I’m off to South Africa with my husband and two daughters (ages four and six) on a much-anticipated family safari. While I’ve been on countless safaris myself and planned hundreds of trips for clients, including many family safaris with children of all ages, this will be my first experience taking my own children to Africa. I am so very excited to show my children my homeland!
We’ll be game viewing in two malaria-free game reserves, exploring the Garden Route and Cape Winelands and taking in all the spectacular sights and sounds of Cape Town.
South Africa here we come! But first things first – I must pack!
Packing light is a must! I always carry on, so make sure to take just the essentials. Besides, one of the perks of traveling in Africa is that your laundry is done daily (at most camps it’s complimentary), so you really don’t need that much anyway.
When it comes to packing, I stick to the basics. That means no fancy outfits, high heel shoes, or “colors.” Instead, I keep to a few classic items that go well together – flats and neutral colors. I always throw in a colorful scarf for evenings to dress things up a little or when I am feeling like I have truly had enough of going “neutral.”
Packing for the children was challenging, as you just never know how hot or cold it will be. But again, packing light was my priority, and knowing that we could have laundry done everywhere made my job much easier. I did throw in a dress or two – after all, they are girls and would be very upset if they could not wear a dress for 2 + weeks!
Everything was distilled down into one carry-on bag per person, in addition to one personal item each.
The Long-Haul Flight to Africa
Fortunately, my girls are used to long flights. Having flown to Australia several times to visit family there, they know what to expect. But still, I’m not going to lie, this plane ride was long with the kids! If you’re one of the lucky few who can manage to sleep on planes, you might as well accept beforehand that it’s not going to happen on a long-haul flight with children (small kids, that is). So, to conclude, here are my essentials for long plane journeys:
Essentials for kids:
Coloring books (or whatever their passion is at the time)
Eye mask (some airlines give them out)
Valerian root to assist in sleeping
Lots of fun snacks (popcorn, jelly babies, pretzels, lollipops, etc. packed in small plastic bags). These alone can keep my kids quite happy for some time.
Essentials for Leora:
Neck pillow (I have tried them all and tend to prefer the blow-up kind)
Touchdown in Africa!
I love touch down on African soil – I always get that butterfly feeling in my tummy and then there’s a moment thereafter when I’m thankful for the wonderful job I have. I’m so lucky to be back again, and this time with my family!
In the Bush!
Our first few days were spent in the bush, split between Kwandwe Private Game Reserve and Lalibela in the Eastern Cape.
Here I sit, glass of chilled bubbly in hand, my husband catching some zzz’s and kids on a “bokkie game drive.” The sun is setting and wildlife settling in for the night all around me. In the distance I hear all sorts of wonderful animal sounds. It’s quite easy to get lost in cyberspace in the evenings as I try to keep up with emails and blog on my trip, so I make myself stop and take in my surroundings every so often. It’s all happening so quickly, I want to be sure to savor every incredible moment.
Interruption…girls just returned from their drive way too excited and could not stop telling me in between all the giggles about their “African picnic” on the hillside while observing a baby zebra and giraffe. Off to dinner and to hear more about their drive. I’m just taking this all in, wow I am so fortunate, did I tell you how much I just love my job?… and just as my daughter reminded me, how “I love Africa!”
Four Days of Fabulous Wildlife Sightings!
The last four days of our family safari in South Africa we have had the most memorable experiences. Even though the kids are young, I really believe that they will be walking away from this with so much. We will never quite know what or how this will change them, but, deep down, I truly believe the interactions that they have had here will have a profound impact on them forever!
Some of the incredible things that they have done include driving a safari vehicle (on the lap of our ranger), sitting in the tracker seat and assisting with wildlife tracking during our drive, baking pizza with the African chef (chef hats and all), going “frogging,” that is, catching, holding and then releasing the plat ana frog, having lessons on the bush, learning about wildlife that they probably never knew existed, roasting marshmallows around the firepit in the middle of the reserve, having an African picnic (while we enjoyed typical sundowners) on top of a hill overlooking wildlife, being served warm cookies and milk at bedtime while being read African bed-time stories by wonderful nannies, learning about the cycle of life in the bush (the Lion King has come to life)….oh goodness, and there is much more to come!
So far this trip has been magical, but one of the things that has really stood out most for me is the quality of our guides. This is something we most strongly believe in at Rothschild Safaris. No matter where you stay, if you have an excellent guide, one who engages and stimulates every sense, then I believe you will leave Africa a richer person.
We leave the bush tomorrow and begin our Garden Route explorations. Tomorrow night we will be staying at Hog Hollow in our private villa with pool. Hope the weather holds out for some swimming!
Exploring the Garden Route
We said our goodbyes to the wildlife today and headed west to the famous Garden Route. Our drive was about four hours, but so easy. The roads are incredible, not much traffic and easy driving for anyone adventurous. We stopped at Tsitsikamma Lodge for a quick lunch then back on the road. The girls have been very good this entire trip. They get so excited at times about little things. It’s such fun to watch!
