Adventure Travel Blog

  1. Which Kruger Game Reserve Should I stay in?

    Anna_x-country_skiing Anna on 8th July 2014 | 0 comments

    Kruger National Park is South Africa's largest national park and one of Africa's largest game reserves. The size of Wales, it is home to 147 large mammal species, which makes it the most diverse reserve in Africa. The majority of accommodation within Kruger is managed by the park and guests are free to self-drive, although off-road driving is not permitted. Rest camps are basic affairs, which book out a long while in advance.

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    Surrounding Kruger park, are several private game reserves with luxurious lodges and private, guided safaris. Guests are not permitted to drive within these reserves, but the safari vehicles are normally permitted to drive off road, allowing guides to track animals more efficiently, giving guests some very up close and personal game viewing experiences. Accommodation in these reserves is not cheap, but can offer a fabulous blend of pampering and game viewing. As a standard, there are two game drives each day; one at dawn and one at dusk. On the dusk game drive, you will stop along the way for a sundowner and nibbles, in the mornings, hot chocolate and coffee replace the G & T's. In between game drives, you are free to relax at the lodge. In some lodges, activities are arranged for children whilst their parents can relax, snooze or go for a massage.

    Please read on for our guide and take on the best Private Game Reserves in Greater Kruger:

    SABI SANDS

    Size: 65,000 hectares

    Kruger Boundary: Unfenced to Kruger

    Access: Many people opt for private flights direct into Sabi Sands. Self-drive can be hairy as the roads are not good, particularly for the northern lodges (including Chitwa). 

    Our Verdict: The best known and original private game reserve in the Kruger area and the place to go if you want exclusive accommodation (which comes at a price). Whilst the reserve is unfenced, not all lodges give each other traversing rights, so vehicles can't always go outside of their patch. That said, it is known to be the premier safari destination with perhaps the best game viewing potential, especially good for leopards.

    TIMBAVATI

    Size: 53,000 hectares

    Kruger Boundary: Unfenced to Kruger

    Access: 1 hour drive from Hoedspruit along good roads (some unsealed)

    Our Verdict: A slightly less well-known reserve, but as a consequence the lodges are not as expensive. As anywhere, game viewing is always down to chance, but with the diversity of vegetation (a good mix of lowveld grasses and bushes) chances of spotting the big 5 are good. Some excellent options for families.

    THORNYBUSH

    Size: 14,000 hectares

    Kruger Boundary: Adjacent to Kruger, Fenced

    Access: 1 hour drive from Hoedspruit airport along good roads (some unsealed)

    Our Verdict: A smaller reserve with slick (if a little commercial) lodges with great family friendly accommodation. The reserve is small, so not quite the wild feel of Timbavati, but it does heighten the likelihood of spotting wildlife. Good option for younger / lively families who won't feel too self-conscious if the children splash around in the pool. 

    MAKALALI

    Size: 24,500 hectares

    Kruger Boundary: Not attached to Kruger

    Access: 1 hour drive from Hoedspruit airport along good roads (some unsealed)

    Our Verdict: This is not a mainstream reserve, mainly made up of private camps. Game viewing is good. There are only 2 commercial lodges operating here, so it is much less commercial - this can mean that there is less intense radio contact, which in turn can mean less guaranteed sightings. 

  2. The Best Safari Lodges in Kruger for Families

    Anna_x-country_skiing Anna on 8th July 2014 | 0 comments

    You've decided to take your family on safari in the Kruger area, but the question is where to stay. There are hundreds of lodges to choose from, some of which don't accept children at all. Then there is the question of whether they offer child friendly sleeping arrangements and activities and whether you should stay in a tent or a suite. To ease your planning, we have put together a list of our favourite family friendly lodges in the Kruger area, which we have tried and tested with one of our own children. It is very important to take the time to consider your budget, age of your children and familly dynamic carefully when choosing your Kruger safari lodge, please don't hesitate to get in touch to discuss your needs further.

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    Accommodation

    Some safari lodges are tent based, others are in suites. Suites tend to be more spacious, whilst tents can give a more traditional safari feel, taking you closer to nature. It is usually possible to fit 1 or 2 small children in a tent with you, but older children will require their own tent. As tents are usually spaced apart, you will need to assess how you feel about this as a family. If you opt for a suite, you can all sleep in one room together, or you can opt for inter-connecting rooms. This is a more expensive option, but it does give you more privacy.

