East African gorilla treks

For families with teens over the age of 15, gorilla trekking in East Africa gets the vote of African tour operator, Dare to Explore.  The company offers trekking holidays in both Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Owner, Angie Karan, says most families go in for one to three days, and the number of treks they undertake depends very much on budget, as these excursions are not cheap and permits come at a high price.

However, there are other activities to round out the experience, such as nature and birding walks, coffee and tea tastings, and vegetable picking.  Village tours are usually built into the package offered by the lodges used.  One guaranteed to fascinate family groups is a visit to a Pygmy village in Bwindi, a memorable experience but reached by an arduous hike.

Dare to Explore tends to favour upmarket accommodation options, but Karan says there are more reasonably priced facilities that are perfectly comfortable for those whose primary focus is the gorillas and not a luxury lodge.

Elephants up close at Camp Jabulani

Elephant-back riding may no longer be an option, but the Camp Jabulani experience in the Kapama Game Reserve in Hoedspruit, close to the Kruger National Park, remains a valuable bonding and educational experience for families with younger children.

Families get up close to the animals and learn about their behaviour.  This information is imparted as guests watch the herd foraging or swimming in a waterhole.  Guided bush drives and walks, helicopter flips and hot-air ballooning are also on offer.

Accommodation at the camp includes the Zindoga Villa, which is particularly suited to family groups.  Two individual suites are connected by a joint lounge and dining area, and one of them has an adjoining twin room with private bathroom for two children sharing. A maximum of nine guests can be accommodated, and the villa has WiFi connectivity. It is serviced by a dedicated ranger, chef and butler.

Within spitting distance of rhinos

Nic Nel of Rhino Shuttles says family groups using dedicated road transfers can take advantage of flexible travel arrangements tailored to their needs.  “We can linger longer at spots they really enjoy or stop for photo opps,” he says.

He finds that the rhino tracking experience at Letsatsing Game Reserve, operated by Mankwe Gametrackers and a stone’s throw from Sun City, is one of those spots.  The tracking is done with telemetry devices and, according to Nel, participants can get within “spitting distance” of the animals on foot … and take a selfie to prove it.

Field guides who accompany the tracking group offer educational information on rhinos and create awareness of their plight and that of conservation as a whole.  The adventure take two and a half hours, and Mankwe Gametrackers will collect guests staying at Sun City.  There are two tours daily for two to eight people and teenagers from 16 years can participate.

Mankwe Gametrackers also offer the opportunity to witness rhino notching, the process whereby the ears of a rhino are marked to be able to monitor the animal.  Guests actively participate in the capture of the rhino, assisting the vet and reserve crew during the operation.

Touring with a purpose

According to Tessa Ellis-Brown, GM of The Last Word Constantia, family groups are increasingly interested in responsible tourism.  Among the inspiring projects she has come across are Uthando Tours, which takes tourists into local communities in and around Cape Town and exposes them to programmes that are making a difference.

She further recommends visits to Project Playground, which offers after-school activities to township children in Langa and Gugulethu outside Cape Town, and Culture Connect, for curated experiences of art, design, heritage and food.

Horseback capers

Horse trails are popular for exploring all sorts of landscapes – bush, mountain and beach. Rhino Shuttles’ Nic Nel notes increasing demand for Harties Horse Trail Safaris in the grounds of La’Wiida Lodge, between Fourways and Hartbeespoort, just outside Johannesburg.

The location places the rider at the foot of the Schurweberg Mountains, in the scenic Hennops River Valley, while the ride takes place among giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and buck. Riders do not have to be experienced and the minimum age for participation is six years. Staring with an hour-long Sunrise Safari that kicks off at 08h30, there are various one-and-a-half-hour trails during the day, ending with a Sunset Safari at 16h15 that includes a stop for a sundowner. 

Harties Horse Trials has also teamed up with the Monkey and Elephant Sanctuaries at Hartbeespoort to offer combination packages.

Durban Tourism highlights Gary’s Beach Rides at Warner Beach, 20 minutes’ drive south of Durban, for all ages and all skill levels.  Riders typically spend about an hour on the beach at a pace to suite the least experienced rider, but more experienced riders who want to pick up the speed are also accommodated.

Rural rides are also offered, and a longer day ride for experienced riders through the Oribi Gorge to a 70m-high waterfall, can be done in the winter months when the weather is cooler.