Africa – so big, so remote, so ... thrilling! A trip to this wild continent is not for the faint-hearted, but those who undertake the adventure cannot speak highly enough about its people, the amazing wildlife and its superb lodges. We asked our readers to share their African experiences, and the result is an enticing overview of why so many people are packing their binoculars, kids and cameras and heading to where the wild things are...
With direct flights from Australia to Johannesburg, South Africa is the most popular African destination for Australian travellers, blessed with sophisticated cities, amazing safari and national parks, gorgeous scenery and a mild climate.
Our readers particularly love Kruger National Park, arguably Africa’s most essential tourist destination. Michelle Klass of NSW said it was a highlight of her journey, while her two-year-old’s biggest thrill was “having to stop the car in the middle of a dirt road since a huge giraffe was blocking the path eating acacia leaves!”
The Peterson family of NSW describe Kruger as “awe inspiring” and a place that “leaves you gobsmacked” .
“While you can spend the majority of the time driving around looking for different animals, this doesn’t seem to get tiresome – it’s exciting and the kids sit on the edge of their seats scanning the veldt for animals. You can also choose to sit at one of the many waterholes, and with a bit of patience, you will see a huge variety of animals and bird life.”
While the Peterson family recommend staying at one of the bushveldt camps, Sarah Thomas booked self-catering accommodation just outside the park’s gates. She writes:
“When we were researching places to stay we found it difficult to find many lodges within Kruger which would take children under six years. Children under six were not allowed on the safari trucks as they were open air, which meant our children would have had to miss out. So we decided to hire a car and stayed at African Lily Lodge at Phalaborwa, which was pretty basic, but clean and reasonably priced at just under AUD $100 a night.
“Self driving was easy and we encountered so many different animals and birds. We saw giraffes, hippos, baboons, zebras, rhinos, elephants, impalas, hyenas, lions ... the list goes on. As we went through the busy Christmas season, we pre-booked our entrance to Kruger Park at the small cost of $5 to guarantee you will be allowed in...”
The Thomas family also spent a few days in Durban in South Africa’s midlands, where they stayed at Wild Berry Guest Farm. “It was an absolutely fabulous place to stay with children,” Sarah writes. “The farm has pigs, donkeys, chickens, geese, horses, goats and more to entertain the children, and the owners have so much local knowledge. I would happily have stayed a week!”
For a close encounter with the African wildlife, Michelle Klass also recommends the Lion Park in Johannesburg. “It gave the children the opportunity to touch and cuddle lion cubs, and this is an experience none of them have ever forgotten. At the end of our visit the children were allowed to stand on a platform and feed a friendly giraffe who gave them kisses!”
Off the beaten track
With three children aged 13, 11 and 8, the Welsh family’s trip to Zambia and Malawi was a huge adventure. Jacob, aged 13, summed it up perfectly: “Weather perfect, people wonderful, experience priceless.” Highlights included visiting Victoria Falls, which “thundered down around us making it hard to think, hear and breathe. It was an incredible sight and one that I will never forget.”
Jacob also loved staying in a chalet on the banks of the river in South Luangwa National Park, where you could see crocs and hippos swimming past. “At night you needed to call the night watchmen over if you needed to use the toilet because there can be elephants, hippos or even lion, cheetahs and many more animals that could ... well, kill you!”
For mum Nicole, visiting Kande Village in Malawi was a special experience. The family spent two and a half weeks here, living alongside the community and working with a children’s foundation set up by a woman from Geelong in Victoria. “Through the foundation and from donations she receives from individuals within Australia, she has set up 10 nursery schools feeding 1000 children a daily bowl of porridge – often the only meal they receive per day.”
Nicole describes this experience as unforgettable: “It will stay in our hearts and is what our children, particularly the youngest, talk about most. We can learn so much from people who have so little.”
