TWK specialist Gail Hughes is an expert on Africa. Born in Zimbabwe, she travelled extensively through the continent from east to west. Gail moved to Australia 16 years ago and now helps families to book epic African holidays from her Brisbane travel office.
Gail Hughes says an holiday in Africa offers an unforgettable family experience.
“Number one is the wildlife, to be on a game drive and be that up close to an elephant or a lion walking past your vehicle,” she says.
“But also, you are going to remote places where you can’t connect to your devices so it gives you that great family one-on-one time.”
Two countries stand out as the best place for families: South Africa and Tanzania. Both are relatively safe, affordable and have malaria-free areas.
South Africa offers big five game viewing and diversity. Gail says cities such as Cape Town, Sun City and the Garden Route allow families to mix-up their experience so the kids don’t get bored.
“There’s a fabulous aquarium in Cape Town, teenagers who are really adventurous can do shark cage diving, you can go stand-up paddle boarding and you can visit the local schools and local villages,” Gail says.
Tanzania is more about safari.
“The game viewing in the Serengeti on the open plains is amazing,” Gail says. “Afterwards I would recommend families go to Zanzibar for a bit of a beach break “to wash of the safari dust”.
Most Tanzanian safaris are run privately. Families will have their own vehicle and their own guide – allowing far more flexibility. The guides are all locals, born and bred in Tanzania.
“It’s their backyard and they are fabulous with kids,” Gail says.
“The guides do activities like showing the kids different tracks and teaching them about trees and their medicinal purposes – how they use a certain tree as a toothbrush.”
A visit to a local village is a must in both countries.
“You get to see how they live, go to their local school, go to their mud hut and watch how they round up the cattle in the evening,” she says.
For many families, Africa is a daunting prospect. Planning a family holiday involves meticulously checking that hotels allow children, that the game drives cater for kids and that transport is fast and efficient. It’s not easy to DIY.
“I had one family who called and said they had been looking at flights and they thought they would have to wait twelve hours in Johannesburg airport for a flight to Port Elizabeth,” Gail says.
“I said, no you don’t – I have you on a morning flight. She was stunned.”
Expert advice really comes in handy when booking accommodation.
“There are certain camps that won’t take children, there are some that won’t take children under eight, there are others that will cater for all children. That’s my job – I know which ones take families and which ones won’t and which ones will take children on game drive.”
For her vast experience, Gail says children who are aged eight and above tend to appreciate Africa more. Older children are also vastly better at managing their own behaviour.
“Game drives can be long and boredom can set in with younger children – you can’t have child screaming hanging out of a vehicle with predators about,” Gail says.