Up Close and Personal – A Family Safari Road Trip!

“On the first day, we went out looking for lions, and we certainly found them. In fact, not only did we find them, but we found 4…two males and two females. Both sets were mating to the left and right of the vehicle. We learned that they actually mate every 15 minutes for 4 days in a row. Wow. I felt like I was intruding on some private time…I needed to have a cigarette.” — Mari & Alex


To really be there, going to Africa for the first time, the true surprise is simply being there. You think to yourself, ‘Am I really seeing zebra, giraffe and kudu?’ To be able to see all of these creatures up close – as close as you want to be (and we definitely pushed our boundaries) – is something you really don’t expect.

Photo by Mari & Alex

One time, we were especially close to the female lions – from 1-20 feet, and what was surprising to me was that I never felt like our family was threatened. There was a certain respect that the guides held for the land and the animals. They just knew the environment, and we could tell they weren’t going to put us at risk. Honestly, the fact that we could camp out in the Savannah in the middle of the night, allowing our own children to stay watch – you have to have a lot of faith to make a big leap like that. Not once did we ever feel scared because ever-present was the mutual respect between humans and animals; a certain understanding. It was very cool.

It happens from the very beginning, too. We left Johannesburg and took a long drive to Botswana where the adventure literally began at our border crossing – from South Africa to Botswana. We went out in an open Land Rover with one of the more experienced guides…sort of like a Grand Uncle kind of guy who was very hospitable. As soon as we were loaded up, we drove across – or actually, through – the river, which was the boundary between South Africa and Botswana. Everything was dirt road from that point onwards, and we’d only made it 100 yards when our driver pulled over so we could watch some zebras. He told us to look back – he’d seen movement – and sure enough, out of the bush came an elephant, and then another, and then a whole herd of elephants. Our jaws dropped in amazement – we’d only just crossed over, and here we were having animal experiences.

Just the presence of these animals…to be greeted by the most beautiful of beasts…is incredibly moving. It’s the entire reason we went, and there it was, unfolding before us in only 100 yards. Zebras, giraffe, Impalas… I’m even forgetting the names of all the creatures we saw. It was a wild kingdom.

A Sensual Adventure

At our second stop, or concession, we were having our orientation and they said that they wanted to pitch an idea to us. This was when they asked us if we wanted to sleep out in the Savannah, hiking out about 3 miles…along with two guides and their guns. Doing this meant that each of us would have to stay awake for 2 hours per night to keep watch. My first reaction was YES! I mean, what other time in your life would you be able to camp out in the Savannah with wild animals? It was the most amazing experience.

Photo by Mari & Alex

It’s difficult to portray what we witnessed…through all of our senses. Infinite stars…stars beyond what you could imagine. We’ve been to Yosemite. We’ve been to Yellowstone. There is just no comparison. You’re serenaded by a cacophony of the sounds, too. The laughing hyenas, the hippos, and what’s called bush babies, which are little monkeys that live in the trees…and they literally sound like babies.

Over one outdoor dinner, we could hear lions roaring in the distance while we were eating. There was nothing between us and the lions, which could seem unsettling, but part of what gave us comfort was the fact that the guides called each lion by their name – simply by knowing the sound of their roar. Oh, and the smells! The smells were things we’d never smelled before. The basil and African sage, which had a sweet lemony smell to it, was sweet and very pungent.

Late Night Surprise

One night, we were on safari driving around. It was much later than we usually stayed out, but it was probably only two hours after sunset. Our drivers seemed a little disoriented – like they were lost – but they kept driving. One of the guides was holding a big spotlight, and we were looking for elephants. He was shining the light on either side, and suddenly we saw a campfire in the distance. They told us they thought it was an anti-poaching crew; that they go out there and sometimes catch poachers and keep them in camp until authorities pick them up. There were a couple other trucks parked when we pulled up, and it was clear we were going to talk to these guys. Admittedly, we were a little concerned. As we approached the camp, we could see a fairly large group, shadowed by the firelight, and as we got closer, we realized that it was a group of student guides. Whew! Turned out it was planned all along, and they’d made a great dinner for us, and one of them was showing us how to take night shots.

