We have just had the most amazing bucket list family experience on safari in the Welgevonden Game Reserve - a 37,000-hectare of diverse landscapes, geology and a plethora of South Africa’s most stunning wildlife as well as the Waterburg mountain range, which is estimated to be about half the age of the earth at 1.8-2.2 billion years old!
Welgevonden is a malaria free game reserve and literally only 3 hours drive from Johannesburg.
I really believe that everybody should experience a safari holiday, its such a breathetaking and humberling experience and one that will stay locked in your heart forever.
The first step to booking a safari holiday is deciding where you want to go. There are so many wonderful game reserves and camps which can be a really daunting task to chose which one to visit. We new that we could combine seeing friends in Johannesburg with a safari break and Welgevonden reserve was not only close by but has received such incredible reviews.
As we pulled up to the main security gates at Welgevonden everyone in the car was beyond excited. I’ve only ever flown into a safari by landing on a sandy airstrip amongst the bush, so this was an entirely new experience for me.
We were greeted by Melvin our ranger from Camp Ndlovu. There are 70 different camps within Welgevonden, which I found amazing especially as during our stay we only ever saw a handful of ranger cars - that’s how large the space is.
Our suitcases were put in one car as we were escorted to an area for welcome drinks and an introduction about life in the bush!
We had an hours drive to the lodge through the bush – it was kind of like our first game drive. There were three rows of seats in the back of the customized safari jeep, each row being slightly elevated which was so cool for the kids - they could all sit next to each, with an adult for extra safety. Initially when the kids spotted an animal they would shout with excitement but 5 minutes in and they realized they had to whisper, no shouting, use their binoculars and listen to Melvin.
On the drive we saw elephants, zebra, pumba AKA water hogs, rhinos, giraffes, springbok and kudu - it all felt so surreal. The reserves terrain blew me away, we would drive through valleys, up and down mountains, rocky and sandy roads and then drive onto wide-open plains were the views were incredible.
As we entered our lodge - Camp Ndlovu we could hear the beating of the drum. Pulling up to the entrance all of the staff were in line singing and dancing, what a lovely welcome. Sanet the lodge manager welcomed us with open arms and all the staff introduced themselves on first name basis. David and Patrick our waiters wanted to be called by the children Uncle David and Uncle Patrick, they were so nice - anything we wanted they would be quick to assist. It’s always the warm welcome and the friendliness of the staff when you arrive at a property that makes it stand out from the crowd and Camp Ndlovu was no exception.
As we walked into the main door I was quiet frankly blown away even the kids didn’t know where to look first - the emotion of everything just hit me and I felt incredibly grateful and lucky to be with my family and amazing friends standing on the most beautiful terrace with wild elephants and zebras at a watering hole right in front of me. The table was set for lunch, the swimming pool ready for the kids to jump into and the most beautifully designed rustic interior on the deck had a bottle of champagne on ice waiting to be served.
I have wanted to take my children on Safari for so long, especially as their love watching wild life programs has increased over the years, but they have been too young to really appreciate the entire experience. Now at the age of 6,6 and 7, I knew that they were ready to enjoy and appreciate a safari holiday.
It's hard to comprehend that such stunning beauty is literally on my friends doorstep. Having grown up in a bustling city like Dubai, this stunning backdrop was simply breathtaking.
Lunch was soon served which was wonderful - beef and chicken kebabs fresh off the bbq, prawn tempura, fresh bread and yummy salad. As much as the lunch was amazing we were all distracted by the wild animals roaming around in front of us. I do love elephants and I couldnt believe that there was one less than a 100 yards away from us, drinking water in the river below the lodge. Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that take your breath away.
This beautiful lodge welcomes children of all ages and can accommodate 10 people in 5 luxury suites all inclusive of 2 daily game-drives, breakfast, lunch and dinner including beverages. We had 10 people (2 families) in our group so this meant that we had the property exclusively for 5 days.... yipee!
My family had been given the ‘owners cottage’, which was the most wonderful 2 bedroom en-suite villa with living room, dining room, kitchen, office, outdoor bath and a large deck with a fire pit, indoor/outdoor sitting room, dining table and a large swimming pool over looking a watering hole where animals would stop to drink as they would roam by. What I loved after every evening game drive was that when you returned back to the villa the bath was ready, music was on the surround sound and the lights were dimly lite - so tranquil even a little romantic, that was until the kids would start screaming or crying
That afternoon the kids had a swim in the villa pool and before we knew it, standing by the watering hole, only yards away, was an elephant, wow wee!! We weren’t frightened even though this was a wild animal and even the elephant was hesitant to come so close to us. What an unbelievable experience!
