BIG STORIES about little things – Dune tiptoeFebruary 21, 2017
Village feasts and dry oshanasFebruary 23, 2017
Text Sharri Whiting De Masi | Photographs Sharri Whiting De Masi, Ilan Molcho
Travelling with children in Namibia is guaranteed to create memories that last a lifetime. Namibia offers plenty of family activities throughout the year, but many visitors bring their children to the southern hemisphere in December and January during the long summer break, and target the national parks and beaches. Namibia is politically stable and, with its small population, less crowded at this time of year than most other destinations.
You’ve probably heard that distances can be great when you’re driving between lodges in Namibia, but children rarely become bored once they become immersed in scanning the landscape for animals. There are picnic tables at regular intervals, as well as small villages and roadside stalls where locals sell dolls, carved animals and other souvenirs that young ones enjoy.
A visit to Namibia is an education your children will never get in school. Animal viewing is a great way to teach them to sit quietly while they wait for game to come to waterholes. They soon understand that they may see a variety of animals – zebra, springbok, elephant, ostrich, giraffe, rhino – if they’re patient and don’t talk loudly.
The opportunity to view in its natural habitat an animal they’ve only seen on television is exciting to most children, and opens their eyes to a sight they’ll never forget. For parents, it’s wonderful to watch your child’s eyes light up when one of these fabled creatures comes to drink or is spotted from the back seat of a vehicle.
There is also the likelihood that your children will meet Namibian children at lodges or the schools attached to them. This is a good way for them to experience diversity and multicultural populations.
The food in Namibia is palatable and enjoyable to most children. Local cuisine includes a wide variety of grilled meats, an excellent selection of breads and pastries, tempting breakfast foods, and vegetables that aren’t icky (potatoes, green beans, and so on). Even small towns offer familiar favourites, such as pizza, ice cream and fried chicken. For adventurous foodies there are local treats to try, such as beef or venison biltong (dried meat in stick form, also called jerky) or mealiepap (porridge made from mealies, South African maize).
Grocery stores in larger towns stock everything you could possibly want for a picnic in the bush or to snack on while on the road. Many rental vehicles offer refrigerators, or you may pick up an icebox to take with you.
What better way to learn about the iron particles found in the dunes than test them with a magnet?
A boat trip in Walvis Bay is a great way to experience nature and learn about marine wildlife from close by.
For the more adventurous family there are guided quad-bike tours through the dunes and along the beach.
KEEPING THEM BUSY
If your children use digital devices, they’ll want to take photos of the animals they see and perhaps organise a slide show. Keeping a journal with notes and drawings about the trip is a great way to build memories, as well as prepare for Show and Tell when they get back to school. There are many picture books available in stores in Windhoek, Swakopmund and lodge bookshops that children can use to tick off the animals they’ve seen, and in the process learn more about their habits.
SAFETY AND MEDICAL CARE
Namibia has very good medical-care facilities, with hospitals and clinics in major towns and health-care providers throughout the country. You will want to travel with your own first-aid kit and any medicine your children might need for allergies and so on. There is a helicopter evacuation service available in case of emergencies.
Make doubly sure that your children are buckled into their seat belts and car seats at all times. While Namibia’s gravel roads are well maintained, the safest speed to drive on them is between 60–80 kilometres an hour.
WHERE TO STAY
Before planning your route to the different lodges and parks, check first to find out whether children are welcome there. Some places have an age minimum due to their proximity to unfenced areas inhabited by wild animals – the safety of children is always paramount.
Our first choice is the Etosha National Park, which has several rest camps with provision for families with children. These are the Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo rest camps, which have independent cottages, duplexes, large rooms and campsites.
Onkoshi, is open only for children older than six. Provision for children must be made at the time of booking. Children younger than six stay for free; when aged from 6–12, the fee is fifty per cent of the daily rate. The rest camps have swimming pools, braai (barbecue) facilities and buffet-style dining at each camp.
Because the camps are fenced and the gates close at sunset, families are welcomed. Both self-drive and guided drives use the same roads and no one is allowed out of their vehicles; guided tours are limited to children over six.
An itinerary with children’s activities and enjoyment in mind could also include stops at private facilities such as Okonjima, home of the AfriCat Foundation, the N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund to learn about cheetahs and other cats; the seal colony at Cape Cross, quad-bike riding in the dunes and beaches near Swakopmund to see the Little Five – the tiny creatures that live in the moving sands: dolphin-watching cruises from Walvis Bay; and in southern Namibia, the Fish River Canyon and Giant’s Playground.
Private lodges known for family accommodation include Onguma Bush Camp and Mushara Bush Camp near Etosha, Desert Camp near Sossusvlei, Okonjima near Otjiwarongo and N/a’an ku sê Lodge near Windhoek. Ask when you make your reservations about which activities on offer include children and whether there is an age limit.
This article was first published in the Flamingo October 2012 issue.