Young imaginations know no limits, and while children have an enviable ability to swan off into imaginary worlds, you could make boundless realms a reality by taking them on a family safari.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are as otherworldly an environment as you could hope for, and at one million acres of lunar landscape, adventures and explorations abound.
The camps here are a family affair, dating back to the 60s, when legendary crocodile catcher Jack Bousfield embarked on a trapping expedition in the desolate pans. His own imagination was captured by one particular site, and he set up camp there – the first incarnation of the famously stylish Jack’s Camp.
Jack himself described the ‘savage beauty of a forgotten Africa.’ The irony is that once you’ve stepped foot on the remote, soothing pans, you’ll never forget them.
Upon Jack’s death some 30 years later, his son Ralph (who spent much of his childhood in the area) established the Uncharted Africa Safari Company – an homage to his father’s vision. Nowadays, you might well spot Ralph and his own son out in the reserve.
We partner with Uncharted Africa Safari Company, and today Jack’s Camp is as much a legend of the Kalahari as its namesake.
Jack’s is currently being rebuilt, and it will reopen this year bigger, better and even more beautiful than before, returning as the bastion of Kalahari style, and joining San Camp, Camp Kalahari, Planet Baobab and Meno a Kwena in providing a particularly enchanting base from which to revel in the Makgadikgadi.
With roots firmly entrenched in family life, this is a space in which children can take in sights they could only have imagined, and their parents can lose themselves in the absolute serenity of this extraordinary world.
That being said, there is no shortage of things to do here, and there are few things we enjoy more than the opportunity to help youngsters fall in love with this special place. Who knows? Perhaps we might even inspire some future conservationists.
“The Makgadikgadi offers so much more than just wildlife viewing,” explains sales manager and private guide Peter Allison. “Every day offers so many different experiences from mixing with the Bushmen to zooming along on quad bikes across the dead flat pans, that a highlight is impossible to pick. Kids of all ages and their parents love it.”
The first photo that anyone who’s ventured to the area will show you is sure to be of meerkats. We have habituated a number of mobs, and guests have the opportunity to head out into the pans and interact with these tiny carnivores. Conservation is at our core, so these encounters are entirely on the meerkats’ terms, and you never know whether you’ll follow behind as they dig for delicacies under the watchful gaze of the sentry, or if one might leap atop your head and use it as a handy lookout spot while his comrades rummage around at your feet.
For a different perspective of the pans, you’ll struggle to beat a family horseback safari. Children from the age of five can saddle up here, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve never put your foot in a stirrup before or you’ve been riding all your life, you’ll be in safe hands with our guides and horses can cater for all abilities. You might imagine that a horseback safari means watching plains game from a distance at a sedate walk, but that’s not the case at all. The wildlife is actually more comfortable with humans on horseback, allowing them close enough to almost become part of the herd, and there’s every chance you’ll see predators – don’t worry, our team are well equipped for every scenario. If you’re well versed in equestrianism, don’t fret that the pace will be too slow – there are plenty of opportunities for a soul-cleansing gallop across the pans.
Those who like their horsepower a touch more precise are sure to light up at our arsenal of quad bikes. We’ll freely admit that these are some of our favourite toys, so wrap a kikoi around your head and set off on your very own desert adventure. If you’re particularly intrepid, there’s always our Kubu Island safari, which takes you on a sleep out experience to the Lost Island of the Baobabs under the watchful gaze of star-studded skies.
To really broaden childrens’ horizons, embark on a family bush walk with the Zu/’hoasi Bushmen, who’ve lived in this epic landscape for generations and know its secrets better than anyone. They adore kids too, so youngsters are in very safe hands with them. In fact, their own children are revered and never disciplined. Both old and young members of the family are sure to learn a huge amount from the Bushmen and women.
With so many activities to enjoy, it’s easy to forget the more standard safari forays, but you’ll definitely want to hop aboard one of our 4x4s for a game drive into the pans. Take a seat for both day and night drives to maximise the number of unique desert species you spot, among them are lions, elephants, aardvarks, aardwolves and brown hyenas.
Those who visit between November and April meanwhile, will find themselves amidst Africa’s second largest migration of zebras and wildebeest, and the last remaining one in Southern Africa. This migration is truly a sight to behold, and a great opportunity for budding young photographers to hone their skills.
You’ll want to make sure that you get plenty of photos on this trip – they’ll be treasured for many years to come.
Thanks to Silverless for the use of their photos.