Africa with a baby

Back in May when we took Sol (then almost 6 months old) on his first African safari, I wrote a blog that I thought had gone out but turns out either mummy-brain or Africa-itis kicked in and it never sent.  Lots of people questioned us before we took our wee little man to South Africa and Namibia earlier this year – I mean seriously, what were we thinking taking a little one to Africa??  Truth was, I had never thought much about it until then.  I mean, there are millions of babies in Africa and most of them are doing fine!  But then it got me thinking…  malaria, mugging, HIV, lions….!!  One of Andy’s work colleagues made a joke that if Solo was the entre then he’d be the main course…. and then my usually unruffled husband began asking me questions (with a tremor in his voice) about whether there would be electric fences around the safari camps we were going to…  It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you when faced with a great unknown.  But the tickets were booked, thank goodness.  We kept our cool and off we went.  Here’s what I wrote then:

“Anyone who’s thinking of going to South Africa inevitably will be looking at experiencing its most famous national park, Kruger.  In all my travels in this part of the world I had never been there.  In the past it seemed a ‘tamer’ option than I fancied, but with a 6 month old in tow it seemed a sensible option for us this time.  Let’s face it, an Africa fix is a fix no matter what form it takes!   So Andy and I decided to check Kruger out on this trip.  Wow, what a place.  We were in the northern part of Kruger at Wilderness Safaris’ Pafuri Camp.  It was a long 7 hour drive from Joburg (hell with a 6 month old – we sang the Solo song a lot!) but well worth it.  The camp is really special, partly because it has all the luxury you expect from a Wilderness Safaris camp anywhere, but also because it’s in an exclusive part of the park and you are literally surrounded by wildlife.

On our first night as we sat out the front of our safari tent, a lion humphed his way all the way through camp.  Elephants bathed right in front of our room in the murky brown, croc-infested Levuvhu River.    And I could hear all sorts of critters munching around us, probably nyala, which are in really high numbers in the riverine forest (something you don’t find anywhere else), as well as baboons barking at some unknown threat.  Utter magic.  Those are the moments when you remember just how special Africa is, just sitting listening to the bush noises at night.  Sadly little Sol was passed out cold and missed it all… although as new parents Andy and I were grateful for a rare moment to simply enjoy all of nature’s sounds and stare up at the starry night sky.

So I’m sure by now I’m making you jealous….  but I must go on, because the next day I was literally surrounded by elephants.  A huge bull walked past the open landy just a few metres away, a giant over the top  of us, literally taking my breath away.  I must be out of practice because even for me that was a bit close, but our illustrious guide Godfrey, who was born and raised there, knew the limits of the bull and of course we were perfectly fine.  There were at least 40 in the herd and little babies bumbled around their mum’s feet, one giving us a hilarious false charge.  The northern part of Kruger has plenty of elephants and they are completely happy to let you watch them from a few metres away.  Kruger is part of the Greater Limpopo transfrontier conservation area and elephants are free to roam up in to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, thereby reducing the need for any potential culling in the Kruger if elephant numbers get too high to manage in the confines of the park.

One thing about traveling with a little one is that it does make life a bit more challenging than usual. One of us has to babysit while the other goes on a drive, for example.  But we are managing and I have to say everywhere we’ve been young Sol has been the king of the camp.  He is simply handed from one person to the next.  The camp staff just adore him and he them.  It’s beautiful to watch.  That is the thing about Africa I had forgotten when worrying about how our little man would handle his first safari – African people LOVE kids.  The women in the camp all missed their own babies who they had to let their mothers raise at the local town after the first 3 months, so Sol was passed around like one of their own.  One lady strapped him onto her back the African way with a towel – the first time he’d done this – and he didn’t even squirm.  It was like he was made to be carried the African way!  Mind you when I tried it it was a complete disaster – I decided I’d stick to the hip (which, by the way, looks much less comfortable and doesn’t give you hands free the way the African baby carrying way does).”

So the moral of the story is – don’t NOT go to Africa just because you’ve got a kid.  Okay so Sol won’t remember a thing about his first African adventure but the photos will tell a story and it gave Andy and I a massive confidence boost to know that it IS possible to do things you think you can’t when you’ve got a munchkin.  Safety first, yes.  But life goes on.  And every so often you have to remind yourself of that.

Having said that, keep in mind that some safari camps won’t let you take a baby to them.  Generally there’s a lower limit of five years old in the camps, but I reckon, if given the chance to take your kids on a safari you should definitely do it.  There are even wonderful family tailored safaris these days where your kids will learn all about bush tracking and animal behaviour.  If you’d like to know more about taking your family to Africa drop me a line!

