Creatures great and small

Creatures great and small

Nick Dall finds five parks where little people can see big animals

Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape

Only an hour from Port Elizabeth, this large, malaria-free reserve is fantastic for kids of all ages. Everyone knows about the famous elephants (for a guaranteed sighting, just park at Hapoor Dam in the late afternoon and wait for the herd to come to you), but the park, which also has a gorgeous coastal section, is actually home to the big seven: rhinos, lions, buffaloes, leopards and elephants – plus southern right whales and great white sharks.

The main rest camp is a gorgeous oasis of green, and the large swimming pool is a real hit after a hot game drive. The menu at the Cattle Baron restaurant has something for everyone and the elephant-shaped jungle gym is a nice touch. What’s more, there’s also an incredible underground hide where I was once joined by a herd of buffaloes for my morning coffee.

Children older than 10 can go on a guided horse trail in the mountainous Zuurberg section of the park, but they’ll have to wait till they turn 16 to be allowed to ride in the nyathi section, which is home to the big five. to top it all off, the clever folks at sanParks arrange holiday programmes during the summer and winter school breaks.

Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga and Limpopo

The same size as Wales and home to fantastic populations of every bird, animal and insect you can think of, Kruger needs no introduction. It simply boasts too many kid-friendly activities and camps to list here, so I’ve narrowed it down to a few of my favourites.

Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger’s ‘capital city’, has more facilities than most platteland dorps, and it is located in one of the park’s best game-viewing regions. the camp features a nine-hole golf course and two swimming pools, and puts on regular screenings of wildlife movies – to mention a few attractions.

For a once-in-a-lifetime experience with slightly older children, why not sign up for one of the Kruger’s legendary wilderness trails? these three- night walking trails are only open to kids over the age of 12, and they’re definitely not for sissies. they operate out of dedicated wilderness camps and involve several hours of walking each day in big-five areas – with an armed ranger, of course.

If your family’s too young for all of that, the Fish eagle guest house in the lovely letaba rest Camp is a great alternative. this large private house sleeps eight guests and comes with its own bird hide, a vast fenced garden (perfect for little ones to play in safely) and a magnificent setting on the river. Fish eagle house is self-catering, but it is cleaned daily, and there’s even a lounge area with dstv.

&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal

If money is no object and luxury is important to your family, look no further than the splendidly lush haven of Phinda. Known for its diversity of habitats and abundant wildlife, the reserve’s luxe lodges are all strategically located in order to showcase its incredible topography: settings range from mountain to forest and vlei. Phinda’s great variety of landscapes and vegetation types means that the reserve harbours the big five, as well as many rarer species such as the elusive cheetah.

While children are welcome at all accommodation options, Phinda mountain lodge, with its exciting kids’ programme, is the most family-friendly of them all. &Beyond’s WIldChild Programme is filled with loads of interactive activities that will introduce your children to new experiences. examples include making traditional beadwork, learning to track animal spoor and baking in the lodge kitchen. each little one also receives a WIldchild-branded bag with a logbook, crayons, pencils and more.

Due to its cliff-side location, Phinda rock lodge does not allow under-12s, and those under six can’t join any general game drives. However, if you book out one of the lodges exclusively, the rangers will gladly include kids, tailoring the experience to meet your needs.

Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga

Because there are no fences between this pristine private enclave and the vast wildernesses of the Kruger Park to the east, the home of the legendary White lions of Timbavati manages to be at once opulent and authentic. Timbavati’s prime location and reputation for luxury mean that many lodges are not child-friendly. But, if you do your homework properly the whole family will be in for a treat. Children of all ages are welcome at Simbavati River Lodge, a contemporary four-star retreat with a wonderful central living area and unparalleled river views. the lodge offers a special children’s programme designed to increase wildlife knowledge, and every morning after breakfast there’s a guided field outing where the kids learn about animal tracks and signs. each child receives an activity booklet, and board games and books are available in the lounge area. Children older than six are welcome on regular game drives, and families with younger children can arrange a private vehicle prior to arrival.

Other Timbavati properties that welcome children are Kings Camp (no under-sixes) and Walkers river Camp. the latter is a luxury self-catering camp with capacity for 10 people. It must be booked in its entirety, making it perfect for the whole family. (Simbavati River Lodge), (Kings Camp), (Walkers River Camp)

Madikwe Game Reserve, North West

Located in a transition zone between the Kalahari and bushveld, this big-five reserve boasts fantastic biodiversity, and wild dogs and cheetah are both regularly spotted. the fact that this huge private reserve to the north-west of Johannesburg is malaria-free makes it an extremely popular destination for those travelling with little ones. most of the lodges and camps allow children, but some take the welcoming sentiment to the next level.

Madikwe Safari Lodge’s Lelapa Lodge has a best-in-the-business family experience that can be tailored to meet your exact needs. the once-daily family game drive has a leisurely after-breakfast departure time, but mom and dad are encouraged to enjoy the afternoon drive alone. While you’re out experiencing Africa at its finest, your children will be engaging in any number of interactive activities: making plaster of Paris moulds of animal tracks, taking part in Bug CsI in the custom-built eco-House, or even engaging in a bit of good-old fashioned manual labour by helping to clean the oh-so-muddy safari vehicles.

Another Madikwe property that’s keeping an eye out for mini-me is Jaci’s safari lodge, which proudly welcomes guests from ‘0 to 120 years’ old and even has a very special children’s photography package led by two professional photographers. Jaci’s offers two daily family drives for kids six and older, while younger ones have the option of a short-and-sweet Jungle drive. the staff at Jaci’s know all about fussy eaters and ‘dad, I’m bored’ and will gladly go the extra mile to make sure your family’s safari experience surpasses even your wildest expectations.,

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