Recently life has seemed pretty mundane… although I love my life, my family, my work, a lack of adventure and excitement has been getting me down. I adore traveling – exploring and discovering new people and places makes me feel alive…. but as with most other parents on the planet, since kids have arrived on the scene the routine of life (and bills) has taken over and doing something out of the ordinary seems near impossible.
During the first few years of parenting it can be a huge achievement just leaving the house to go to Granny, let alone get away for weekends or holidays of any nature. As someone who finds packing a weekend bag for herself daunting, the idea of packing for 4 – including toiletries, medicine, equipment, clothing for all weather options plus entertainment for the duration of the trip is enough to put me off from even planning a holiday!
But as life stagnates, so do we and before we know it we’ve all but forgotten what it was that made us feel alive….
So now that my youngest has turned 4 I’ve been itching to rediscover my love of travel, this time through my kids eyes! Yes, we’ve managed the odd weekend away and taken a week’s break down the Garden Route occasionally but these have all been fairly easy holidays to do with kids in tow. Which is why during the recent June school holidays I decided that our safe, suburban kids needed some real African adventure!
Having grown up primarily in Cape Town I have not been a frequent visitor to the bush myself but I knew that I wanted to expose my kids to the wonders of the wild, and revisit it too so we found ourselves catching their first flight to Joburg just a few weeks ago.
The early morning transfer pick-up with Ashton’s Tours & Transfers at the O.R.Tambo Airport bus terminal meant we had to spend a night in Joburg in order to be at the airport at 06:30am, so we decided to extend the trip by an extra day and flew up late on a Friday night. We tried to get the cheapest tickets possible so after frantically “getting to gold” with Discovery for their 30% discount on Kulula, I also discovered that if you fly late at night the prices are much less. This meant our flight left CT at 10pm and arrived in Jhb after midnight. (And obviously when you think your kids will sleep the whole way they did the exact opposite and went to bed around 1am!!) After a very short lie-in the next morning we then spent the day meeting up with friends and family in Joburg who we don’t get to see very often.
Sunday morning saw the first of our very early morning alarms – 05:30 is NOT my preferred waking time but if it means the bush them I’m totally on board and out of bed in a flash much to the surprise of my husband! We returned out rental car and made our way to the bus terminal to wait for our shuttle to the Kruger. The trip takes approximately 6 hours, longer than I expected, but fortunately the mini-bus was comfortable and we stopped twice along the route for toilet breaks and to stretch little legs. I also made sure I had fully charged our mini-DVD player and iPad, bought a new DVD, some crayons and colouring-in books plus brought along a few books to keep the kids entertained for the journey. I also introduced Ben to suduko which was a hit! And of course – snacks! Lots of snacks!
Finally after a scenic descent through the Drakensberg, the landscape started to change and the bush came into view…
Our first destination was Africa on Foot in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve which shares an open border with the Kruger Park so the animals are free to roam across both reserves with no restrictions. Our guide Dewald met us at the Bush Pub & Inn and we transferred into a smaller van and then finally into an open 4×4 safari vehicle that confirmed we had arrived in the bush! Our Kruger for Kids adventure had begun!
Immediately Ben wanted to be front and centre on the action and made sure he sat/ stood in the passenger seat spot for the best view. Our game viewing started before we even got to the lodge with sightings of giraffe, impala and kudu on the way in. Our Safari Kids were hooked!
We arrived to a very warm welcome at Africa on Foot and after checking in we joined a friendly family from Australia for a quick bite of lunch and our first game drive. You wouldn’t think that our kids had woken before dawn and not had any sleep since – they were buzzing with excitment!
I ensured we had all the essentials for the game drive – camera, binoculars, sunscreen, peak caps (we headed out in blazing sun) but also had to pack beanies, gloves, scarfs, earmuffs and the warmest jackets we could find as the drive would be continuing after sunset when temperatures dropped rapidly! The 4×4 game drives take place in open topped vehicles for the best game viewing and photography opportunities but this does mean that you are right out in the elements – no air-con or heater here – just huge warm blankets for wrapping up in when the nip in the air gets too much!
Withing a few minutes of heading out the radio sprang into life and our guide Francois was chatting to another guide from a neighbouring lodge sharing the latest sightings which meant we did a u-turn and were back at the watering hole very near the lodge for our first highlight – a family of elephants were drinking and washing themselves in a mud bath. The herd was made up of a range of ages including the cutest babies ever (I’m pretty sure no other baby animal comes close!)