That evening before sunset we left on an evening game drive. This is where you need to take everything with you as the weather changes as soon as the sun goes down (see below my top tips on what to pack) as the temp suddenly dropped so jumpers, hats and jackets on and we were all under the thick blankets that were on every seat in the car. With the sunset the landscape also changed, with the red sky reflecting off the changing terrain - I managed to capture a wonderful pic of a giraffe next to a tree and of two rhinos - seriously the pictures were beautiful no filter required. Did you know that a group of giraffes is called a journey!
My friend Nixs is an amazing photographer, she was using her big camera while I used my iPhone XR to take videos and close up as the camera is awesome.
Again the kids were great, they would chat together in the car and then once we saw an animal they would be quiet and listen to Melvin.
Around 7.30pm we got back to the lodge for dinner. Drinks were served as we sat around the fire. The kids would play board games and then we would have dinner. While on Safari you normally go to bed early, as it’s always an early start the next morning.
The next morning we woke to our wake up call at 630 am - we jumped out of bed with excitement and looked out the window as we could hear all the baboons crying and fighting. As the sun came up we ran to the main restaurant for a coffee, which Melvin had prepared and by 7am we were all in the car wrapped up in the usual winter attire and back under the thick warm blankets.
By 9am the sun is out and the heat has cranked up (don’t forget its winter in SA which means no rain, crisp fresh air and blue skies and the sun is always shining). Winter is also the dry season and is perfect to experience safari, as the trees are bare so it’s easy to spot animals and of course the weather is cooler. However whatever time of year you go on safari, you’re always guaranteed a wonderful experience but you’re not always guaranteed to spot the Big 5.
So what is the Big 5?
The term “Big Five” originally referred to the difficulty in hunting the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. These five large African mammal species were known to be dangerous and it was considered a feat by trophy hunters to bring one home.
Another interesting fact: ungainly as they look the hippopotamus is actually the world's deadliest large land mammal,. Hippos are aggressive creatures, and they have very sharp teeth. Did you know the hippo is part of the ‘whale’ family! Can you believe that!!
Let me tell you a little bit about our wonderful guide Melvin! Melvin has been working at Welgevonden Game Reserve for over 27 years. He knows the reserve like the back of his hand - he knows everything about every single animal, he can spot an animal footprint in the sand, identify the animal and how fresh the tracks are – this is what caused us to go on a breathless track of a leopard, unfortunately it got to dark so this elusive animal (and the toughest of the Big 5 to spot) slipped away. He knows whose poo is whose and he can even make animal calling sounds. Hyena’s have the easiest to identify poo as its white and full of calcium from eating the bones left from a carcass!
I would say your safari experience will always boil down to how amazing your ranger is. Not only did Melvin have the experience and knowledge, he was extremely kind and patient with the children and answered all their questions.
As we had the lodge to ourselves we could really determine how long our drives would last for - Melvin loved this, as he didn’t have to rush back for breakfast, so we would stay out in the morning for about 6 hours in order to properly track animals.
This particular morning -. Melvin has been told that about 30 mins away a mother cheetah and her 4 cubs had been spotted so off we went to find her. We drove though narrow valleys which were covered with about 60 elephants and we even had a road block as a rhino was lying in the path of the car - when you are near elephants you must stay quiet and whisper in order for them not to charge at you however when you see a rhino you should talk loudly. This is because rhinos have poor eyesight so the noise lets them know you are there, so they feel unthreatened.
We spot the mother cheetah who is taking shade under a tree with her cubs. It’s around 10am and she clearly hasn’t eaten yet as she is looking around constantly and on watch for something nice to eat. We stopped the car pretty close by so as we could watch her, her cubs were playing and one was climbing the tree. Then suddenly mum walks off up a hill close by in order for a better view. Melvin spots a couple of springbok in the distance - this guy has 20/20 vision, how he spots what he does without binoculars is incredible. The cheetah then starts walking in the direction of the springbok, with her babies slowly following behind. She crouches to take cover and then she goes for it... right in front of our eyes we witness the fastest animal on the planet kill a springbok! In short spurts a cheetah can run up to speeds of 100 – 120 km that’s 70 mph in 3 seconds! The springbok has no chance as she literally catches it and skids due to the speed of her run, she u turns and picks it back up. With the animal in her mouth she walks towards her babies and takes shade under another tree. It’s amazing to watch her motherly instincts - she gives the kill to her babies as she’s too tired to eat while she watches out for any other animals who might smell the blood of a fresh kill. Cheetahs are not very good at protecting their kill so they have to eat it quickly before lions or hyenas come and get it. Leopards on the other hand, once they have a kill will deposit it high in the trees away from reach of other animals.
What an experience! A National Geographic episode right in front of our eyes – we were extremely fortunate and grateful as our friends said in 10 years of Safari they had not seen a cheetah kill until now.