They had tables, chairs, and table coverings. They had amazing food there – Mealie Pap, kind of like a porridge, or polenta, that’s served with a meat, or a stew. You use your fingers and you scoop it up and just eat it. My family also enjoyed the Mashatu chili, which was a flavorful and spicy chili prepared by two amazing women, Nomo and Rosena. The night before we left, my son’s girlfriend wanted to bring some home, and they gave her a jar of it along with the recipe. Can you believe that? At the next stop, we had to put our food in the storage container, and accidentally forgot it there. That was probably the biggest disappointment of our whole trip.

Dirty Fingernails

Photo by EcoTraining

We’d go back. In a heartbeat. It would be great to go back to the same places for the nostalgia, but on the other hand, we’d probably want to see something different. It’d be great to go to Kenya to see the mass migrations…where they have herds of millions of animals. Now that we’ve gotten a flavor of Africa, we understand there is so much more to see. It was such a wonderful experience, and Jeremy and Kili had so much to do with that. From one conversation where we shared our vision, they took exactly what we described and made it happen. We didn’t want to travel like privileged Americans where we were driven around, etc. We wanted to go where they had good labor practices. We wanted the opportunity to touch the land with the dirt going through our fingers, touch the trees, and smell the environment. We didn’t need champagne and chocolate fountains (well maybe a little), but from the very beginning…the languages, the sounds and the sights, the people, the environment. It was just such a whole medley of sensations.


Here’s Some of Mari & Alex’s Photos


 
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Family Safari Kid with Tortoise in Kruger

Family Safaris – Our Personal Picks

Family Safari for Kids in Kruger

Rainie’s Bush Walk in Kruger

As you might have guessed, the Next Adventure team fully supports taking the whole family on safari! As family safaris have grown in popularity, the options for quality family experiences have also grown. Some of the best camps and lodges now provide dedicated family spaces and phenomenal creative resources ensuring a safari with children or grandchildren is a pleasure for all.

The beauty of these family-friendly camps is that guests can spend quality time with the kids as well as finding time to pursue their own interests or just relax while in camp. Here are a few of Next Adventure’s favorite places to spend time in the bush with kids of all ages!


Jeremy’s Pick for Family Safaris: Imvelo’s Elephant Express

The combination of iconic Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls typically makes for a family trip of a lifetime! With Imvelo Safari Lodges, you get a tremendous value, comfortable accommodations and outstanding wildlife experiences in Hwange. Children ages 7 and up are welcome at all properties, and they will marvel at the wildlife and cultural programs which are integral to the Imvelo safari experience. Best of all, every family member will love the Elephant Express train transfer, a vintage open-air railcar that rides along the edge of Hwange National Park for truly unique wildlife viewing with a nostalgic twist!

Imvelo – Kids on Safari


Kili’s Pick for Family Safaris: Lamai Serengeti Lodge

One of my favorite options for families is the Lamai Serengeti Lodge, which sits tucked amongst the rocks of a kopje in the Northern Serengeti with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It’s just a few miles from where the wildebeest cross the Mara River, and, for roughly a quarter of the year, between late July and October, this is where you’ll find the iconic seasonal migration. One of the advantages of this lodge is a range of options for families of different sizes, including the Main Lodge (8 tents, children 8 & up), the Private Camp (4 tents, children 5 & up) and the exclusive use Mkombe’s House (up to 4 adults, 6 children of any age). Private vehicles are available at main & Private camp at an additional cost while a private vehicle is included in Mkombe’s House. Walking is possible for children 12 and older. This is an ideal location to include on your family’s Tanzania safari!

Lamai Serengeti Lodge


Louise’s Pick for Family Safaris: Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge & EleFun Centre

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge was one of my granddaughter’s first safari experiences when she was just 18 months old. To say that this luxury lodge is a perfect choice for kids of all ages is an understatement. The wildlife viewing in the renowned Sabi Sands is unparalleled, and the lodge excels at making families and kids feel right at home. Two newly opened luxury villas add to the ambiance and are exquisite, spacious, and perfect for a family stay. The rest of the 25 suites are equally charming and can accommodate families as well. The EleFun Centre is staffed by a professional childcare team and organizes age appropriate activities in the Junior Tracker (ages 4-8) and Junior Ranger (ages 9-12) programs. There is a play area and organized games for kids of all ages available all day long in addition to the formal programs.