    Activities

    As a rule, under 6's are not permitted on game drives and under 16's are not allowed on bush walks outside of the camp. Game drives are usually at dawn and dusk and in between these hours, guests normally relax, swim and snooze in the sun. Some lodges put on activities for children during these times, to give parents some down time. These activities are not compulsary. Usually they consist of activities such as lodge based bush walks, treasure hunts and baking.

    Our Top Picks

     

    Tanda Tula

     DSC05441Accommodation: 12 tents

    Family Sleeping arrangements: 1 larger tent for families to share, everyone would be all in the same room together.

    Age Limit: No children under 8

    Who is it for? More adventurous families looking for a wilder experience. Bush breakfasts are a real highlight after a game drive, but the layout and atmosphere is better suited to families with older children. This is not somewhere where you could want let your children make a lot of noise splashing in a pool. 

    Our 7 year old's verdict: The lodge manager very kindly allowed our 7 year old, Milly, to stay at the camp for a night. She thought that the chicken schnitzel that the chef prepared especially for her was the best food of the trip. The bush breakfast was also a bonus.

    Simbavati River Lodge

    DSC05457Accommodation: 8 tents & 3 family chalets

    Family Sleeping Arrangements: The family chalets offer fantastic accommodation with a large master bedroom and adjoining twin bedroom. Not entirely private, as the door is a curtain, it does give evreryone more space and privacy.

    Age Limit: All ages welcome. Over 6's permitted on game drives.

    Who is it for? Families of all ages. This is not a super luxurious option, but the accommodation, jungle gym, kids playroom and pool make it particularly good for the under 12's.

    Our 7 year old's verdict: Milly absolutely loved the jungle gym and was so pleased to be able to climb and play after several days of game drives. She found the communal dining less interesting, but was very happy to finish her dinner and read her book on the lounge sofas nearby. We both loved having a bit more space in the bedroom!

    Thornybush Waterside 

    DSC05245Accommodation: 20 rooms

    Family Sleeping Arrangements: Additional beds in a room are possible. Some rooms are inter-connecting, however families would have to pay for two rooms.

    Age Limit: All ages welcome. Over 6's permitted on game drives.

    Who is it for? This is a larger lodge, but very welcoming to children with game drive goody bags and snacks provided, as well as a kids programme. As there are more people staying here and children are made welcome, you won't feel self-conscious if your children are making a splash in the pool. A great choice for under 12's.

    Our 7 year old's verdict: Milly loved her kid's backpack and was extremely pleased to be given sweets to eat during the game drives (this was the only place that did this for us.)  

    Chitwa Chitwa 

    DSC05206Accommodation: 6 luxurious suites, 2 family suites.

    Family Sleeping Arrangements: Families with under 12's can all share one of the spacious suites, with 2 extra beds provided in the lounge area. Families with older children can go for the family suite, with inter-connecting suites.

    Age Limit: All ages welcome. Over 6's permitted on game drives.

    Who is it for? Luxurious accommodation in Sabi Sands for those wanting an exclusive safari experience.  A very special place, but expensive. Families are likely to be sharing their game vehicles and communal areas with honeymooners, so raucous or lively children should probably avoid it here.

    Our 7 year old's verdict: Milly loved sitting on our deck and watching the hippos in the water. She loved the pool (although it was a bit cold) and really enjoyed the cake at afternoon tea.

    Private Makalali Camp (Our Favourite)

      DSC05647Accommodation: There are 9 tents, but as the only guests staying, it is up to you how you configure the accommodation.

    Family Sleeping Arrangements: Tents can sleep up to 2 adults and 2 children on a sleeper bed. 

    Age Limit: All ages welcome. Children of any age permitted on game drives.

    Who is it for? The experience at this camp is quite unlike any other commercial lodge that you will visit in the Kruger area and allows a truly laid-back experience. Service may not be as polished as at a 5* lodge and furnishings not as luxurious, but standards are high, nonetheless.  As parents, not having to worry about your children and being able to dictate meal times and the timings of the day, this is a real bonus.

    Our 7 year old's verdict: This was Milly's favourite place because she was free to play and mess around without worrying about distrubing guests. She loved playing pool in the main lodge area and watching the hippos from the deck. She also loved being able to sit wherever she wanted on the game drive.