We soaked up this sight for as long as the elephants were happy to have us! It was amazing to watch the interactions of the adults and babies and to see how they genuinely cared for one another and communicated with each other when it was time to leave or they felt uncomfortable. What a treat for my kids to enjoy this special sight as their first encounter of animals in their true home – the African bush.
Once the elephants had departed we headed off through the bush once more with our ever watchful tracker, Enoch, helping us to spot signs of life everywhere. We saw animal spoor and headed in one direction, then fresh dung which took us on a different route. We started to train our ears to listen for animal sounds and the unique bird calls of the bush, all the while breathing in the fresh, sweet-smelling air of the Lowveld.
After a few hours it was time for the obligatory “sundowners”… and I could indulge in a Savanna in the savanna! Sunset drinks are a definite highlight of any evening game drive. Our guides from Africa on Foot were well prepared to make our first drinks break in the bush memorable, checking with us (& the kids) what our preferred drinks were prior to leaving and then setting up a little table of snacks including biltong, crisps, peanuts and droe wors right next to the 4×4 for us to enjoy while we watched the sun sink behind the bush, stretched our legs and watched the stars come out above us.
Then it was time to spot some nocturnal animals and with the help of Enoch’s spot light we headed off to look for “eye shine” in the dark. Ben and Abi were on a high – not only were they up after dark but they were driving through the bush looking for wild animals. I don’t think they could quite believe their reality and their eyes were as wide with excitement as they were on take-off in the aeroplane on their first flight a few days earlier. With Enoch’s amazing night vision we were able to see a genet, a white-tailed mongoose, a bushbaby and even a chameleon!
One of the things that is great about staying in a smaller safari lodge is that you really do get to know the staff and your fellow travelers well. Within a few hours of arriving at Africa on Foot we felt like we were hanging out with friends, getting excited about their special animal sightings, sharing dinner around the communal dining table, making jokes and telling bush stories around the bonfire. The great thing about choosing a particular safari lodge or camp is that often you end up meeting like-minded people which ensures an easy “fit” with your fellow travelers and we definitely found this to be true.
After a delicious dinner of ox-tail stew and a long, busy and adventure-filled day, two little bodies were aching for bed so I bundled them off much later than their usual bedtime…. Truth be told once I was done with the kids, the super soft beds and gorgeous mosquito net over my own bed were too enticing to resist, plus it was definitely the warmest place to be, so as is often the case on safari holidays, I headed for bed much earlier than my usual bedtime! And it was so worth it!! What are holidays for if not to restore mind AND body and sleep is a pretty good way to do that!
Africa on Foot is a family-run traditional bush camp and as the name suggests the camp is unique for offering proper walking safaris plus traditional game drives and night drives. I loved the set-up of this rustic bush lodge which comprises of a central main lounge area with a comfortable sitting area plus a dining area and a bar with local beers, soft drinks and spirits.
As a blogger I found the free wi-fi to be a huge bonus and appreciated the central charging station for cellphones and camera batteries. And although we didn’t get to enjoy it there is also a wonderful splash pool on a deck overlooking the bush and on our first evening a few elephants used it as their watering hole!!
There are five chalets, two of which are family chalets with a double bed and twin beds (all fitted with the most romantic of mosquito nets!) separated by a dividing wall plus an en-suite bathroom. We stayed in one of these called Maroela which was a great set up for us as I liked having the kids close by so we could hear if they woke up but liked having a little bit of privacy between our bed and theirs. As they are still little we didn’t mind sharing a bathroom with them but the set up of these family rooms is probably best for those with 2 kids under the age of 16 and isn’t really suitable for four adults sharing as the en-suite facilities are separated from the main bedroom area by a sliding doorway which means there is not much privacy!
The rooms are traditional, rustic rondavel-style huts with polished floors, thatch roofs and windows covered by netting (and “closed” with canvas!) This means they are quite dark inside which is great for afternoon naps but meant that we didn’t spend too much time reading or relaxing inside our room but rather opted to find alternative spots to chill-out like the communal lounge. The other smaller chalets sleep 2 adults and have en-suite toilets with outdoor showers!! And for the more adventurous there is also an amazing tree house where you can opt to sleep under the stars for a night. But more about that in my next post next Monday where I share Day 2 of our Kruger for Kids experience including my walk in the bushveld with Enoch!
If you would like to read more about our #KrugerforKids adventures in the low-risk malaria area of the Klaserie click the links below:
Taking your family on their first safari holiday? Be sure to read these top tips on taking kids on safari.
Images: Kathryn Rossiter