Self Drive Safari with Kids in South Africa

Game Haven Lodge | Hotel in Blantyre Malawi

When we announced we were intending to travel to South Africa and do a self drive safari with kids aged 5 & 7 we were greeted with a mixture of admiration and disgust. Varying responses included ’Wow, thats brave”, “is it worth the risk?”, to my personal favourite “you could be killed”.

Yes, indeed we understood it was a risk – but life without risk is surely not living at all.

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We stayed with friends near Johannesburg and spent time exploring the local area, including the home of Nelson Mandela, Soweto – before heading to Kruger National Park on our big self drive Safari adventure.

We hired a small 4×4 from Johannesburg airport and started the long drive, following our personal guides away from the city to the wild plains.

Passing along main roads, with townships perched either side and foreboding warning signs demanding that we shouldn’t stop due to carjacking – I heard the voices of the doubters ringing in my ears “you could be killed”. But just as I was seriously questioning the decision, the road and the skies widened and we were truly on our way to an adventure of a lifetime. We followed winding mountainous paths, crossed wild waters and stopped at junctions only to be offered tortoises and mangoes.

Where To Stay For A Self Drive Safari With Kids In South Africa?

We arrived at our home for 6 nights, Elephant Walk Retreat. It had been recommended by our hosts, and as one of the cheapest accommodations in the area, I will be honest I was expecting basic. We drove down the long dusty track to the reception and signed in, the friendly owner advised us that the mango trees were abundant with fruit and that we were to help ourselves, before handing us the keys to our lodge. A short walk across the site allowed us to locate our wooden home, on stilts, perched alongside a light wire fence.

How to cope with long drives on Safari with Kids

We were warned to close our boot whilst off loading our luggage, due to the risk of  monkeys stealing items!

Self Drive Safari with Children in South Africa

Our Accommodation Had Views Of Animals

From our newly found balcony, complete with an outdoor kitchen, we seemed a stones throw away from a wide river…leading up to a wide plain in the distance. As my daughter and I entered the large, high ceilinged wooden hut and explored our new base, we were hollered back to the balcony. There just across the river stood an elephant, no, 3 or 4 elephants. The longer we stood, awestruck, the more elephants joined them…before taking to the river and crossing over to our side. We sat watching, feeling like the luckiest family alive.

How Much Is A Ticket For Kruger National Park?

Once our visitors had wandered off, still early in the afternoon, we decided to make the most of our day, by heading into the national park. Turning out of our gate, we found ourselves in view of Crocodile Bridge, one of the main entrances to Kruger. We paid our £60 entrance fee and headed through the heavily guarded gate, into the park…in our hire vehicle.

We drove for less than a minute, and then, aside from the elephant family stood our first Safari win – a large group of Rhinos stood a few feet from the road. Within the few hours we spent at the park that afternoon, we experienced a giraffe strolling in-between our host vehicle and ours, a sleepy lioness in the grass, and more impala than we could count.

Game Haven Lodge | Hotel in Blantyre Malawi

The children were blown away. So were we.

The next morning called for a 5am start. We made a bed in the back of the car by putting the seats down and laying out a duvet. We lifted two very sleepy children into the back and set off into the park for a full day of spotting.

That morning we enjoyed breakfast at the waterhole, in a Mugg and Bean restaurant – watching hippos bathing and a gaggle of monkeys frolicking. We purchased a guide each for the children in the gift shop, with pages dedicated to animal checklists – which the children loved filling out as the day went on. We were stoked to see all of the big 5 whilst we were there.

Over the next 5 days, Kruger continued to delight and surprise us.  My husband and 7 year old son also opted in to a night time safari with a guide. I sat up whilst they were away, listening to the sound of a lion roaring in the distance and hoping that they remained safe!

Did We Feel Safe On Our Self Drive Safari With Kids?

Before they left, we were required to sign a disclaimer, taking responsibility for any and all peril they may or may not face.  I was, as usual at ease with this – after all we were on a safari with wild animals, there is bound to be a risk – it was the section regarding poachers that truly concerned me.

Whilst they were out exploring, seeing a pride of lions including cubs, hyenas, crocodiles and a solo honey badger,  I was visited by a family of hippos, destroying the peace of my balcony. Forgetting the dangers of these powerful animals, I headed down to the flimsy fence and held my mobile phone torch up to see their eyes glistening in the dark.

Kruger surpassed all of our hopes, and despite the long days and quiet moments, the children absolutely loved it.

We also managed to grab a day of relaxation by the pool – interrupted only by a visiting elephant requesting amarula fruits through the fence.

I couldn’t recommend the Kruger experience more. Yes, it’s scary at times, but yes it’s worth the risk. “You could be killed”… yes, but that could happen tomorrow any way.

Go. Live. Enjoy travelling with children in South Africa

NB: This is is a guest post submitted by Little Travelling Bug

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10 Tips For Doing A Self Drive Safari In South Africa With Kids

Going on a self-drive safari in South Africa can be an unforgettable experience for the whole family, including children. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning a family-friendly safari adventure. Here are 10 tips for doing a self-drive safari in South Africa with kids:

  1. Plan your route carefully: Research the best routes for a self-drive safari with children. Choose routes that offer plenty of opportunities for animal sightings and safe and comfortable rest stops along the way.
  2. Choose the right time of year: The best time to go on a self-drive safari in South Africa with kids is during the dry season, which runs from May to October. During this time, animals are more likely to congregate around water sources, making it easier to spot them.
  3. Consider staying in family-friendly accommodations: Look for accommodations that are family-friendly and offer amenities such as swimming pools, play areas, and child-minding services.
  4. Pack appropriate clothing and gear: Pack light, breathable clothing that provides protection from the sun and insects. Also, bring binoculars, cameras, and field guides to enhance your safari experience.
  5. Bring plenty of snacks and drinks: Pack plenty of snacks and drinks for the whole family, as there may not be many places to buy food along the way.
  6. Stay safe and follow park rules: Always follow park rules and regulations, and stay in your car at all times while on safari. Do not feed the animals or attempt to get too close to them.
  7. Keep kids entertained: Bring books, games, and other activities to keep kids entertained during long drives and downtime at the accommodations.
  8. Involve kids in the planning: Involve your kids in the planning process by allowing them to choose some of the activities and destinations.
  9. Educate your kids about wildlife: Teach your kids about the animals they will see on safari and how to respect them.
  10. Take breaks and enjoy the scenery: Take regular breaks to stretch your legs and enjoy the beautiful scenery. South Africa is home to stunning landscapes, so make sure to take the time to appreciate them.
Mvuu Camp in Liwonde National Park  | Best Safari in Africa?

Should You Take Malaria Tablets In South Africa?

Whether or not to take malaria tablets in South Africa depends on the specific region you plan to visit and the time of year you plan to travel. Malaria is present in certain parts of South Africa, particularly in the northeastern parts of the country, such as Kruger National Park, and in areas along the border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

It is generally recommended to take malaria tablets if you plan to visit these high-risk areas, particularly during the rainy season from November to April, when mosquitoes are most prevalent. However, the decision to take malaria tablets should be based on your individual circumstances, such as your age, health status, and any medications you are taking.

It is important to consult a healthcare professional before deciding whether or not to take malaria tablets. They can provide specific advice on the recommended medications, dosage, and any potential side effects or interactions with other medications. It is also important to take other preventive measures to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing long-sleeved clothing, using insect repellent, and sleeping under mosquito nets.

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