Madikwe Family Safari
“From playing soccer with elephant dung-balls to seeing the Big 5, Madikwe is an experience children will long remember”
The Kohrs family share their thoughts on their safari experience at the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. Travelling with their two children aged 2 and 4, they had a fantastic time: find out about the lodges they visited, what made their stay excellent and what to consider when travelling on safari with kids.
After months of lockdown and restricted movement in Cape Town, our family were feeling the pull of the African bush. We knew we had to get away from the city and get back into nature to experience wide open spaces, great wildlife and – although we love Cape Town – some different scenery!
With the kids being four and two years old we didn’t have that many safari options available so we chose to go to Madikwe Game Reserve which lies a four-hour drive north-west from Johannesburg. Close to Botswana, it’s more Kalahari than Kruger. We flew up to Johannesburg from Cape Town, rented a car at the airport and drove to Madikwe ourselves; I can also recommend flying from Johannesburg to Madikwe – it’s only an hour’s flight, you’ll be transferred to your lodge and it’s much easier if you have young children.
WHY WE CHOSE MADIKWE
There are Big 5 reserves near Cape Town but we loved the idea of our kids seeing the Big 5 in the real African bush rather than in a small and somewhat artificial Cape Town reserve. Madikwe is the real deal for a safari and the fact that it is completely malaria-free is a huge drawcard for families, easing any worries that parents might have with regards to the disease. It is very easy to get to and is well-known for its excellent family-friendly lodges. Indeed, its reputation for family safaris proved to be correct and I believe that Madikwe is most certainly the best option for a safari with very young kids. Our children had been on safari before but this was their first Big 5 Reserve and they absolutely loved it.
We chose to stay at three different lodges in Madikwe. All three position themselves as family-friendly yet each offered a very different experience which we found was another appealing aspect to the reserve.
Jaci’s Safari Lodge
Jaci’s lies in the eastern part of Madikwe. We stayed in the Narre Suite which was perfect for us: we had our own private house and swimming pool and it all comes with a chef, butler, safari guide and game drive vehicle – complete independence!
And although the house is staffed, it’s very low key: our chef and butler Ndisheni and Valencia were amazing and did not intrude our privacy at all. And not only did they do an outstanding job and spoil us rotten but they also connected with the kids. We really appreciated them and formed a great bond. This was a valuable experience for us, to get to know the local staff better and to have real human interactions.
Our private guide Peter was very accommodating, and since we had our own game drive vehicle we could decide when and for how long to go on a drive. This flexibility was excellent and I would highly recommend a private vehicle for all safaris with children. It makes everything so much easier and we could start when we were ready, take shorter drives and have longer coffee breaks for the kids – all the things you can’t do when you are sharing a vehicle with other guests!
I can’t say enough good things about Jaci’s Lodge. The staff, the food, the quality of wildlife experiences where amazing. This is most certainly my personal favourite lodge.
We then moved into western Madikwe for another warm welcome – this time by the staff at Impodimo. The lodge is beautifully located with stunning views over the reserve and into Botswana. Again the management made us feel extremely welcome and they have a phenomenal waterhole in front of camp so you can just sit with the kids and watch animals.
Impodimo is extremely well priced and really good value for money. Rangers were very enthusiastic and had a great way with kids. The lodge has a well frequented waterhole that can be closely observed from an underground hide which is air-conditioned (a bonus in the hot summer months) and comes with honesty bar and coffee station.
We loved this lodge but it’s not fenced and therefore you have wild animals walking through the camp which we felt was not ideal with small children around. Kids aged six and older can join the normal game drives but Ipidomo also has a kid-friendly ‘bumble drive’ in the morning. Here the focus is on everything that is interesting to children: you’ll find that both guides and children enjoy the time. Again, I would recommend a private vehicle if possible. There is also a baby-sitting facility if parents want to go onto a drive and leave the kids behind – not really an option for us with very young children – and so we felt that this lodge would be slightly better for kids from around eight years old and up.
Tuningi Safari Lodge
Also situated in the western section of Madikwe, this lodge has loads to offer. They have two huge family suites and lots of activities for children. Like Jaci’s, this lodge is fenced which makes everything more comfortable for parents with small kids. The individual chalets are set far apart and give you plenty of privacy as well as making for an enjoyable walk through the bush as you go back and forth – there are always birds to see – and with all the excellent food on offer at Tuningi, it’s important to stretch the legs a bit too!
There is a children’s play area that forms part of the main lodge and the lodge also has child-minders. We felt that this lodge is a great option for families with young kids – our children were easily entertained by the child-minders – and it means parents get to have some time off and enjoy the lodge too.
What about Covid?
Covid Protocols were adhered to during every stage of our trip. Before boarding the plane we had to complete documents indicating where we would spend each night of our trip – the standard Covid questions and personal details. Sanitizer was everywhere at the airport.
Our flight to Johannesburg and back was with SA Airlink which I have personally found to be a great airline. They adhered to all protocols and we had to wear masks at all times during the flight except for the meal. Flight attendants all had masks and so did the airport staff.
Staff at the lodges in Madikwe were wearing masks but allowed guests the freedom to take them off or leave them on. This was perfect as you felt the freedom of being out in the bush and not having to wear a mask all the time; lodges were also not very full which helped the social distancing. As we mostly had private vehicles we did not wear masks on game drives which was a relief – it really was great to be in the wilderness with lots of fresh air.
A private house on safari is perfect for families and especially during Covid. You have your own space and facilities, a private vehicle and the staff all wear masks: we felt very safe at all times.
When can we go again?
You can imagine that was the first question from our four-year old when we got home! We plan to make our next trip to the Eastern Cape Reserves in the beginning of next year if possible and visit Amakhala Game Reserve, Shamwari and Kwandwe – exciting times for the family.