  3. How to make safaris fun. By Alex (age 8)

    Missing ben on 3rd July 2014 | 0 comments

    Alex Kenya Journal

    Children are usually unanimously wowed by their initial experience on safari. However once the initial amazement is replaced by the new norm of seeing elephants and lions in the wild, we have found that interest levels can start to wane. It is very difficult to predict, we have one daughter who simply can’t get enough game drives in her life, if she had her way she’d have a morning and afternoon game drive every day of her life, whilst her sister tends to lose interest after a couple of drives.

    The below was written by Alex, aged 8, who definitely falls into the latter camp. In one particularly brutal research trip, we stayed at 6 different camps in the Mara in 6 days with game drives in each. The hot chocolate and cookies worked wonders getting her up out of bed for early morning game drives, but something else was needed to keep her interested during the drives. Here are Alex's tips on keeping things interesting. I've transcribed Alex's original article (see left), I’m sure she won’t mind that I corrected some spellings...

     

    5 Tips on how to make safaris fun, by Alex (aged 8)

    Sometimes safaris get a bit boring, so here are 5 tips on how to make them fun!

    1. Tallying – make a tally of all the animals you see. For ages 6+

    2. Sketching – draw a sketch of each animal you see. Ages 3+

    3. Ask questions about each different animal that you see. Ages 3+

    4. Photos – take photos of all the animals. Age 8+

    5. Spot and identify – play a game where you get points for each animal that you spot and identify. You make up the rules as you go along.! Ages 4+

    Alex on Safari
    Alex taking a tally on safari in Mara North Conservancy

    Alex Kenya Journal Alex Kenya Journal

    Alex Kenya Journal Alex Kenya Journal
    Alex's Tally and Bar Chart

     

  4. Tourdust Trek Gradings

    Missing Becks on 2nd July 2014 | 0 comments

    When choosing your trek it’s vital to make sure you select a route that matches your abilities. To help you chose we have graded all of our treks as being either gentle, moderate, challenging or demanding. To see which category your chosen trek falls into take a look at the “Is it for me” tab on the relevant trek page.

    If you’re still unsure or would like to further information please don’t hesitate to give us a call, we’ll connect you with a member of the team who has trekked in the area you’re interested in. Based on their experience they'll talk you though the route and give you the low down on what to expect. If it seems like the trek isn't quite right for you they'll suggest alternative options or, if possible, create a tailor made experience.  

    GENTLE TREKS
    For our gentle treks you just need to be reasonably fit and healthy and ready to enjoy a day out in the mountains. Before setting off you will discuss the route with your guide to ensure that the trek will be enjoyable and manageable for your fitness level. Some or all of the following conditions may apply:

    - Typical trek length: Typically 2-5hrs per day

    - Typical conditions underfoot: Mostly well-worn tracks

    - Typical Altitude: Usually less than 2,500m. Most people will feel no real effects at this height although you may find you become short of breath quicker than usual when walking.

     - Flexibility: There are usually opportunities to shorten or lengthen the trek length on the day

    MODERATE TREKS
    Our moderate treks are perfect for those who are reasonably fit, healthy and are used to walking regularly (medium to long walks). You can expect some long days of walking and some steep ascents but these are accomplishable and will give you a great sense of achievement. Some or all of the following conditions may apply:

    - Typical trek length: Typically 4-6 hrs walking per day

    - Typical conditions underfoot: Mostly well-worn tracks. Some terrain tricky underfoot, loose scree and walking through fallen rock.

    - Typical Altitude: Usually less than 3,000m. Most people will feel no really effects at this height although you may find you become short of breath quicker than usual when walking.

    - Flexibility: There are usually opportunities to shorten / lengthen trek length on the day

    CHALLENGING TREKS
    Our challenging treks require a good level of participant health, fitness and determination. These treks are for those who are already used to trekking for successive days and are not likely to be put off by overnighting in locations with basic facilities.  Many of our challenging treks include some time at altitude (3000m +). Some or all of the following conditions may apply:

    - Typical trek length: Typically 4-9 hrs walking per day with occasional longer days (10-12h)

    - Typical conditions underfoot: Uses worn paths and occasional dirt roads. Terrain often tricky underfoot, loose scree and walking through fallen rock. Steep slopes and traverses.

    - Typical Altitude: Treks go above 3,000m. Head-aches, sickness, loss of appetite and stomach upsets are possible. All symptoms should be reported and updated to your guide immediately. Drink lots of water and take it easy.

