Self Drive Safari with Kids in South Africa
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.
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.
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.
We were warned to close our boot whilst off loading our luggage, due to the risk of monkeys stealing items!
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.
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.
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!
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