walk is only 7km in length so it’s an easy hike, even with young kids.
Beaches and rivers
Another major family-friendly activity is of course the beaches and tidal rivers along the coast. We explored the coastal section between Boknes and Bushmans River Mouth during our visit. There are huge dunes nearby the Bushmans River, so the kids had a ball jumping, rolling and running around. Sandboarding is a must on these large dunes. The rivers (we spent most of our time along the Bushmans River) offer a variety of activities that works for children: – canoeing is lots of fun – fishing (remember to get a permit at the local municipal office) – bird watching (we even saw Greater Flamingos and lots of Oyster Catchers) – on sunny days pack the beach bag and head out to the many beaches around the area – water skiing for the older kids – sand dune boarding (tip: use swimming goggles or a diving mask to keep the sand out of the eyes).
There are interesting places easily incorporated in your journey, ideal for a quick stop to stretch the legs such as the Big Pineapple at Bathurst and Tam’Jazi Country Farm Stall (with farm animals) near Alexandria. As you travel between places the scenery is breathtaking and you have many opportunities to take photos along the way.
Places to eat
There are great places to have a bite to eat along the way such as The Fresh Fish Market on the banks fo Kowie River in Port Alfred where you can enjoy freshly made fish and chips take away! The Red Apple Farm Stall & Family Restaurant is so much more than a farm stall. It offers excellent food and there’s a jungle gym to keep the kids entertained. All sorts of local delicacies can be picked up here too.
Duration? This route can easily be done in 10 days. The distances between destinations are short, so it’s ideal for family travel.
What type of vehicle is required for this route? All roads on this route is in good condition, so a standard sedan will do. If you plan to do the Bedrogberg 4×4 Trail in the Addo National Park, you’ll require a 4×4 with low range. This is a day trip and can be booked at Addo Main Camp. Keep in mind that the game drives at Kwandwe and Shamwari are conducted in their own 4×4 vehicles under the guidance of a professional ranger. Game drives in Addo Elephant National Park is on a self drive basis – remember that height makes a difference when looking for the elusive wildlife in the reserve. A great option is a microbus (i.e. VW Kombi or similar) which offers both space and driving height without compromising on comfort and safety.
When is the best time to visit the Greater Addo area? This is a year-round destination with September to March being summer and temperatures range between 20 and 30 degrees C. Winter can be cold with occasional rain, so pack accordingly.
What about malaria? The Eastern Cape is a malaria-free area so it is ideal for families with children of any age.
How to get there? The Addo area is preferred start or end point for a Garden Route route and Cape Town self drive holiday. Port Elizabeth is the nearest major airport with daily flights to and from the major international hubs of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Car rental is available at Port Elizabeth with all major vehicle rental companies represented there. To ensure you get the vehicle of choice pre-booking is essential as this is a popular self drive destination.
The Safari Co. thanks SANParks for assisting with the production of the Greater Addo feature. Visit www.sanparks.org for more information about South Africa’s diverse range of national parks.