    - Flexibility: Although short-cuts may be available, there may not always be opportunities to shorten walking days

    DEMANDING TREKS
    Our hardest treks require participants to be fit, healthy and very determined, used to strenuous mountain days and have prior (and similar) mountaineering experience. Technical knowledge is sometimes a prerequisite. Many of our challenging treks include some time at altitude (3000m +) and / or traverses with limited alternative options if you are struggling with the trek. Some or all of the following conditions may apply:

    - Typical trek length: Long days of 6 - 9 hrs walking. Occasional longer days (10-12h)

    - Typical conditions underfoot: Uses worn paths, off-path and occasional dirt roads. Terrain often tricky underfoot, loose scree and walking through fallen rock. Steep slopes and traverses. In some cases, steep snow and ice requiring crampons and ice axes

    - Typical Altitude: Treks go above 3,000m. Head-aches, sickness, loss of appetite and stomach upsets are possible. All symptoms should be reported and updated to your guide immediately. Drink lots of water and take it easy.

    - Flexibility: Some treks may be traverses with limited alternative options

     

  5. How safe is Kenya?

    Missing ben on 11th June 2014 | 0 comments

    I last visited Kenya in March of this year with my oldest daughter (8 years old) for company. It is hard to underestimate the weight of responsibility in leaving the majority of your family at home, whilst you take off to a far off corner of the world with one of your beloved children. It is not something I have ever taken lightly and is something I consider deeply every-time I travel with my children, whether it be to Kenya, Morocco, South Africa or the United States. In this instance, I even got the call from my own mother, asking what I thought I was doing taking her grand-daughter to Kenya? I know Kenya well and have a good feel for the security situation. But being asked outright by my mother, made me step back and re-assess. 

    It is worth putting the dramatic press response to recent events into context and there is no better way to do that than with numbers; Over 1 million tourists visit Kenya every year, of which around 200,000 are British. By the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office's own admission, "185,967 British nationals visited Kenya in 2012. Most visits are trouble-free." The German and Italian package operators continue to send their clients in huge numbers to the Kenyan Coast. Growing numbers of Chinese visitors are fast filling up the Masai Mara during the migration season. Thompson, who dramatically evacuated their clients from the Mombasa area recently, themselves still operate and sell holidays to other parts of Kenya. And of course, significant number of British expats continue to live in Kenya, we have good friends with children the same age as ours who live, work and send their young children off to school in Kenya in neatly pressed uniforms – life continues as normal for these families. You can never say never, but there are very good reasons why Kenya remains the world's favourite safari destination and these reasons remain, the Masai Mara is still magnificent (and the migration is there early this year), the Laikipia region offers (in my opinion) the best all round wilderness safari experience in Africa, Mount Kenya is Africa's finest Mountain (yes it is a superior trek to Kilimanjaro) and Lamu on the Northern Coast has to be the best barefoot low key beach destination in Africa.

    After my mother’s call, I sat down with my wife, discussed the risks as we saw them and came to a decision. With minimal time in Nairobi and the majority of the trip spent on safari in remote luxury wilderness locations and pretty much permanently in the care of a guide, driver or camp, we felt the risk was no greater than taking a long car journey down the M4 and M5 to Devon (a fact which was born out when my wife on that very same journey whilst I was in Kenya, saw a car spin out of control on the M4 at 70mph in heavy rain). 

    Walking Safari in Laikipia

    The fact remains that even during the terrible election troubles in 2007, no tourists were hurt and this pays testament to the extent to which the conservation areas, private reserves and National Parks that make Kenya the world's most popular safari destination are largely insulated from urban problems. Just as visitors to South Africa's Kruger National Park and Garden Route are largely insulated from the high crime rates prevalent in urban areas in Johannesburg and Cape Town and foreign tourists who visit London and Oxford are largely insulated from the inner City crime, muggings and gangs of those Cities.

    The change in FCO advice for Mombasa is disastrous for those locals in the area whose livelihoods rely on tourism but it won’t have been taken lightly. As a company we have always actively avoided staying within the area the FCO recently advised against travel to, and were in the process of internally reviewing the security situation for transit through Mombasa Island and on the Likoni Ferry. Whilst undoubtedly the reaction in the British press to Thompson’s decision to evacuate their clients from Mombasa blew the situation out of proportion, we believe that security did need to be improved in this specific area and look forward to the Kenyan Government making improvements for the sake of tourists and locally in this area.

