With international travel still slowly clawing its way back, there has never been a more affordable time to treat the family to a big-five safari in SA. Whether you’re road-tripping to the coast, or want to celebrate the end of another difficult year, these four lodges won’t disappoint when it comes to family-friendly big-five adventures.
The Western Cape isn’t usually associated with memorable safaris, but Sanbona Wildlife Reserve offers an entirely unique big five experience amid the arid plains of the Klein Karoo. This 58,000ha reserve is a three-hour drive from Cape Town, but equally makes an easy addition to a Garden Route beach holiday or a leisurely cruise through the winelands of Route 62.
Remember, though, that this is the Karoo, not the Lowveld, so don’t expect wildlife leaping out around every corner. While you’ll almost certainly spot four of the big five, alongside a host of plains game, it’s the landscape that’s the real star here, with expansive open plains and dramatic mountains framing valleys in which wildlife follows the river courses.
There are three lodges on the reserve, but it’s at Gondwana Family Lodge that parents and children will be most happy. Here a dozen rooms — with sleeper couches and inter-leading options — are set amid lush gardens, with the entire lodge fully fenced to ensure children can roam safely. The immersive “kids on Safari” programme makes the wilderness experience relevant to younger travellers, with a “Klein Karoo Classroom” offering an outdoor gallery of spoor and skulls for children to explore. Children older than four years are welcome on game drives, while between drives the lodge offers a large swimming pool and a small children’s club.
Further east, Shamwari Game Reserve has a lodge to suit all pockets; from under-canvas luxury at Sindile to the moody romance of Eagles Crag. But Riverdene Family Lodge is ideal for children, with a huge children Adventure Centre offering treetop walkways, zip-lines, climbing walls and pizza-making afternoons. Chances are you’ll have to pry the children away to get them out on a game drive. Or maybe don’t. Child-minding services are available, giving parents the option for some time alone.
Back at the lodge, the nine suites of Riverdene are inter-leading, allowing for multigenerational and larger families to share spaces seamlessly, with rooms giving onto private terraces and indigenous gardens. For those steamy summer days, a large pool offers shady loungers and superb reserve views.
In the Lowveld you don’t get a more memorable safari destination than the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. On a hilltop high above the Sand River andBeyond’s Kirkman’s Kamp has recently been refurbished, freshening up the décor and facilities while retaining its much-loved yesteryear charm
An enormous pool and spacious lawns provide plenty of room for children to burn off energy between game drives, while the complimentary WILDChild programme ensures young travellers get under the skin of the bush. Aside from bringing the wilderness to life, staff offer everything from fishing to cooking lessons.
Big five safaris don’t come cheap, especially when there’s a five-star lodge involved. But at Bayala Safari Camp in northern KwaZulu-Natal you’ll get five-star game-viewing at four-star prices.
Situated on a section of the vast Munyawana Conservancy, home to a clutch of pricey luxury lodges, Bayala Camp dishes up low-key bushveld charm, with 24 rooms spread out around a vast lawn that’ll keep children well entertained between drives. There’s a superb swimming pool close to the main bar, a restaurant offering homely fare each night, and a delightful boma for starlit family dinners. Bayala offers a choice of room categories, but the larger bathrooms and small private terrace of the Superior Rooms are worth the little extra spend. The Eco children offering is another excellent way to keep children engaged and entertained on safari.