Our accommodation for our next two nights is quite breathtaking. We are stationed above the Tsitsikamma Forest in a villa at Hog Hollow. Having this heavenly little place all to ourselves is quite something. Tonight we had a babysitter from the lodge watch the girls for a few hours, which they loved, while we enjoyed some adult time at their restaurant, and ate the most delicious four-course meal! The staff here is excellent.
Tomorrow will be a big day as there are so many incredible outings in this area. Off to bed next to our roaring log fire. It’s raining outside, hoping it will clear up in the am.
Monkeying Around and Walking Hand-and-Trunk with the Elephants
Today was just the most wonderful day. It started off with a delicious breakfast (my favorite, eggs benedict-African style), a smorgasbord of delights and some lovely guests from the lodge whose company we most enjoyed. With full tummies we headed off to Monkeyland. They have approximately 500 monkeys from all over the world in this incredible sanctuary tucked in the Tsitsikamma Forest area. Our guide was fabulous. As we walked through the sanctuary, coming across monkeys, he gave us the evolutionary history of these primates, including humans. We learned how to distinguish monkeys on various continents, and my favorite was learning about and seeing the lemurs, which he called a cat/dog/monkey living in the trees. The lemur gave us a gentle growl and, apparently, they are often heard “meowing.” This place was a real treat.
From here we set off to a very authentic elephant sanctuary. Again, there was a lot of learning involved and the girls got to walk in the bush with ele trunk in hand and spend some time with them, up close and personal. At first, my youngest was a little intimidated (she should have been as she only comes to their knees!), but she quickly got into the groove and, by the end, she was hugging the ele’s trunk!
We headed back to our accommodations and the girls insisted on swimming (mom took photos as it was just too cold!), then we headed out for dinner at the most incredible beach side restaurant in Keurbooms Nature Reserve. None of us want to leave our villa! But tomorrow we head off to Knysna, and I am so excited to show the family the stunning scenery in that area.
Spectacular Coastal Scenery
We spent the morning at Hog Hollow enjoying our wonderful villa, then headed to the Tsitsikamma Forest, where we took a hike along the boardwalk to the Storms River Mouth. Stunning coastline! Truly spectacular and breathtaking! We ended with double thick chocolate shakes and then continued to our next location, Knysna.
At Knysna, we spent time today viewing the Knysna Heads, hiked up the Featherbed Nature Reserve and dined on fresh fish. We then hit the road (as I decided I wanted to head to Cape Town earlier than planned). So, we unexpectedly had an extra night and decided to stay at the Rosedene Guest House. We arrived late this evening, after a 5-hour drive. We were received so warmly by Rina, who we work with from the US. It’s always so lovely to finally meet the people we speak to on the phone or via email daily. Luna, the housekeeper, got us some take-out as the girls were incredibly tired and so, we are off to bed for an early start tomorrow in Cape Town. Yay, very exciting to be back in this amazing city!
Date Night in the Winelands
Well into our family safari to South Africa, we woke up this morning to the most beautiful sunny day in Cape Town. With the backdrop of Table Mountain from our guest house and one of the best omelets I have ever had – it was a great start to the day!
We headed out to the Winelands and, since the girls were restless from the drive yesterday, we went to Groot Constantia Winery and Museum for a look around and to let them run loose for a while on the vast property. We then headed to Franschhoek for the night. Our accommodation tonight is at Le Quartier Français. WOW, WOW!! I love it! I was last here quite a few years back and it has not changed, except for the rooms having been redone. It’s in an incredible setting! This classic boutique hotel is smack bang in the middle of the action – surrounded by fabulous wineries, restaurants and many great shops. No wonder it made the Travel + Leisure 2013 World’s Best list of Top Lodges and Resorts in Africa.
Tonight my husband and I had dinner in Le Quartier Français’ famous The Tasting Room. Oh my! That was possibly the most amazing dining experience we have ever had in our lives, and between us we have been to some pretty intense restaurants in the world. The Tasting Room is an absolute must for anyone coming this way. All I am going to say is that there is NO menu, they just bring you course after amazing course together with fabulous wine pairings…nothing more to say, I am speechless…tonight my cup runneth over!
One of the things I was not able to gauge before heading out on this trip was the level of fatigue that the kids would have by the end of each day. It has been such a relief to have babysitters at our accommodations that are so very reliable to watch the girls when they are just pooped and we are looking for a nice adult dinner. Tonight the girls had a lovely nanny. They ate pasta and watched a video with her – as happy as clams to sit in their jammies with their treats and a favorite show!
Tomorrow we head back into Cape Town after I have done a few inspections of various smaller bed & breakfast-type lodgings in the Winelands.
Off to bed with a very satisfied (and perhaps few pounds heavier) belly!