  1. Tammie

    Hi Natalie

    Thanks for your interesting questions about traveling to Africa with a wee sprog, which really mirrored my own thoughts last year when we first took (then) 5 month old Solo to Namibia and South Africa with us. Andy, Solo (now 18 months) and I have just returned from most of May in Zimbabwe and South Africa just a day or so ago, and it was absolutely fantastic. Even though it is different and certainly more challenging with a baby to be on a wildlife safari, it’s still definitely worth doing.

    We always raise eyebrows when we tell people we’re off to Africa again, particularly among friends who are parents of very young ones. Most people don’t seem to want to risk traveling to Africa with a little one, but the great irony in this is that over there you meet southern Africans everywhere who have little kids and babies and they all go on safari all the time, not to mention the many who are raising families in the bush among the predators! It’s harder – definitely – for the parents, that is, (I don’t think it makes much difference to the little one really). If you’ve been spoiled by lovely long game drives and walks in the bush, followed by relaxing sundowners on the savannah, there’s no question having a little one with you makes all that harder with working around daytime and night-time sleeping habits, feeds etc…. but it’d be hard at home too, right? As they say in Zimbabwe, you just make a plan and get on with it 🙂 At 18 months, Solo was running around and was more of a handful than last year at 5 months when he wasn’t yet crawling, but he got a lot more out of it this time, getting excited and pointing at animals we saw in the bush, which we loved to watch. Personally, I’m glad we’ve done both trips – both ages had their merits for traveling in Africa.

    We’ve learned that there are a few things that make your life easier on safari in Africa with a baby/toddler. One handy thing is to have a second bedroom if you can, or a family sized tent, so that you can both get some sleep and not be tip-toeing around. Another is to spend as long as possible in one place, rather than trying to see everything on a two week trip. Just plant yourself, give them a familiar environment with a few familiar things (travel cot, blanket, teddy) and within a day or so we found Solo was less jet-lagged than we were. In Zimbabwe on our first day there I picked up a plastic 3-wheeler motorbike which we took everywhere for Solo and he absolutely loved it. Your munchkin is a bit younger – is she crawling? It’s probably easier when they’re walking, because they’re less likely to be constantly putting their hands into less than hygienic stuff on the floor and stuffing it all in their mouths. 5 months was a great age to take Solo on safari because he wasn’t mobile, so although we weren’t sleeping through the night and were still semi-zombies, we didn’t have to watch him every second like we did more or less on this trip. You can also take advantage of great nannies – Africa has some of the best – I longed to bring one home! The lovely ladies at our camp in Zimbabwe would take Solo for a few hours when we went on game drives, something I wasn’t ready to do last year when he was a baby, and we would find him perfectly happy strapped to one lady’s back on our return. We took my parents with me last year and they were an enormous help with Solo, so that’s worth considering too!

    Re malaria – this time we used a Chinese herb called Artimesinum, which is also successfully used as the treatment for malaria, that a friend got for me in Kenya. I don’t know if you can get it in Australia – a Chinese herbalist might be able to help – but it’s readily available in Africa at chemists. You take a tiny sugary tasting tablet for 3 days in advance of being in a malaria area – all very pain free. Alternatively, you might want to consider going to a malaria free area like Madikwe in South Africa which is family friendly but has the big 5 or try Namibia – most of this desert country is malaria free (too dry for mozzies) – or Botswana, where your friend is, which I’ve heard doesn’t have much malaria either. You could go to a malaria area in the dry winter months when there’s no mozzies around too to minimise the risk.

    I guess the big learning from our trips is, it’s a mistake not to go to Africa just because you have a baby. I totally know what you mean about those anxieties you get as a mum around taking a little one to Africa. I had them too. Just remind yourself that loads of people have successfully raised babies and kids over there and still are perfectly well. And I wouldn’t have missed our time in Africa in the last 18 months for anything.

  2. Natalie Manwaring

    Hey tammy, my friend past this site onto me and then I realised I had read your book a few years ago. Anyway the reason for me writing is I have been battling to get to Africa for such a long time. And now, I have a 13 month old baby and was thinking of heading to see a friend in botswana. I have never been and now after having a child the thought is just terrifying. Mothers guilt if something where to happen all those crazy things that run through your mind as a parent. I wish I had of been before so I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. And my friends that are over there dont have children and dont really understand the logistics of taking a child anywhere. I really want to go but I am thinking of waiting until my daughter is a little older? I just would love my daughter to experience a different culture, and be able to come on the journey with me. We dont vaccinate either and I am sceptical regarding the usefulness of vaccines prior to travelling. So any informatiion would be great that you could give me, in particular malaria drugs? What did you have to do for lil Sol before you left? Thank you Tammy for your time.

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