A novel, fun and exciting family safari provides an ideal opportunity to develop and promote your child’s love of the wild, says Cara Mullin, founder and owner of the go-to guide on things to do in South Africa with kids, www.kidzworld.co.za.If you’re coming from Johannesburg or Durban, Nambiti Private Game Reserve is a great option for a family adventure holiday destination and an excellent place to embark on an African safari with kids. It boasts all the Big 5, an impressive variety of landscapes and will inspire you and your kids to help conserve and protect our natural world.


The Destination

Nambiti is a young game reserve having only been established in 2000. This reserve is situated in Elandslaagte, Ladysmith, South Africa near the battlefields, an area previously used for cattle farming. The biodiverse landscape, covering 21,000 acres, ranges from savannah, grasslands and thornveld to riverine bushveld with a 40 metre waterfall and is home to over 20 species of healthy game including the “Big 5” (elephants, lions, leopard, black rhino and buffalo) and over 260 bird species.


This is a conservation success story in the making, with the constant removal of alien vegetation and the restoration of the natural habitat being the ultimate goal. The flora and fauna is already flourishing and as you are driven through the reserve you can feel your soul revive and easily imagine you have been taken back in time to life in the African bushveld before the settlers arrived.

Yes, there are power lines through parts of the reserve that you might not find elsewhere, but that’s where you will also find awesome bird life to photograph.

This privately owned game reserve is an ideal getaway for families as it is malaria-free and easily accessible being only 3.5-hours drive from Johannesburg and 3-hours drive from Durban.

One of the crucial benefits of staying at a lodge in a private game reserve is the strict vehicle limits at animal sightings. The rangers from the 10 different lodges in Nambiti are in constant radio contact with each other keeping track of animal movements. This helps to locate Big 5 and rare animal sightings and also ensures an exclusive game viewing experience.

There are usually two magical game drives daily, one in the early morning and the other in the late afternoon. Each game drive is a completely unique – a bit like being in a Nat Geo Wild episode – filled with interesting flora and fauna and breathtaking views and visuals. Nambiti offers keen photographers endless opportunities to capture the moment in time forever. The rangers are passionate about wildlife and conservation and gladly maintain their enthusiasm with the plethora of questions that children and their parents ask about anything and everything in the African bushveld, above and beyond including how the radio works in the game drive vehicle to how to find South by reading the stars at night. Most rangers are keen photographers and if you are still learning, you will end up with a whole lot of photography tricks and tips to take away with you for future use!


Additional Attractions

Besides the two brilliant daily game drives, you can book a bass fishing excursion through your lodge or a visit to the Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project as an optional extra for you and your family.

The bass fishing excursion is suitable for both first-time or seasoned fishing enthusiasts. Depending on your lodge, they can supply the fishing rod and accessories (and spares for those who like to hook the scrub) and the ranger will patiently assist or teach those who require instruction, how to cast and reel in. Even if you go home without catching a bass (or an old boot), you may still have seen an animal or two browsing in the nearby scrub.

A highly recommended family wildlife experience in Nambiti is a visit to the Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project. The fees you pay for the tour will help support the survival of the world's fastest land animal. Here you and your children can learn more about this beautiful athletic cat and meet and interact with the hand-reared cubs as well as servals, a meerkat and other orphans. Pre-booking is essential as they only take a limited number of people per day.


Accommodation

Ndaka Safari Lodge situated in Nambiti Private Game Reserve is a family-friendly game lodge where staff go out of their way to make families with children of all ages feel welcome and comfortable. They offer luxury safari tents or lodge suites at a reasonable cost which is a welcome relief for parents who are keen for their little ones to experience an African safari in the company of a knowledgeable guide.

The facilities include an open plan lounge and coffee room and a lapa (outdoor, covered entertainment area) that overlooks the open fire pit which provides ambience and warmth in the evenings while you look out into the bush beyond the light of the fire. The swimming pool is located to the side of the lapa. Three meals are served daily by the team of chefs in the kitchen who produce wholesome fare that will tantalise your taste buds and keep you (willingly or unwillingly) coming back for more. Child-friendly meals are available for young children and there is always a staff member on hand to assist during meal times.

The well-maintained indigenous gardens are spacious enough for children to stretch their legs within the fenced boundary of the main lodge estate and older kids will enjoy burning off some energy on the trampoline before embarking on a game drive.

The rangers are sensitive to the needs of their guests at Ndaka Safari Lodge. Those with young children are allocated a separate vehicle to those guests without kids so you will likely be sharing with other families. The game drives accommodating children are tailored to suit the ages of the little ones and the family.Yes babies are allowed on game drives but in general they will not go near any big game (at the ranger’s discretion). Car seats are available (forward facing, not rear facing) and babysitters are available upon request.

The rangers at Ndaka seem to know how to peak a child’s interest by using quizzes and questions and a sense of humour to keep them engaged. When it is safe to do so, the rangers will allow the children out of the vehiclesto get down to ground level with them and show them how to read tracks and imprints in the drying mud pools. They are full of fun facts, such as pointing out seeds that can cause eternal hiccups!

During the game drive the ranger will stop for refreshments somewhere interesting or with stunning views: it may be a waterhole, a waterfall or some ancient farmhouse ruins. You and your kids will enjoy the novelty of being served drinks and snacks in the middle of the African bushveld and you may learn a thing (or ten) whilst listening to your guide and entertaining your taste buds.

On your return from your game drive you will be welcomed back by a happy member of staff who will hand you a warm cloth to cleanse your hands and a refreshing aperitif.


The Practicalities

Nambiti has an airstrip and helipad so if the drive from Johannesburg or Durban seems to long, this is a good option.

If you are driving, do note that guests are not permitted to drive around the reserve on their own.There is a designated guest parking area near to the entrance gate.Pre-check ahead of time which is the right gate for your lodge as there are two in the reserve. Thereyou will be fetched by a vehicle from your lodge to take you to your accommodation.The carpark is very secure. (My husband left his wallet on the top of the roof of his car – in error, of course –and it was still there three days later with all contents intact!)

The general timetable of a safari is ideal for young children. The vehicles set out before sunrise and return at breakfast, then again at late afternoon to return for dinner. This leaves the bulk of the day for going back to bed or relaxing by the pool.  

However, it’s important to remember that game drives require patience and the ability to sit still. Keep in mind there can be long periods driving around in the vehicle where there are no animal sightings at all and to get up close to large animals such as lions requires the discipline to be quiet on command. Plus there are never any toilet stops. It’s worth considering your children’s temperaments and discussing this with them before signing up for a safari. Keep in mind tt is always at the game ranger’s discretion whether he or she will allow children in the game vehicles at all.

Guided tours tend to run through any weather (bar heavy rain) so you need to be equipped with all the requisite clothing, sun (and rain) protection and snacks. Some tour vehicles are open-topped which means there is no shade or protection from the elements. Even in a covered, air-conditioned car it can get surprisingly hot and children can be susceptible to sunstroke and dehydration. At Ndaka the vehicles all have soft tops with roll down sides if needed. They have blankets, too, for extra warmth.

Water may not be safe to drink in the game park areas but check with your accommodation. To be completely sure, only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath. The water at Ndaka is fine to drink but complimentary bottled water is provided in your accommodation and at the boma during meals.


For more travel tips on South African safaris with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Madikwe Game Reserve
 and Addo Elephant National Park

To read about 7-year-old Brian who lives in an African safari park, see the suitcases&strollers story here

By Cara Mullin of www.kidzworld.co.za; Images: Cara Mullin