For families with kids, Simon Marsh lays out some fun activities to do on safari to ensure both parents and their children have fun.
The first time I took my daughter on safari as a three year old, she was transfixed with the experience and the creatures she had only ever heard about in stories. Fast forward to five years and innumerable excursions later, now the sighting of a big cat does no more than elicit a slight murmur of interest. A challenge to many seasoned parents on a bush excursion is how to make it an enjoyable, fulfilling and worthwhile experience for younger children whilst getting the most out of the experience themselves, all while avoiding arguments.
Over the years, I have sought to instil a knowledge and passion for the country she knows as home, and in particular its flora and fauna. Children learn through interaction and remember through experiences so for me it was important to incorporate both while on safari, as well as hopefully getting a few epic pictures for the family album.
The Mara never disappoints, and despite the heavy rains, this trip was no exception. In the quieter times, we were able to test each other’s knowledge and that of our Masai guide John by setting each other quizzes to test our bush knowledge. A pencil and notebook are cheap tools to occupy young minds, and they can also get to draw and colour what they see.
A small inexpensive camera is another great investment, although it inevitably means a lot of time subsequently spent deleting blurry selfies. The first time she was able to enter the school wildlife photography competition with her own pictures led to a sustained interest in all things four-legged which gives hope that a future “photographer of the year” may currently be undergoing the early stages of apprenticeship.
Back at camp, the guides and staff had prepared a range of fun activities. An increasingly competitive set of trials ensued between the staff, the determined eight year old and her talent-deficient father. These included the making of a bow and arrow followed by the multiple perforation of the cardboard-box derived target.
Next up was lighting fires the traditional Maasai way, by rapidly rubbing ‘sandpaper wood’ against another soft wooden base. Enough friction is created resulting in light embers which are then transferred to some very dry elephant dung, and this is carefully nurtured to create flames. Not nearly as easy as it looks, it transpired, when it was our turn.
We also took a mould of a big cat’s footprint. Much of the fun was in the scrambling around to find a suitable print, then being patient enough for it to set. For my daughter, this came in handy while relating the experiences of the safari to her school friends in the show-and-tell section.
The wonders of the bush can easily be explored on foot, and little experiences here and there such as luring a wolf-spider from its hole with a blade of grass or trying to determine which animal frequents a particular burrow based on what droppings or tracks are nearby, are always exciting. There is also the cheeky insertion of a finger into wet buffalo dung then pretending to taste it that always elicits giggles and mirthful faces of disgust.
A family safari is however just as much about spending quality time together away from the distractions of everyday life as it is about the game viewing. I found her opening up about the highs and lows of school life, what was on her mind and being able to talk about hopes, dreams and aspirations in a way that was rarely possible around hectic work, school and social schedules. To me that’s the real beauty of the experience, time together reminiscent of a bygone era and making memories that we will both remember.
We stayed at Basecamp Leopard Hill, the newest addition to their portfolio in the Naibosho conservancy. One of the innovations in their well-outfitted tents is the ability to open a portion of the roof at the press of a button which will appeal to stargazers, who need not even get out of bed. Each room also has its own deck and firepit from where parents can enjoy romantic meals while the children sleep peacefully inside.