By far the majority of the inhabitants of traditional safari areas are Christians who celebrate Christmas as the biggest holiday of the year! However, this time of year in Africa (as with the rest of the southern hemisphere) is quite different to the typical and traditional roaring fires, snow-clad landscapes with snowmen, decorated trees and heavy meals of countries in the northern hemisphere that celebrate the holiday. Another big difference is that in Africa it is still primarily a holiday where the commercial aspect has not overshadowed the religious significance.
For rural folk, there are no ‘traditional’ carols or festivities and the decorating of trees and exchanging of gifts is not the norm. In urban environments, commercialisation of the holiday has however taken hold and in the weeks leading up to Christmas you will find widespread use of decorations, lights, trees and carols in shopping precincts with everybody marketing ‘gifts’ for Christmas.
What therefore makes Christmas ’special’ for us at Beat About The Bush? Here is a list of some of our favourites!
1. In common with most other countries, this is the year’s most important family occasion and we enjoy getting together with all our family members – immediate and extended – and friends for get-togethers where we can catch up and have no pressing work issues……taking a break from the constant connectivity and communications of the rest of the year.
2. Being the height of the local summer, this is a best time to spend long lazy days on the beach or at the pool, braaing (BBQ) almost every day and not to forget the obligatory ‘sundowners’ with excellent local gins. We then keep the fires going into the evenings where the odd roasted marshmallow and Amarula goes down a treat!
3. The rains have started (generally) and after a long, dry winter it is wonderful to celebrate the regeneration and rebirth of the land as grasses and leaves sprout, migrant birds return central and north Africa, Europe and Asia. The days are filled with vibrant birdsong and colourful flowers, and babies of every kind are born. The air is filled with energy and all life flourishes as the land is more bountiful.
4. The spectacular rain clouds and storms create a vibrant electricity that is exciting to witness. Wonderful sunsets, the smell of rain in the air and sparkling landscapes after a downpour make for magical memories. Few people from the northern hemisphere can understand how exciting the rain in Africa is. Not only does it bring new life, but it is desperately needed for agriculture and filling dams on a water-parched continent. Those who have experienced a true African thunderstorm will understand. Often only lasting half an hour, 100mm (4 inches) can fall accompanied by deafening thunder and blinding lightning.
5. Food, food everywhere! Christmas food is not the normal affair here in Africa. Turkey, for example, is the exception rather then the rule and given that it is likely to be 100-110F, a hot meal is just not appealing. A poolside braai (chicken, lamb chops and local boerewors sausage), cold cuts or some delicious local fish with salads is more likely while for dessert we have hot fruit cake with custard and ice-cream and trifle (layers of jello, custard, cream and chocolate & nut flakes on a bed of sherry soaked finger cookies). Small pastries with spicy fruit ‘mince’ - called Christmas Mince Pies – are also an institution here!
6. Celebrations at the lodges. The staff at the lodges will always make an effort to make Christmas in Africa memorable for visitors. Decorations are generally subdued but there will be ‘African’ trees with decorations and certainly the atmosphere and Christmas day are different in terms of the menus and ‘occasions / events’ on offer. You will certainly be made to feel like part of the family if on safari at this time.
7. This is the season of giving and it is wonderful to see how people open their hearts (and wallets) in order to support a good cause or those in greater need than themselves. There are many truly deserving charities to donate to over the Christmas season here in Africa. Giving is a big part of what this season is about and an enormous difference can be made in Africa. For example, sending Christmas presents through a reputable charity or donating to an aid organisation that protects rhinos are some of the many options.
8. An atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm. We love this time of year as most people are off work and a laid-back holiday atmosphere prevails where there is no rush, people are polite, jovial, accommodating and cooperative. It is a time of outdoor activity, picnics, games and sports and a lust for all things fun! But perhaps above all the children are so excited with their countdown to Christmas day and the arrival of Santa (Father Christmas here) and the gifts they may get – depending on how good they have been…..if only we had this as a disciplinary tool throughout the year!!
We hope you will have a wonderful Christmas / Holiday period wherever you are and however you celebrate this time of year
Animals captivate children. The opportunity to see wildlife up close on safari is not only an extremely rewarding experience but also an educational one. Global travel and viewing animals in the wild is an interdisciplinary learning experience; children learn about biology, conservation, morality, geography, cultural diversity, and develop important life skills like patience and cultural acceptance. A family safari is also an incredible opportunity for families to bond and reconnect away from computer screens and the hubbub of everyday life.
Despite these benefits, taking children on a long trip across the world may seem like a daunting prospect. But if you pick an appropriate destination and consider children’s needs and pace, a family safari can be a stress-free magical experience that creates lifelong memories.
Although safaris can be great for all ages, we recommend that they are most appropriate for children age six and older as it meets some lodge’s minimum age criteria and this is an age where kids will get the most out of the experience. With two safari-loving children of his own, Beat About the Bush founder and guide Trevor Carnaby, knows exactly how to engage with children on safari. We recommend hiring a private vehicle so your family can decide exactly how long you want to stay at each sighting, how long you are out in the bush for, and to get a more personalised experience.
Planning is the key to success. Not all safari destinations cater for children, making it difficult to figure out where to start. The Beat About the Bush staff have the knowledge and experience to tailor a trip that will fit your family’s needs. We can advise you on everything from health considerations to fun activities for kids in Cape Town. While we take care of the planning, all you need to do is watch the Lion King one more time and pack your bags.
Here are some of our favourite family friendly safari destinations in South Africa:
The Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa is arguably the best-known of Africa’s great wildlife sanctuaries. A unique feature of the park is the inclusion (no physical barrier) along the western border of private conservation land into a mega-park called ‘Greater Kruger’.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
Kwandwe Reserve is situated in the malaria free wilderness to the northeast of Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province and is arguably the region’s finest big game viewing area. Families can take part in a range of Eco-nect activities which are aimed at involving both parents and children with nature. Families are even given the opportunity to plant Spekboom, a type of native vegetation, which makes a positive environmental impact on the area.
Madikwe Game Reserve
The malaria free 150 000 acre Madikwe Game Reserve is situated in the North West Province of South Africa. Madikwe offers the Big Five and is considered one of the best places on the continent to see African wild dog – the second most endangered carnivore in Africa.
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve
This is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, covering an area of over 220 000 acres and home to a plethora of rare species and stunning landscapes. Children visiting Tswalu can take part in the Tswalu Junior Ranger programme which is carefully designed to meet the enthusiasm of a broad age range. Activities are varied but include archery (beginning with making your own bow and arrows), spoor identification and casting, as well as tracking on foot.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have any queries about taking children on safari or if you would like to chat about planning your family’s safari adventure.