Wild & Wondrous Safaris in South Africa

 

Pinch me. Seriously.

Our stare down with this bull elephant was the third one of the day. This is not Disneyland. It’s not a wild animal park, either. This is really Africa, and this is a real safari with real wild animals – and we are visitors on their land.

During our week on two different safaris through game reserves at opposite ends of Kruger National Park in South Africa, we had no problem seeing the “Big 5.”  In fact, on one of our drives, we came upon a herd of 75 elephants on the march. We tracked a pack of wild dogs, saw countless giraffe, hyenas, warthogs, and baboons, and marveled at a pod of hippos soaking in the river.  

What amazed us most was the interactions between animals – something impossible to see in a zoo. Once, we came upon a female leopard who had dragged her kill up into a tree. As she stared at the jeep, a large male leopard approached and stopped within two meters of our truck.

The two cats locked eyes and we held our breath. “I’m taking that,” he telegraphed, and leaped into the tree, scooting the female onto a higher branch.

As she tried in vain to make him leave, she lost her balance, fell from the tree, and ran off as the male took her lunch.

We exhaled.

Wow.

How to Save on Africa Safari Vacations

We’d always wanted to take the kids to Africa, but like most travelers, we were afraid of the cost. Truth be told, there is no “cheap” way to fly halfway around the world, take a once-in-a-lifetime/bucket-list family vacation, and safely visit wild animals with your kids.

But I soon realized that the price of a family safari vacation descends from the stratosphere if you 1) book directly with a reputable safari outfitter, and 2) simply decrease the number of days you are on safari.

Coming from America, most tourists want to make the most of the long flight and max out the length of their time in game parks – the most expensive portion of their African trip.  But there are so many other interesting destinations in-country that don’t require a guide and a truck and the expenses those entail.

Our family is very active – we’re no more likely to be content laying on the beach for two weeks than we would be happy on two-weeks of game drives. In fact, I think a week was about right for our two teen boys – more safari time might have become a bit boring.

Creating a varied itinerary in Africa worked perfectly for us (see details below). We began our 17-day vacation with a two-night layover in Dubai on the way to the continent. We then stayed four nights in Cape Town, which helped us adjust to the time change and enabled us to see a completely different side of South Africa.

We split our final week between two game reserves near Kruger National Park – Kirkman’s Kamp, in Sabi Sand on the southern end, and then Pafuri Camp, in Makuleke Reserve on the northern end near Lanner Gorge and “Crook’s Corner” where South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe meet.

Kirkman’s was everything I dreamed an African safari camp would be. Barney, our guide, and Eckson, our tracker, were amazing. The food, the setting, the service – it was all worth every pretty penny. Even though our expectations were high, they were exceeded. We loved, loved, loved it!

I’m already thinking about coming back to Africa, someday. I would love to see Botswana… But we loved the people at Kirkman’s so much, I could definitely see us returning – it really felt like “family.”

The ROAM Report – South Africa Safaris

Travelers: The Janowsky Family (parents plus two boys age 16 and 13)

Date: June 2018

Itinerary: Part of a 17-day trip to Dubai (2 nights),  Cape Town (4 nights), and two South Africa game parks – Sabi Sand (3 nights) and Mokulele (3 nights)

Budget: Approximately $30,000 for the entire vacation, including international and domestic flights, safaris, lodging, and tours

 

The Good Stuff

Kirkman’s Kamp, Sabi Sand Private Reserve – Absolutely the highlight of our trip. Fantastic accommodations and setting, warm and gracious hospitality/service/staff. Great guide and tracker for the game drives. Best game viewing. Yummy food (too much!) Surpassed my expectations for a safari. Would recommend highly to anyone.

Pafuri Camp, Makuleke Reserve – This camp’s setting on the river was really pretty and the tents were comfortable and delivered a classic safari feel. For birders or naturalists, this area would be especially perfect. We loved being able to view the animals from the decks of camp, but the game drives themselves were a bit disappointing, partially due to fewer animals than we saw in Sabi Sands and partially due to our specific guide who was only okay. I know other people who were there and loved their guides, so I think we were just a bit unlucky.  

Emirates Service  The Dubai-based carrier offers good fares and runs direct flights from many U.S. cities. We were very comfortable in their economy cabin, thought the service was excellent and our boys were thrilled with their in-flight entertainment system.

The Not So Good

Journey Home Even with the charter flight, it was about 35 hours of travel from South Africa to our door.  In hindsight, we could/should have booked a flight from Joburg directly to the US, even if on another airline, if that’s an option.

Good to Know

Best for Last  We knew Kirkman’s Kamp was going to be the best safari of our trip so it would have been better to book it as the last stop. Our impression of Pafuri was negatively impacted because we were comparing it to the amazing experience we’d just had a Kirkman’s. The way our trip was routed, we couldn’t save the “best for last” but if you can, do it.

Charter Flight – We flew Echo Skies from Pafuri to Joburg. It was a huge time saver and worth the extra money. I can’t imagine driving seven hours before we even start the long journey home.

 

by Emily Janowsky, November 2018

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