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Animal Magic in South Africa

Whether you choose to stay in tented comfort or luxurious lodge, South Africa offers the perfect destination for showing the family some animal magic. Few countries in Africa can provide such a diverse range of experiences in one visit. The canny traveller can combine the vibrant city life with winelands, beaches and forests with a trip on the wild side. If big beasts are your interest, whales can be seen all the way along the south coast from Capetown to KwaZulu-Natal and from there it is a short diversion to the best elephant population in malaria-free Madikwe.

South Africa has almost every type of safari for every level of expertise and budget. With more than 1,500 miles of coast, and 21 national parks nestled in individual ecosystems that range from mountains to mangroves, there is something for everyone. And when it is time to relax, the choice of accommodation is wider than anywhere else in Africa – from simple campsites to luxury lodges – and the staff are enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Most travellers want to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) and, with the right itinerary, a stay of three nights the chances of seeing all five animals are good (although never guaranteed). Additionally, the Eastern Cape, unlike most other safari destinations, is malaria free. Equally, when it’s wetter in the Kruger region, you can still get great weather in the Eastern Cape.

Best of all, there’s no bad time to visit. The best time to spot game in the Eastern Cape is between October and April, while between April and October the best viewings lie in the drier north where the foliage is less dense and most days are rain-free. June to November is the season for whale watching along the Cape south coast when the southern right whales gather off the close to Hermanus. Whilst they can be seen from the beach easily, the Hermanus Cliff path offers eight miles of the best whale-watching viewpoints in the world.

Back inland, most game viewing is conducted on game drives, however, getting close to nature by exploring on foot is a fantastic experience. Both the Kruger National Park and the excellent Kwandwe Private Game Reserve offer bush walks, where the objective is not to view the big game (although you might come across something) but to acquaint you to smaller creatures and insects. It includes an introduction to game tracking which is great fun for children of all ages.

Even the best trackers struggle to locate the most elusive member of the Big Five – the leopard – because of its secretive nature and nocturnal hunting habit. The best place for leopard is Londolozi, a safari camp, family owned for eight decades, which offers experienced guides either to walk or drive guests through the grasslands and savannah forests and, sometimes at night, to find bushbabies, porcupines and the leopards for which this area is famed.

By contrast, the Kalahari Desert is one of the greatest wildernesses in South Africa providing a sense of space and emptiness that cannot be savoured elsewhere. If it’s your thing, this is the place to have a safari on horseback for one of those unforgettable life experiences. Otherwise a trip on an iron horse still provides a fabulous opportunity to spot rare creatures such as the desert rhino and black-maned Kalahari lion, and to explore mountains rich with ancient San art. At night, gaze skywards towards the clear heavens for star-spotting that is simply phenomenal.

Whilst in the Kalahari, you won’t miss the delight of spotting meerkats popping up out of their burrows and entertaining all children with their idiosyncratic behaviour. Without doubt, a visit to a meerkat burrow can be a memorable part of a family safari holiday; their interactions are fun, engaging and interesting to watch for all ages and it is possible to spend some time with habituated meerkats in specific places.

And to end the perfect trip? Obviously the sea side! KwaZulu-Natal beaches offer the perfect location for diving, snorkelling and boat expeditions. Between November and the end of February expect to see hundreds of leatherback and loggerhead turtles come on to the beaches to lay their eggs. The warm Indian Ocean waters here are teeming with marine life, from 8 species of whale to 1,250 species of fish. A perfect end to a sensational trip and one that will be full of memories that will make you smile for years to come.

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