Its now time for our breakfast so Melvin finds a spot – animal free by a dried out river for us to park up and enjoy breakfast. Our picnic was great - boiled eggs, salmon, sausages, yoghurt, muesli, you name it. It felt strange out in the open eating breakfast as any animal could appear, but Melvin has the experience so we felt totally safe. Melvin then took the kids for an adventure to stretch their legs in the dried out riverbed explaining all types of things related to animals and plants along the way.
Once back at the lodge the kids had a swim and I took the drone out. We had been given permission to use it but only on the lodge premises. The most fascinating thing happened. There was one elephant close to us who could clearly hear the noise of the drone, he would stare in its direction, bemused and then he walked way and went behind the trees. Two minutes later about 10 elephants suddenly appeared, it was like he had told all his friends to come and check out the noise. We hadn’t seen so many elephants all together next to the lodge which just goes to show that they are always so close by but hiding behind the trees – for such a large animal elephants are so quiet - you normally only hear them if they are knocking down trees. We managed to catch this incredible footage on the drone.
The next morning we were up again at 6.30 and in the car by 7am with our coffees in hand. We were on a mission as this was the day we were on the hunt for lions.
It had been radioed through that all the lions were in one area of long grass which made it super hard to spot them. However the king of the jungle finally walked passed us but we noticed that he was limping - Melvin said that he must have been in a fight and that we should just leave him to rest. Lionesses are the hunters while males chill and protect the cubs even though they want to be known as the dominant ones! It’s amazing how the animals notice and hear the sound of the cars but aren’t fazed by it at all, this is because they don’t know any different. Since they were born in this reserve they have seen humans and cars and never felt threatened, as they have been left alone.
During one of the game drives we followed two brother cheetahs that were about a year old. They are always spotted side by side and they walked ever so calmly past the cars. A couple of years ago when we were in the Masai Mara a cheetah jumped on the car bonnet in order to get an elevated view of the plain - it was thrilling at the time but this time we had 6 kids in the car, so thankfully they just kept on walking.
Melvin reassured us that the cheetahs wouldn’t come close as they are always on their guard as they and all the animals still consider humans a super predator and a threat at any time, especially if a human is outside the car.
One evening the lodge staff looked after the kids while the 4 adults went to watch the sun go down and enjoy a few kid free hours with a glass in hand out in the bush. This time was precious as we enjoyed a little adult time and had great chat with Melvin. He took us to the top of the mountain, set up a little bar and shared many stories with us.
Once back at the lodge the kids welcomed us with a song on the drum and were so excited to show us the evening’s surprise - this really was a surprise as hidden behind a wall the staff had set up a bomo fire and bbq for dinner.
We were escorted in and the dancing commenced. Everyone was on form, dancing and singing. Even my little Sisi had a ‘dance off’ with David and let me tell you that he had some really serious African moves.
The next morning’s drive we saw 4 hippos with 2 babies basking in the sun next to a large river with crocodiles close by. As we were watching them all huddled together. something must have disturbed them as they all stood up and ran into the water and stayed underwater for a while. Adult hippos can hold their breathe under water for 5 minutes and can even sleep underwater, using a reflex that allows them to bob up, take a breath, and sink back down without waking up.
One afternoon my husband did a bush walk with Melvin, an experience he was so excited to do. A bush walk is a serous affair and not many rangers agree to do it as you are completely in the wild, not within the confines of a sturdy car and potentially at the mercy of wild animals. Before the start of the walk, Melvin explained some very important rules of the walk in detail: no talking, always walk behind the ranger, follow ranger hand signs to stop, crouch or slide and keep looking around and focused as any animal could appear at any time. At least the massive hunting rifle with 1 bullet (strong enough to kill an elephant and just about maim a lion – elephant skin thicker so the bullet would go straight through a lion) gave my husband some level of safety – Why only 1 bullet Melvin?: he replied calmly “because you only get 1 chance”!
On a safari holiday, many things need to come together to make it truly memorable. Our experience at the Welgevonden Game Reserve and at Camp Ndlovu had everything and more, it was truly a holiday to remember. I can’t recommend this enough – especially for a first time safari with kids, this was pretty priceless.
To find out more about Safari holidays suitable for children, contact me directly as I have teamed up with Safari lodges across Africa including, Welgevoden, Masai Mara, Kruger, Sabi Sands, Zambia, Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.
Also UAE, KSA and Qatari passport holders do not need a visa for South Africa.
Families visiting South Africa must provide additional paperwork when traveling with children in order to board the aircraft from your point of departure. These requirements apply for all nationalities.
Safari Check list!
* Woolly hat
* Sun block
* Duffle bag
PS. A huge thank you to the Moulvi’s for the most wonderful holiday. And a huge thank you to all the team at Camp Ndlovu for looking after us all so well. Please note this was not a sponsored trip.
Watch our video on Camp Ndlovu here:
Watch our safari video here: