Having emerged from the lush Okavango Delta into Namibia, my family took a little while to adjust to the change in environment. At first, I was concerned that my kids would balk at the change in scenery – used to lions and elephants, and baboons hanging off trees to laugh at…I was uncertain how they would feel about endless sand dunes, stark images of thousand year old trees and an infinite, magnificent sky. The attraction of space to breathe and think, solitude and the mind-boggling fact that anything survives there at all are all very adult appreciations. I am sure there are some kids out there who take time out for the good of their souls, but mine are not them. Firstly, they are too young to even know what a soul is and quite frankly I am avoiding that conversation for as long as possible. Secondly, they are active; they need to be constantly entertained, they devour opportunities for fun and pout when boredom reigns. From my experience, this means they are one thing: normal. And my very normal kids adore Namibia.
Having been with Wilderness Safaris for quite some time now, and juggled our working life with parenting, we have learned a few tricks for making the most of the privilege of visiting some incredible areas with kids in tow. Many of the camps we have been in across southern Africa have boasted beasts with claws and teeth or giants with children sized footprints – safety of the little ones has been our primary concern. While it is still obviously a priority, and let’s face it this will be the case our whole lives long, the joy of Namibia is the fact that there are so many child friendly places where activities outside abound and the dangers are minimal. This peace of mind on holiday is priceless. And on top of it all, in this fascinating benign environment, are people that WANT to play with our kids and keep them entertained – perfection.
On a recent trip into Sossusvlei our family stayed at Kulala Desert Lodge - a charismatic and family friendly camp that is really well positioned for easy access to Sossusvlei through an exclusive gate. This allows the camp’s guests to reach the dunes quicker than most other properties there, thus arriving not long after sunrise and avoiding any other travelers. Shorter journey to dunes equals happier children. Cool weather to climb in equals happier children…and parents.
And the dunes…WOW. I would like to bottle the energy my son has and use it when mine is depleted. He apparently has enough for a whole rugby team. Climbing Big Mama and running down again was a life event for him – he may have done a spectacular face plant, but he came up smiling. He chased beetles and lizards, he played in the sand, and he ran and rolled and somersaulted. The knowledgeable guide made the incredible desert-adapted wildlife five year old interesting; from ice plants to tok-tokkies, from explaining the dot-dash prints of the golden-wheel spider to the impressive oryx standing stark against the red dunes, all were described in a way that held his attention and broadened his mind to include the miracle of adaptation. Handled incorrectly, this could all bore a young child stiff (some adults too, mind you). Not here.
After our incredible climb, we were offered a delicious lunch with enough variety to satisfy the more sophisticated palates of the adults, as well as that of an exhausted child whose blood sugar level was screaming for attention! Everything was set up under magnificent camel-thorn trees with white table cloths thoughtfully appointed away from the main parking spots of other vehicles. As we leant back to enjoy some rest, the guide pulled out a bat and ball and played cricket with him, giving us parents the opportunity to enjoy a few quiet moments in the shade. The Wilderness extra or what?!
Namibia is hot in summer - okay, it’s very hot. This should not come as a major surprise to anyone who visits here. There is a really great pool area at Kulala Desert Lodge though, with plenty of shade and my children cavorted there during the heat of the day – the heat of the day here means 45° C (did I say it was hot here in summer?), so the cool water is welcome relief and provides oodles of fun for kids. Large trunks with a variety of games are well placed in the main area for kids to use – mine, costume clad, took to playing board games on the pool loungers and, such was their contentment, the amazing staff brought them special kids meals to the pool where they could happily eat sans cutlery. Flexibility is the order of the day here when they deal with children – from meal times to meal venues, menus and special drinks, hot water for babies’ bottles and a babysitter too…nothing appears to be too much trouble.