Cape Town/Cape Peninsula
One of our guides, Doug, took us around the Cape Peninsula today. The girls loved seeing penguins in their natural habitat. They spent more than 15 minutes just sitting near and observing a solo penguin that seemed to take a liking to both of them. We then enjoyed fresh fish in Hout Bay as we watched seals and dolphins playing in the marina. We were treated to the most amazing Indian meal at the Bombay at the new Taj hotel tonight. Exceptional cuisine & service!
Our two-bedroom suite at the Cape Grace is spectacular! The Cape Grace is yet another award-winner on the Travel + Leisure 2013 World’s Best list, taking the #1 spot of all City Hotels in Africa and the Middle East. Service is first class and the girls have been taken care of in every way. Tonight they were served popcorn with their in-room movie. You can imagine their delight when they opened the door and saw these huge boxes of popcorn especially for them. At turn down, they received their gingerbread “ladies.” Their palates have been more than satisfied the past few days.
One of my favorite things to do is receive an “African” manicure and pedicure. There is nothing quite like one here and the Cape Grace Spa excelled today once again!
Cape Town has been a whirlwind of experiences – visual, emotional, gustatory. You name it, this city has it ALL!
Each day has brought us numerous reminders of how amazing this country is. We have had such a wonderful family safari, sadly it’s coming to an end soon…just two days left. However, I’m very excited to work on some special family safaris for our clients and share all the knowledge we have accumulated along the way.
From Wineries to the Townships
We enjoyed a full day in the Cape Winelands. The Winelands should truly not be overlooked! We visited some lovely vineyards. Muratie in Stellenbosch is a wonderful old winery. With the original art on the wall, this place will take you back years and make you feel like you are in a real old fashioned winery. A cellar tour here is authentic and not at all commercialized like some of the more modern wineries you will find in this region. Lunch was at the Postcard Café – beautiful setting and easy. Other options here would include a few hours of gourmet cuisine — there are so many intimate, award-winning restaurants scattered throughout the Winelands.
After lunch, we visited the Delaire Graff Estate winery. With its lovely architecture, it reminded me of some of the grand Napa Valley’s newer wineries. Our day ended at Waterford. This is a fabulous winery where you get to do a “wine safari.” This three-hour affair is quite delightful.
On our last day in Cape Town, we started our morning in the townships. This is a fascinating insight into the history and politics of South Africa and a must for anyone coming this way. Our guide, Thabang, was lovely. He took us to a traditional doctor and showed us around the townships, where we had the opportunity to sample some of their local brew, watch the ladies cook sheep heads and chickens on the street, and the girls got to play with and hug some local children! Our afternoon was spent shopping, and tonight we went to one of the fish restaurants on our “best of” list and found that it had certainly dropped in service and standards, so we have some updating to do on our return. We have, however, discovered some great local places and look forward to sharing these with our clients.
Tomorrow we get ready for our long haul back home. The past 2 + weeks have been just wonderful. So much has taken place, so many fabulous memories and most of all I am very excited to see what sticks with our girls. So far, I think the wildlife experience for sure was their favorite part of the trip.
So, my “Family Safari Travel Journal” comes to an end, but the wonderful memories, I have no doubt, will be sticking with us for many, many years to follow. Now that our first family safari has gone off so well, I am already starting to envision the next one with the girls – and I’m thinking Tanzania!
Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on the trip, here are some things that stand out, and that will help as I plan our next safari!
I admittedly was a little anxious about taking a 4-year-old into the bush! My gut feeling was that my sweet 7-year-old would have the maturity to take on the trip, but admittedly the younger one made me stop and think a few times prior to our actual departure.
My anxiety was primarily around how she would react to everything at her age. How would she behave on the 16+ hour flight? What about the “cats”? What if she wanders off into the bush? How will we enjoy some of the finest food ever at the most incredible restaurants in the Cape with her? What if she does not get into the correct time zone quickly? These negative thoughts consumed me until our departure day!
Fortunately, my first concern quickly vanished. The flight to Johannesburg went perfectly, despite my 4-year old having slept just a little over an hour the entire time!
Then we seemed to move flawlessly from one incredible experience to the next. I think part of the success of our trip was how we managed a delicate balance of activity and rest, safari and cities, fine restaurants and local hangouts.
Little did I know that our two weeks in South Africa, traveling through some of the most dramatically stunning scenery one could ever encounter, could be such an eye opener for our girls. I know we just whet their appetites for even more incredible experiences on future family safaris. And, as for all those anxieties…next time I will know better than to let those crazy thoughts take over, and so will begin our travels on a lighter note!
A few precious moments that I’ll never forget…
The look on the girls’ faces each and every day out on safari – they never tired of it once!
Watching them dance & sing around a campfire with the staff.
Their African bedtime stories, topped off with warm milk & gingerbread cookies.
Frogging in the bush.
My amazement that a 4-year old could be so still and quiet while just a few yards away from a male lion…and in an open Land Rover!
Sleeping a solid 10 hours on our flight home! (Yes, that was all of us, and in coach!!!)