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge


Nicole’s Pick for Family Safaris: Lewa Wilderness

In the heart of Central Kenya’s Laikipia region, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is one of the most successful private conservation efforts. This rugged home to the Big 5 and many endangered and rare species has been part of the Craig Family legacy since 1972. Lewa Wilderness features 10 suites, four of which are specifically designed for family safaris, and children of all ages are welcome, little ones under age 5 stay for free. Lewa Wilderness is the hub of all activities on the conservancy, offering East Africa’s only open cockpit biplane and a stable yard of horses suited to all levels of experience. Guests can also camel ride among the wildlife, enjoy flexible game drives, take guided bush walks, visit the local community enhancement projects, and much more.

Lewa Wilderness


Whether you’re looking for adventure, education, relaxation or (D.) All of the above, there are so many wonderful family safari options! Get in touch today to start planning your perfect family safari.

Safari Portraits by Bruce M.

Bruce and Patty’s South Africa, Uganda and Kenya Safari

Bruce & Patty first travelled with us 5 years ago on a Wilderness Dawning camping safari. This time around they wanted to return to some of their favorite camps on a self-driving safari in Kruger National Park.

They also planned their own visit to Uganda for Gorilla-tracking, and we wrapped their month-long safari up with a few days camping in Kenya.

Here are their top 7 moments…

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Zarafa Zebras - Selinda Reserve - Botswana

Grant & Miriam’s Grand Tour of Southern Africa

Grant & Miriam’s three week trip in August of this year included some of our favorite destinations in Zambia, Botswana and South Africa, and they have the photos to prove it… (click thumbnails to enlarge images)

It wasn’t easy culling 4,000+ shots, but here’s a glimpse into some of the things we saw. What you won’t see are the places we stayed, people we met and many, many other pictures of the wildlife and surroundings where we traveled.

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Elephant in Marsh - Camp Shawu - Kruger - South Africa

Memories and Photos from Bill & Cindy

We asked Will & Cindy if they would share some of their stories and pictures from their past trips, and we got this wonderful array of safari memories and their ten best pictures from over the years…

We’ve done three African Safaris with Next Adventure, as well as a more recent India trip that Kili and Louise planned for us. We have so many stories…

The glass-walled cabins in a forest where I opened my eyes from bed in the middle of the night and was looking directly into the eyes of SOME large animal on the other side of the glass, having baboons swarm our jeep in Kruger with “Old Bob” and refuse to leave without handouts…

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Yawning Lion

Photos from Jerry & Patty’s South Africa Safari

Rhino-marking at Tswalu

Rhino Marking at Tswalu

Jerry & Patty’s safari earlier this year included visits to Sabi Sands near Kruger National Park, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and the Cape Winelands as well as some very exciting wildlife conservation encounters including witnessing a rare Rhino-marking.

In the ongoing battle between poachers and wildlife conservationists, we’re proud to support the efforts of partners like Tswalu Kalahari, and we’re especially glad that Jerry & Patty could experience this important work firsthand.

Here’s what Jerry had to say:

Once a year they look for young rhinos (about 18 mos) and tranquilize them for about 15 mins. They notch their ears for identification, take blood samples, microchip the horn, complete a general description, and when that is all done they reverse the tranquilizer and the rhino is up and ready to charge in about 3-5 minutes.

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Jerry & Patty’s South Africa Safari

Jerry & Patty along with friends Florence and Frank just got back from their trip to South Africa which included time in the Sabi Sands near Kruger National Park, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and the Cape Winelands.

In short, we had a really excellent trip.  All the facilities were great, the game viewing fantastic, the Johannesburg and Cape Town  experiences memorable, the winelands fantastic. The Johannesburg and Cape Town guides were especially good.

Happily, we had some really good luck on the trip.  We got to Table Mountain first thing on the first morning we were there, and after an hour we were set to leave, and the cloud came over at just that moment.  The cable car was closed from that point on for the rest of our stay due to the cloud and wind! At Tswalu, we were able to see a buffalo repositioning (only day in the year that this occurred) and some rhino marking (only happens during a three day period once each year.)

Also at Tswalu we saw the reintroduction of the African Wild Dog.

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