“Our family brought so much over for them,” writes Jacob. “You should have seen the kids faces when you handed them a t-shirt or anything. I handed a girl some knickers and she didn’t know what to do with them, so she put them on her head. Even though the way they live is so different to ours, they are still happier than us and smile so much more. “
Sharon Jones of NSW also chose a holiday where she and her 18-year-old son could give something back, volunteering building houses in a village in Uganda. As well as helping to build a house for a widow and eight orphans, the Jones also did some sightseeing, visiting the equator, Lake Victoria and white water rafting on the Nile River. They visited local markets, had traditional Ugandan meals and saw some fantastic African dancing.
“This was a life changing holiday for both of us,” she wrote. “We saw a completely different culture and we able to make a difference in people’s lives. The Ugandan people are very warm and friendly and it was very hard to leave.”
The Stanton family of NSW are currently living in Ethiopia for three months, and recently completed a tour of what is known as the ‘Northern Historical Circuit’. Yvette Stanton tells us Ethiopia is one of the safer places in Africa, where the people are friendly and welcoming.
The Stantons booked their trip through Mela Travel and Tours, arranging a personal tour with their own driver and guide. “Our guides were locals in each of the places we went to, so they really knew what they were talking about. They were extremely well trained and spoke English well. We stayed in the best hotels in each of our locations – while it would have rated 1, 2 or 3 stars elsewhere in the world, the accommodation was comfortable, and all that we needed.”
One of the family’s favourite experiences was a visit to the Blue Nile Falls. “We have two young daughters aged 5 and 8, one of whom is extremely blond, and they attracted a lot of attention from the Ethiopian kids. Everyone wanted their photos with them, and the girls lapped it up! The walk back from the falls was great fun, with their fan club accompanying us, and each of our girls holding hands with an ever-changing stream of Ethiopian teenagers.”
While Ethiopia is not a common destination for Australians, the Stantons highly recommend the adventure that awaits. “If you go to Africa, by all means consider the common tourist places such as the game parks in South Africa and Kenya. But also consider experiencing the amazing history, scenery and people of Ethiopia. You won’t be disappointed! Sure, it’s off the beaten track but we have given our kids some very unique experiences by going there.”
The Thomas family also look back on their African odyssey as a life-changing experience. “One week after our return and looking through the over 1000 photos to our touring holiday, we felt relaxed and delighted with our whole experience and maybe even a sense of accomplishment!”
As for the Thomas family, their friends thought they were crazy heading to Africa with three children under five. “Although I too possibly doubted our sanity, we have returned safe and sound and totally invigorated by our African experience,” writes Sarah. “Stay at home with your kids, rather than take a holiday with them? Are you kidding?”
“For Westerners in Africa, keep in mind that you and particularly your kids will be noticed! Some of the places we went to, we encountered pilgrims who had probably never seen Westerners before. Our kids especially were complete novelties to them.” Yvette Stanton
“To enter Kruger National park, we bought a Wild Card which is an annual pass, allowing you entrance into any national park in South Africa. We worked out that after four days it paid for itself. The family Wild Card (two adults and up to four children) costs about A$400, we bought it on the first day at the gate.” Sarah Thomas
“Ensure you have all the necessary vaccinations before leaving home and have travel insurance – we saw some very good and some very bad hospitals during our visit. Also in some countries Australian dollars will not be exchanged so it is worthwhile having some US dollars with you. Larger towns have EFTPOS machines where you can draw out local currency.” Nikki Welsh
“Trying to get our toddler to take malaria tablets was challenging in itself. One of our travellers was a paediatric nurse and she suggested crushing it up into a bottle of milk or cup of juice. There are a number of malaria tablets you can go with but we opted for Malerone Junior, as it had very few side effects.” Sarah Thomas
“I would highly recommend the small bushveld camps in the northern part of Kruger. They offer the same level of accommodation in huts, but they are small, private and quiet and you truly feel ‘out there’ in the bush. They are generally close (about 40km or so) to a main camp where you can buy provisions if need be.” The Peterson family
Congratulations to Nikki and Jacob Welsh, who win $50 for their great letter. Thanks to everyone who contributed fantastic tips and photographs – we loved reading about your adventures, and a copy of the magazine will be sent to you!