A Family Friendly Safari Stay


Where the Waterberg Mountain Range meets the wide-open savannahs of Mabula Private Game Reserve, you’ll find a luxury safari lodge called Safari Plains that caters to families looking to take a walk on the wild side. But can a luxury lodge really be family friendly?

By: Liesl Frankson

I consider myself an easy-going traveller but when it comes to bush stays, I tend to err on the side of luxury. Truth be told, I do my best to stay out of the bush because I don’t like bugs and things that go bump in the night but as first-time parents to a lively toddler, my husband and I are committed to giving our little one as many experiences as possible.  

With that in mind we packed our bags, told our little Alyssa that we were going to see animals in the bush and started the short journey out of Johannesburg towards Bela-Bela. Situated just two hours outside of Johannesburg, Safari Plains is perfectly located for quick weekend getaways.  

After a few unplanned delays and a call from the lodge to make sure all was well, we arrived at Safari Plains a little after sunset. Following a brief check-in and a welcome drink, we received our keys and were directed to our tent as Alyssa cheerfully reminded us that we were here to see the animals in the bush.  

As we made our way along the winding sand pathways looking for our tent, the unmistakable sound of the bush was almost deafening and the vast expanse of darkness to our left confirmed that we were indeed taking a walk on the wild side. The lodge has 20 tented suites nestled in the indigenous bushveld on either side of the main building. 

Ours, one of six luxury tents that offer a larger main area and a private sala, was situated at the end of the pathway roughly 800 metres from the lodge’s main building.  We arrived at our tent settled in and freshened up in preparation for dinner. Alyssa seemed quite content and my husband and I breathed a sigh of relief as we made our way towards the main dining area for dinner under the stars.  

Dinner and a show

While Safari Plains offers earlier dinner times and a special kiddies dinner menu on request, we opted to see what the buffet had instead. We were in luck, and dinner was a hit as Alyssa happily slurped up her linguine with sundried tomatoes and roast chicken. Midway through dinner she remembered why we were here and asked, “Are the animals sleeping?”, to which I replied, “Yes they are, but we will see them tomorrow.”  

In the back of my mind, I wondered what the safari experience would be like since most luxury lodges don’t allow children under the age of six into the lodge let alone on an open game drive vehicle.  

Three courses down, we decided to make our way back to the room to turn in for the evening much to our little one’s dismay. As we tried to settle down for the night, Alyssa looked at us and declared: “I want to go home now”, leaving her father and I speechless.   

So, with no TV to distract her, we were forced to put on a show. We extended the evening routine and with some inspiration from the bedtime story supplied by the lodge, we came up with a game that found us ducking under the covers seeking shelter from a lion, or in this case, the ceiling fan.  

Needless to say, it wasn’t long until she fell asleep, and we could stop worrying while silently thanking our lucky stars that we were the last tent on our side of the lodge in case we found ourselves dealing with a night-time crying incident.

Bumbling about on the plains

While the rest of the guests at the lodge were up before sunrise for their game drive, we were afforded a little extra shut eye thanks to something known as the Kiddies Bumble. After breakfast, we were met by our guide, Russell, who was all set to take us on Safari Plains’ child-friendly safari.  

Dubbed the “Kiddies Bumble”, the child friendly version of the classic safari saw us head out onto the property for an hour-long jaunt stopping at all the popular lookout points where we were guaranteed to see a host of animals.  

As we approached our first encounter, Alyssa’s eyes lit up at the sight of a herd of giraffes in the distance. “The animals!” she exclaimed. We stopped nearby to watch a little giraffe munching on leaves. It paused, dropped its head and stared at us curiously while Russell explained how our ancestors used to think giraffes were carnivores because they were often found chewing on the bones of other animals to access essential vitamins.  

We followed a few more giraffes as they made their way to the watering hole and were fortunate enough to see an array of buck along the way. We arrived at the watering hole for some more up-close encounters with the giraffe herd, when we spotted a lone buffalo wading in the water.  

Our next encounter was triumphantly announced by Alyssa who shouted, “Zebras, mommy!”, as the dazzle skittered across the road towards the watering hole to quench their thirst in the blistering Bela-Bela sun.  

Some warthogs, blesbok and tsessebe later, Alyssa was fast asleep, but Russell assured us that the motion of the Kiddies Bumble was notorious for putting little ones to sleep, not that we minded much. Afterall, she had finally gotten to do the one thing she’d been talking about since she first heard about the trip. She got to see the animals in the bush.  

The Essentials  

What to expect 

While Safari Plains itself sustains iconic species such as zebra, wildebeest, impala, red hartebeest, eland, gemsbok, warthog and giraffe, guest safaris include access to the Greater Mabula Game Reserve, which provides the ideal conditions for an astounding selection of large mammals including the Big Five.  


Safari Plains offers a variety of ways to experience the bush, including classic safaris, guided safari walks, horseback safaris, hot air balloon safaris and eco-adventure trails (quad bike safaris). If you find yourself yearning for some extra pampering, the Safari Spa has an all-encompassing menu to do the trick.  

Good to know 

The tents at Safari Plains are nestled in the indigenous bushveld, so you can expect to have up-close encounters with animals outside your front door. Depending on the time of day and the location of your tent, you may be lucky enough to watch some of the animals as they make their way to the watering hole from your viewing deck.   

To book 

For more information and to book, visit safariplains.co.za.  

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