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By Rory 25 January 2016

YZ Co-founder Rory took his family to South Africa to explore Cape Town and the famous Garden Route, followed by a few days spent on safari in the non-malarial reserve, Madikwe:

I have been wanting to take my kids on safari for years, but the children are still very young – and when my wife and I had debated the matter, she had always won with her reasons why it was not yet the right time! However, when our youngest turned 4 years old, I jumped at the opportunity to organise our first family safari.

Our kids are 4, 6, 6 (twins) and 8 years old, so choosing the right destination was extremely important, especially bearing in mind my wife’s concerns. We were pretty clear that we wanted to avoid malarial areas – and that very quickly focussed our search on South Africa, with its great non-malarial reserves.

South Africa also offers such a varied mix of activities that everything comes together extremely well in terms of laying out an itinerary for a family trip! As well as incorporating a safari, we were extremely keen that our kids had an opportunity to see the cultural side of South Africa and in particular the poverty that we are so removed from here in the UK.

After reviewing all the different trip options, we decided the classic Cape Town and Garden Route combination offered us the perfect mix of activities and family relaxation. Then, for the grand finale, we planned four nights in Madikwe Game Reserve, one of the largest Big Five game reserves in South Africa.

As I know how daunting it can be to plan a safari holiday for a young family, I’m providing a brief overview of our trip as well as the highlights of our first family safari holiday – so hopefully, if you’re considering a similar holiday, you’ll get a good overview of how it all works!

Cape Town: Days 1 - 4

For me, Cape Town is about sunshine, fun activities, and great meals out! We wanted to introduce our kids to exactly the same things, whilst ensuring these things were right for their ages. We decided to stay at the Steenberg Hotel, Cape Town’s oldest registered farm. This gave us easy access to all Cape Town has to offer, but away from the hustle and bustle of city life. On arrival at Cape Town airport we picked up a hire car, which we would keep until the end of the Garden Route – this gave us complete flexibility for getting around during our first eight days.

For a soft start and guaranteed fun and engagement, we went to Cape Town’s waterfront and took a trip around the sealife centre. Whilst you can find a good sealife centre in many places in the world, this is a great one and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. After that we had a stroll around the waterfront, watching street shows and grabbing a tasty lunch. Then it was back to the hotel for relaxation and swimming – not a bad first day!

We decided to go up the iconic Table Mountain by cable car. It was nice and easy to get up there – and in no time at all we were looking out across Cape Town from the top. It was fun to have taken them to the summit, but I think the highlight for the kids was the cable car rather than the views! We found a great steakhouse for lunch and then we returned to the hotel for more relaxation and swim time. We know from experience that our kids always need some R&R if we have a lot going on!

One of our key aims in Cape Town was to show our children the other side of life away from the touristy areas. So on Day 3 we booked a Township Tour. A private tour guide collected us from our hotel and together with a township local called Sugar, took us to visit two of Cape Town’s most famous townships, Khayelitsha and Langa.

With 2.4 million people, 70 per cent living in shacks and an even greater proportion unemployed, this is a world away from our lives in the UK. Sugar made us feel quite comfortable and explained the history of the townships and what life was like for her and her family. Our kids were fascinated and before long they started asking her all sorts of questions about township life. Sugar then took us to visit a nursery school project – this school is built out of three shipping containers and provides free nursery care and meals. Again, our children found this very interesting, especially for the stark differences from what they know in the UK.

After three quite busy days in Cape Town we were all ready to take it easy, so we headed down to Camps Bay, one of the trendiest parts of Cape Town. In Camps Bay we had an explore, played on the beach, and had a great seafood lunch – well, fresh fish and chips! – whilst looking out over the ocean.

The Garden Route: Days 5 - 8

It was time to start our drive up the Garden Route to Knysna, but with one very important stop on the way! Although Cape Town has its own colony of penguins at Boulders Bay, we had heard that there was a much larger and much less touristy colony an hour and a half’s drive up the coast at Betty’s Bay.

As we were driving that way anyway, it seemed like a great option – and we are so glad we took it! The penguins at Betty’s Bay were fantastic and the kids could not believe that they were able to walk along the long walkway with thousands of penguins on either side. Having been to Boulders Bay in Cape Town, I thought Betty’s Bay would be quite similar – but the colony at Betty’s really is so much better and I thoroughly recommend it if you are driving up the Garden Route!

After our pit stop at Betty’s Bay, we continued for another four hours until we reached Knysna, a tranquil lagoon separated from the Indian Ocean by sandstone cliffs. Knysna has many different places to stay, but we opted for a private home on Thesen Island, located in the Knysna estuary and connected by a bridge to the mainland. 

We then took a whole day to just relax, swim and canoe around the island! By day 7, we were ready for some activities again and our first port of call was Knysna Elephant Park, the first facility in South Africa to care for orphaned elephants. Here they currently have a herd of nine elephants and offer visitors the opportunity to visit the animals in their nature reserve and feed and walk with them.

The elephants are tame and our children had a wonderful time feeding them and touching them. Seeing our youngest next to a huge elephant was quite alarming at first, but the guides with us were extremely professional and we felt the kids were very safe!

After our morning at the elephant park, we headed on to Plettenberg Bay for lunch at the infamous Lookout Deck and Restaurant for fresh fish and chips on the edge of the Indian Ocean. This is an amazing spot, very child friendly and with great food too! After lunch we walked down to the beach to build some sandcastles and let the kids get as wet and sticky as they could before heading home in the car.

Madikwe: Days 9 – 12

Time for our grand finale… the safari! We drove ourselves to George Airport (one hour), where we dropped off our hire car and took the 1hour 45mins flight to Johannesburg. From here, we took a small 12-seater Cessna Caravan for the one-hour flight into Madikwe Game Reserve. We could have driven for four hours into the reserve, but taking the plane was a fantastic experience – the kids loved it!

For our safari, we spent four nights at the fabulous Morukuru in the eastern part of Madikwe. Morukuru has three private houses, each operating as a separate and private safari camp for your family or group. Each camp is in its own fenced area within the park, so you are in a safe zone when walking around!

Our hosts, Rose-Mary and Stefan, made us all feel at home straight away – and we were given complete flexibility on when to have meals and when to start and finish our game drives. Despite that, I was delighted that all our children were keen to make the most of every opportunity to check out the reserve – and so we were up at 5:15 each morning for a 6am game drive for three hours, and then we went out again in the late afternoon for four hours!

Whilst in Morukuru we had a great swimming pool and we could also explore the safe zone around our camp. Inside with us were lots of zebra and assorted antelope – and two very friendly families of warthogs and mongoose! As there were no predators in camp, all the animals felt very comfortable with us and one of our girls spent hours following them around and studying their every move. 

We had some amazing game drives in the reserve – our favourite sightings included numerous elephants and giraffe, three large male lions (we checked in on them every day!), four cheetah brothers hunting together, a huge rhino mother with her tiny baby, and four wild dog! 

After a final morning game drive and a hearty safari breakfast, we had to bid farewell to Morukuru and head back to the airstrip for our small plane to Johannesburg. From here it was a direct flight back to London. What a world away from the past couple of weeks!

I cannot begin to explain how exciting and inspiring our children found the whole experience – I would recommend it to any parent considering a safari. The only problem once you have been, is how to follow it up!!

If you’d like to experience a family holiday to South Africa why not speak to one of the YZ experts on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected]