At African Bush Camps we have built quite the reputation for our curated Family Safaris. We have our very own kids club called the Ngwana Club, which means lion cub in Shona.
The Ngwana club has a range of activities for kids, which includes nature walks, kid specific spa treatments, arts and crafts and a special kids menu.
Our Head of Partnerships at ABC, Karl Parkinson, recently visited one of our most popular family safari lodges with his wife, daughter and teen sons, on their first “fly-in” family safari in Zimbabwe. He shared their experiences with us in great detail.
Have a look at the curated Zambezi Family Adventure Safari based on Karl’s recent trip. View Here
Read all about Karl Parkinson’s family experience below:
So it was with some of this in mind that I decided to take my family on our first family ‘fly-in’ safari. We don’t consider ourselves a safari fundi family, but we have done our fair share of South African National Parks. This was our first trip to Zimbabwe; everyone was very excited and didn’t quite know what to expect.
We started off our safari in Victoria Falls, choosing to stay on the banks of the Zambezi River. Renowned as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, I thought it would be a great soft introduction to Zimbabwe. We stayed just 5km (and a 5-minute shuttle ride) out of the main town. I thought the location was going to be an issue (by not being in town), but it worked out just perfectly as we were able to go to and from town with ease.
My two teenage sons (15 & 17 years) used it independently, which meant they were able to go to town and visit the markets without mum and dad. Our hotel is right on the river with beautiful gardens, great WIFI, and a well-equipped gym—essential for growing teenagers these days! The pretty self-contained grounds were ideal for our 8-year-old to wander around too. She just loved the pool and gardens.
After a few days here and getting used to the many animals roaming around the town (mostly baboons and monkeys), we were all set for our fly-in safari to Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, a mere 1-hour flight east across the beautiful Lake Kariba. Leaving from Victoria Falls Airport, we were soon heading out on a small plane directly to the Bumi Hills airstrip. It was an exciting experience for the kids, flying low over the lake and surrounding hills.
On arrival, we were whisked away to the lodge by our waiting guide, Simeon. We were treated to warm towels and a warm song and dance by the whole Bumi team. The family was made to feel very special, with each of the kids being greeted by their names.
We had a delicious lunch served on the lodge deck overlooking the expansive Lake Kariba (it’s 40kms wide and 280 kms long), one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Then it was off on our first game drive. Simeon, our guide, had said there was a female lion in the area with 5 cubs.
So with our kids in tow, we set about finding our first sighting. We were soon treated to a whole array of game; impalas, warthogs, kudu, and many elephants. Our 8-year-old squealed in delight at the sight of every animal!
Even the teenagers were alert and interested. The whole safari drive was invigorating for us all. We all returned to the lodge starving. But first! The teenagers wanted to know the WiFi password. Thankfully, we were rewarded with super-fast connectivity for them to update their Instagram and TikTok. Afterwards, we all had our first meal Al fresco, overlooking the beautiful Lake Kariba.
The next day, it didn’t take us long to find the mom lion. She was hunting! But there were no cubs in sight. Nevertheless we spent almost an hour just observing her, waiting for the next unlucky impala. It was fascinating. But I’m not sure which was more impressive: the lion hunting or our children sitting motionless, and speechless as we watched the female crouched down, ready to pounce.
We got back to the lodge for a delicious breakfast but without seeing the cubs. My wife and the kids were most concerned. Where were they? What could have happened to them?
Our guide, Simeon, said we’d return in the afternoon to find them. Meanwhile, we had our first opportunity to relax and enjoy the lodge. Our teenage boys disappeared to the pool area – not to swim but to check on their Instagram. Unperturbed, I suggested we go to the gym and check it out. The boys reluctantly agreed and were immediately impressed. “Wow, dad, the equipment is high tech,” they commented.
I suggested we do a session before lunch, which they promptly did, without being told to do so. The added benefit of the gym was just the tonic they needed to get going and not be glued to their phones. It turns out that ‘working out’ and ‘bulking up’ in the gym is a popular pastime with teens these days! And to top off our time at the gym, we did a few laps of the spectacular horizon-rimmed pool.
Later that day, on our afternoon game drive, we headed out to find the 5 cubs. To our dismay, they had not been located, and to make matters worse, the mother lion was quite distraught. Letting out low groans, it sounded like she was calling them. We stayed with her for a while before heading off to see if we could find the cubs.
The drive didn’t yield any lion cubs, but we were greeted by the sight of a baby hippo, which our guide later explained to be a most unusual sighting for the time of year. After watching the ‘mummy’ hippo, we went back to see if the mummy lion had any luck. Alas, she hadn’t, and to all our dismay, she was visibly distressed. We set back to the lodge in a somber mood. Our mum was particularly distressed too. Even our little 8-year-old asked, “mum, have you ever lost us?” It all made us realize the importance of staying together and valuing each moment of our time together. Later our guide commented that it is often the human empathy for animals that helps us as humans connect with animals. And this was one such occasion.
Later that night, I challenged my boys to a game of pool in the game room, all decked out in regalia from older times when the lodge first opened. The pool game lifted our spirits, but Mum was determined to go back in the morning to ‘check on her’. ‘Ahhhh, Mum’ protested the teenagers, ‘we just want to sleep in’. Mum was having none of it, and they were promptly told they would be getting up for a morning game drive.
Our next day heralded no good news for our lioness. Our guide explained that it was still possible that the lioness would find the cubs, ‘although they may have been taken by hyenas’. Our drive included a search for the rest of the pride (the two male brothers), but we could only find their tracks. The area is dominated by rolling hills and beautiful sweeping vistas of Lake Kariba. These views prompted our next idea. ‘Dad, can we go out on the lake later?’ Absolutely! I said, thinking a change of scene was required from the mourning lioness.
We returned to the lodge for another delicious breakfast – all ready and laid out for our return. Surprisingly, after breakfast, the teenagers needed no encouragement to go to the gym, while the girls decided to check out the well-equipped spa. Complete with Mum and daughter treatments, our own lioness also invited one of the boys for a joint spa session and massage. It proved to be a big hit with the kids!
Lunch was served on the lower deck as we were invited to build our own pizzas to be cooked in the purpose-built pizza oven. It was the best pizza I had ever tasted!
Our afternoon activity that day was out on one of the many boats Bumi has. Going out on the water took us on a very contrasting experience complete with game viewing. Seeing elephants and hippos from the luxury of a boat provided an incredible viewpoint to see the animals up close. The kids were all enthralled. They had never done anything like this before! To top it off, our sundowners were on one of the many islands on the lake, this one being Starvation Island, so named after a number of animals were trapped on it when the valley was flooded in the early 60’s. Standing on the sandy beach overlooking the surrounding lake seemed like we were somewhere in the Mediterranean, and not Africa; such was the appearance of the lake and rolling hills in the distance. We set back as the sun was setting for quite possibly ‘the moment’ of our trip. Seeing the kids fully enjoying this newfound environment just lit me up. It’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.
Our time in Bumi was only 3 days old, and yet it felt like a week. The kids were no longer going off to check their phones and were more content to just enjoy the lodge and surrounds. It was then that I had the idea to expand their minds a bit more and requested our guide take us to see the local village.
Living in South Africa makes you acutely aware of the disparities in social well-being, and I thought the opportunity to see how most people live in Zimbabwe was a chance not to be missed. So we set off the next day to the local Mola village, about an hour’s drive from Bumi, and where a number of the staff at the lodge come from. The teenagers were not just curious but keen too! Mola is a village of about 3,000 residents and benefits from a number of projects run by the Africa Bush Camps Foundation, a registered non-profit organization to support local communities and conservation.
We went to see one of the local schools, Mangwara, located 12 kms from Mola. Before the school was built, learners had to contend with walking to and from the main village of Mola, so the building of the school was a much-needed project. The Africa Bush Camps Foundation (ABCF) has installed two classrooms, a teacher’s accommodation block, and boreholes for freshwater. There is still much to do; however, it was very rewarding to see the teenagers partake in some of the interactions with the learners.
Before heading back to the lodge, we also had time to visit a recently built boma by a group of American tourists as part of the ‘Build a Boma’ initiative to help support the human/wildlife mitigation project that is being led by the ABCF. We met with Simon, one of the community members, who explained what the Boma meant to him, “now I will not have to chase the lions,” he concluded with a grin. Before the Boma was built, lions were raiding the village of cattle and goats. Seeing the impact it had on him was a very moving experience.
The next day heralded our next challenge – fishing! Now, not being a fisherman myself, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the activity, but I knew the time spent with my kids would be worth it. I also thought they would be keen, but they weren’t! Surprisingly, I was greeted with ‘Dad do we have to go?’ So I didn’t take that as my cue to stay and relax around the pool and said ‘try it, you’ll love it’ (not totally convinced myself).
After catching about 15 fish between us (I made a small contribution of 2), we returned triumphant with the Sun behind the mountains and the wind in our hair. But what happened next was even more surprising… the teenagers promptly announced they want to ‘do it again’ and ‘dad, that was cool’. Still unconvinced I agreed to go out again.
People who know Lake Kariba say that something special happens when you go fishing. Well, it certainly did for us, and once again, it created special moments for me to share with them. I should add that our fishing excursion did not include ‘the girls’; they decided on both occasions to ‘go and find the cubs’, which sadly turned out to be a failed quest. Meeting up later that day with the girls, we all recalled our adventures. It provided a new energy in our family. And there wasn’t a phone in sight!
Our final morning was spent on our last adventure – to go on a walking safari. My eldest son had been pondering the idea for a few days now, so when he announced during our fishing trip that he’d like to do a walk, I couldn’t have been happier. For most people, safari walks are treated with much trepidation (as you are more exposed to the wild animals), while also getting the chance to get up close and personal with nature. It proved to be quite the experience for us both.
Following our trusted guide, Simeon, he expertly navigated the thickets like his own backyard. We stopped to see elephants from a distance as well as impala, kudu, and monkeys! I had done many walks in the past, but seeing it through my kids’ eyes made me appreciate the excitement and anticipation of what we could discover. While on the walk, Simeon stopped at a huge Baobab tree; we were lucky enough to find some seed pods (probably dropped by careless baboons as the elephants cherish them), which, when opened, have seeds coated in a soft skin that is a tasty bush sweet.
Now I know why elephants like them so much! Simeon also picked up some bark that had been scratched off by elephants sharpening their tusks. He showed us how it can be peeled and used as rope or for a bracelet! Amazing! We promptly got some. Simeon said he’d make a bracelet for our 8-year-old. After returning to camp, we had a quick breakfast and then set out with the rest of the family for our next adventure, to find bats (this was the request of my younger son, who didn’t want to walk). Simeon knew of just the place – an old abandoned lodge not far away, called Katete. The request to see bats was not on the usual safari checklist, so it provided a real adventure; even Simeon was excited with the challenge.
This was our last game drive at Bumi, and I couldn’t help but reflect on how our experiences had brought the family closer together. Gone were the distractions of the modern world. This was just us and nature. There was no longer talk of WiFi or what their friends were doing… all of us were totally engaged in the adventure of the moment and the excitement that lay ahead. This is what I had wanted us to be when we set out my ideas for us as a family. To go back to basics of enjoying life (nature), in a totally raw and unscripted way. Oh, and did I mention it? We went out that same afternoon (on the boys’ instance) for another fishing excursion.
And to think they never wanted to fish before this trip….
P.S I’m very pleased to report that the cubs were found and are safely reunited with their mom.