    As it turned out, my daughter and I had the most incredible experience, as a closet Northerner, I’m not naturally given to over-enthusiasm, but I can safely say that some of the new camps we visited the Laikipia area of North Kenya are now safely amongst some of my favourite places in the world (and I get around a lot in my line of work). We never felt remotely unsafe (well, except for take-off and landing, which still scares me witless). As ever in Kenya we had a warmer, friendlier and more enthusiastic welcome than I've experienced anywhere else in the world. At the end of the day, we all face risks when we travel and we have to ask ourselves, what life do we want to live? Do we want to minimise risk and never explore beyond our own backyard or do we want to see the world. I choose the latter, but there is no shame in choosing the former, it is a deeply personal decision.

    For all these reasons we continue to sell Kenya and recommend it as a safari and beach destination for families and couples alike. There can never be absolutes when it comes to security in any part of the world, but we continue to recommend our clients visit the National Parks and private conservancies in the Masai Mara and Northern regions around Mount Kenya and Laikipia, and on the Coast we recommend Lamu, a favourite destination, but also one which anecdotally has benefited greatly in terms of security thanks to significant international investment and security projects in the area. 

    I'd like to leave you with some feedback we received from a family who visited Kenya during the recent May half term. They travelled out a week after Thompson dramatically evacuated their clients from Kenya, the family chose to carry on with their plans and by all accounts had a lovely time. The family flew into Nairobi, and spent their week in the Masai Mara and Lamu on the Coast in the last weeks of May 2014.

     

    Hi Ben,

    I now have some time to write about our trip. Everyone is well, and our moving process is underway.  It would be much appreciated if you could you pass along the section on Lamu to the Moon Houses. Or, I will be happy to email them myself if you could pass on an address.

    Again, thank you for your help planning our wonderful holiday in Kenya.  Both the Masai Mara and Lamu were a good fit for our family. Thank you for all the time you spent on the phone discussing possibilities and exploring options with me. This was a favourite family holiday. Having planned the logistics of other trips, it was wonderful to have you do this much more competently than I could have done myself.

    Our transfers went smoothly.  We were met in Nairobi both times by Denis from Gamewatchers. He and the drivers were personable and competent, sharing information about Nairobi and discussing our trip with interest. When our daughter got sick upon return to the airport, Denis took good care of us, interceding with security to help us get her inside as quickly as possible. 

    We most enjoyed our time at Masai Mara and The Intrepids. We were well looked after by the staff, our steward and waiter were personable and attentive, and the accommodations were a wonderful place to relax. The game drives were fun for all of us, and we especially enjoyed our guide, Katembo. Seeing such a concentration and variety of animals within the park was such thrill for everyone. Our teen daughter enjoyed the drives and appreciated Wi-Fi access, so she could post pictures from each day's sightings. Our 11 yr. old loved spending time with Judy in the Adventurers Club, and opted out of a couple of drives to stay back and do activities with her. Judy was excellent with her. On the last night, at our waiter's request, the chef cooked a traditional Swahili meal for us, which was the favourite meal of our stay. Intrepids was a good choice to accommodate all members of the family.

    We were very pleased with the choice of Lamu for our beach stay. We stayed at Kiwandini House in Shela.  We truly enjoyed the beauty of the traditional Swahili style house and the relaxed and quiet atmosphere of the town. We were well cared for by a very adept staff. Asya the manager was accommodating and helpful. Chef  culinary skills were excellent on both taste and presentation. He provided us a personal 4 star restaurant and over fed us with the most delicious food. He did very well at accommodating our preferences. Sylvester, our steward, was gracious and tireless and humble. We were very impressed at the attention to detail he gave, from setting the table to preparing our rooms. He was helpful, kind, and accommodating in all things. We spent much of our time relaxing by the pool or enjoying the ocean breezes from the upper floor, but found plenty to do to occupy our three days there.  The highlight was participating in the release of a nest of baby sea turtles on Manda Island. Again, Lamu was an excellent choice.

    Our family enjoys nature so this was a highlight holiday. Never once did we worry about security or feel unsafe. We enjoyed the natural beauty of the country and the hospitality of the people. We loved Kenya and hope to return again. Thank you for following up with us once we were home to see how our trip went. 

    All photos in this blog were taken on our little father and daughter trip to Kenya in March 2014