Previous guest Andrew Owen-Griffiths and his family recently spent time at Madikwe Safari Lodge. Here he shares his experiences of the ultimate African family safari
I love Africa. I love the vivid sunsets, the depth and enormity of the star-filled sky, and the speed at which the sun rises above the horizon to start a new day.
I love the animals and birds, the tiny stick insects, the comical warthogs and the bull elephants, the “go away birds”, the hornbill and the mouse-tail.
I was born in Africa but left at the age of four with only vague memories. I have been back to Africa numerous times, but never with my family. Now with three children aged 22, 18 and 12, I decided to share some of my love for the continent with them.
I wanted a safari with a wide range of game, some luxury, but also with things that would interest a 12-year-old and two children who love lizards, insects and snakes. So bush walks were a priority and a malaria-free area were a bonus.
As well as visiting Cape Town and Livingstone in Zambia, the experts at Aardvark Safaris in the UK recommended Madikwe for four nights, which we pushed to five.
After two long flights we were through security, welcomed, and in an air-conditioned vehicle quicker than getting through most European airports.
The four-hour journey passed quickly and was a chance for the children to see what Africa is really like. We went past towns and small villages, large mines, schools, and churches. It was also a chance to discuss amongst ourselves what we wanted to see during our time on safari.
Entering the park at dusk was like entering another country, with its red earth and reddening sky. Within minutes we were treated to two white rhino, hyena, wildebeest, zebras and giraffes. The reserve is massive and the journey to Lalapa Lodge was about 40 minutes, which gave us a great chance to see the variety of the park’s landscapes.
The welcome at Lalapa was very special. Drinks and warm towels awaited us after the long journey, and we had our first meeting with our guide Wayne, who would become our best friend over the next few days. We had just enough time to settle into rooms before dinner and a discussion about our priorities.
Lelapa Lodge was perfect. The dining and bar area was luxurious, with attentive staff and warm wood fires (it drops to 5 degrees at night in winter). The Eco House was a great kids’ centre for learning, and the pool area has wonderful views across the park and the watering hole, which is the best place for photography as you are level with the animals.
The room we had was just beautiful, with a huge bed, bath, fireplace and outside balcony overlooking the park. It was attended to with meticulous detail by the staff, who we had a daily dialogue with using the chalkboard in our room.
As a group of five, we had our own vehicle and guide and were able to discuss what our priorities were and what we would like to see. The day starts with a wake-up call at 6 am and a quick cup of coffee or hot chocolate before getting on the open land cruiser.
It was cold so warm clothes and hats were needed, even with the help of hot water bottles and warm blankets. Wayne knew the park like the back of his hand and was very knowledgeable, never tiring of the stream of questions from the children (and some from the adults!) about the park, the animals, the land, the history and about his rifle…
We arrived back at the lodge around 9.30am for a lovely breakfast (the porridge was my favourite, the boys liked the tofu tacos) just as the sun was warming the air. Our whole family is vegetarian and we were given a special vegetarian menu for each meal. All the food was lovely, and we were amazed at how varied and tasty it was.
Then there was just enough time for a snooze or swim or photographing animals at the watering hole before it was lunchtime. On alternate days there was a talk at the Eco House or a bushwalk, both of which are of interest to both adults and children. We learnt about the cheetah on one day, and African snakes on another, with a chance to handle the pet snake.
Before you knew it it was 3 pm, time to head back to the lodge for afternoon tea before heading out on the evening safari. This generally ends in the dark, giving you a chance to get out the torch and look for nocturnal animals coming out. We arrived back at around 6.30am for dinner, then early to bed, perhaps after one drink around the fire while recalling the events of the day.
The stories of what we saw are too numerous to recount but our game list shows lions (4!), cheetah, spotted brown hyena, buffalo, jackal, wild dog, white rhino, hartebeest, kudu, eland, klipspringer, zebra, giraffe, elephant, impala, wildebeest, buffalo, ground squirrel, and hare.
One of the animals we wanted to see was rhino and we saw them in double figures. We learnt a lot about rhino middens (toilets), the ox-pecker and the difference between white and black rhinos. In some cases, these massive creatures came within 10 feet of our vehicle.
I had never seen the African wild dog (painted dog) before and this was one of my priorities. Wayne had an amazing ability to spot tracks while driving the vehicle and frequently showed us footprints of a lion, rhino or hyena, and explained what the prints told us.
When tracking fails, radio contact between guides means it’s easier to find a certain animal, but the park only allows three vehicles at a time at one site. This prevents the sorry sight of 10 vehicles surrounding an animal that you might see elsewhere. We found these beautiful animals resting in the shade, escaping the day time heat.
With the exception of the elusive leopard, we saw all we wanted to and more. We spent two days trying to see buffalo (lots of buffalo dung, no buffalo) only to find a herd of 40 or so jumping into the lodge watering hole as we returned one evening!
The thing that makes a holiday a memorable one, is not the setting, game viewing, or the weather. It’s the wonderful staff, who at Madikwe felt like friends.
We were really sad to leave, but still had Cape Town and Zambia to look forward to.