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A Family Holiday in Southern Africa

Leopard at rest in the Okavango Delta

Dunes at Sossusvlei

Cape Town
by Elizabeth Bradley

[From Summer 2008]

Winter in southern Africa - June, July and August – is an excellent time to visit the Southern Hemisphere. Cape Town, South Africa and surroundings are cool but still lovely, with charming (and less-crowded) restaurants and delicious wines. Namibia remains dramatic and otherworldly, and the wildlife viewing in Botswana and Zambia is at its best. The unbeatable combination of polished city life and thrilling animal encounters appealed to our entire family, my husband and me and our three sons (ages 13, 10 and 8).

We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa in early June on the newly inaugurated Delta flight from Atlanta via Dakar, Senegal. Although I’d heard that Dakar is a fascinating city with amazing arts and a lovely beach, we saw only a dark airport with a handful of travelers. It was, after all, 2am in Dakar. But the flight is much shorter than via Europe… only 16 hours from Atlanta. The Cape Town airport was bustling with construction for the upcoming World Cup but, thankfully, our internet-arranged ride to our hotel was easily identified. In fact, throughout our southern Africa trip, all arrangements that we’d made either directly or through our travel agent worked smoothly. Our contacts were remarkably prompt and efficient.

In the 1600’s, the Dutch settled Cape Town along their trade route to Indonesia. A visit to the old Dutch fort is essential. Its compelling museum relates the horrors of the Boer War and Britain’s conquest of the local Dutch. Robben Island (a World Heritage Site) is emotionally powerful, especially Nelson Mandela’s tiny cell. Former political prisoners serve as guides to the ex-prison and heighten the experience.

Cape Town is known for its food and wine. We enjoyed a splendid dinner our first night at Miller’s Thumb restaurant, with choice South African wines and well-matched fish and pasta selections. The food and wine scene continues in the nearby wine lands of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. There, vineyards offer wine tastings often supplemented by excellent on-site restaurants. The town of Franschhoek is known as a culinary destination and we enjoyed several fine meals there. And, yes, the kids were treated very well. We did experience a day of rain during our time in South Africa, but enjoyed the green grass and trees in this season. And sweaters were unnecessary on sunny days.

Namibia: land of wide-open spaces. Our self-drive took us to the soaring dunes at Sossusvlei, the Swakopmund coast and Etosha National Park. Having been warned about the poor gravel roads, we weren’t too surprised to have a flat tire on our first day. With opposite side driving the norm in Namibia, I wasn’t entirely prepared for driving on the left while shifting gears with my left hand.

Our first evening, we drove through a pink-tinged dusk with ostriches and antelopes on the expanse around us. After dark, we saw numerous jackals and owls on the road to our lodge. The next morning, we watched the sunrise over the huge pink dunes of the Sossusvlei Valley. From there, we traveled to the coastal city of Swakopmund, rich in lush wetlands, seal colonies, dolphins and oyster farms. Next, we headed north to Twylfontein World Heritage Site and its 6000-year-old rock art. In Etosha National Park, elephants, rhinos, lions and other wildlife congregate at water holes in the winter dry season. We were impressed with Namibia and wished that we had several more weeks to explore Koakaland and the Caprivi Strip on the border with Angola.

And then Botswana. We landed at Maun, a small town crowded with guides to the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta and famous for animal and bird viewing. We had planned a three-day canoe trip. Imagine our surprise when the canoe trip became a 2-hour makoro (a type of canoe typically used in the Okavango Delta) ride, with our guide poling us through carefully selected non-hippo inhabited channels. The remainder of the trip was aboard a motorboat. Nonetheless, we adored the boat rides; the boys sprawled on top of the metal boat frame as we cruised through the delta, spotting hippos around every bend. It was sunset when we arrived at our private island tented camp.

As we enjoyed our first dinner under the stars in Botswana, our guide, William, regaled us with stories from his 20 years of guiding. He also had much to tell us about the pseudo-election ending that very night in Zimbabwe. As Botswana now has over 300 official refugee camps, his country is deeply embroiled in its neighbor’s trials with President Mugabe. Our boys had endless questions about the how and why of the election occurring in Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa and today the source of starving refugees throughout the area.

Zambia: we’d saved the best for last. We made a quick stopover in Livingstone to view Victoria Falls by helicopter and enjoy a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River; then five days at Robin Pope’s fantastic lodge in South Luangwa Park. The lodge is located on a high bank above the Luangwa River, outside the park in the buffer lands between cultivated areas. Hippos and elephants lounge along the river. At night we heard the calls of lions and hyenas and the loud grunting of hippos as they wandered nearby searching for grasses. The boys loved practicing the calls and managed to startle Zebron with a hyena call once. For both the morning and evening game drives, we accessed the park either via a bridge or a ferry pulled by villagers. Our ten-year old helped one morning and reported that it was indeed hard work pulling the ferry along the cable.

Zebron, our guide, was adept at spotting animals with his “bush eyes.” Every morning, we set out early wrapped in jackets and blankets that were shed as soon as the sun rose. Late in the day, we loved the sundowner drives; we’d pause at sunset for a drink and then continue with a spotlight in the dark. Zebron managed to locate a mating leopard pair; yes, leopards can roar too, when displeased at being disturbed. The boys did tire of the endless drives but were fascinated watching the animals and observing the abundant bird life.

All in all, our favorite family vacation, educational and fun, with excellent food and wine. It is true that June, mid-winter in southern Africa, is cold, but we worried less about the malarial mosquitoes. And prices at the lodges are much lower in the low and mid-season months than in the high season. Not all lodges accept children and of those that do, most require them to be at least eight years old. Be prepared for no television, so bring books and cards and plan on family togetherness under the vast African sky.


How to Get There:
We traveled from Santa Fe, NM to Cape Town, South Africa on Delta Airlines via Atlanta and Dakar, Senegal, From most major U.S. gateways, Cape Town can be reached with just one European stopover. Check with American, United, Lufthansa or British Airways, among others.

For Arrangements and Where to Stay:
Vanessa Nixon at African Essence helped with details and suggestions:

In Cape Town:
An African Villa,
Miller’s Thumb Restaurant, 10b Kloofnek Rd Gardens, Tel. (+27+21) 424-3838

In Namibia:
Swakopmund The Stiltz,
Huab Lodge,
Londiningi Guesthouse in Windhoek,

In Zambia:
Robin Pope Safaris:*

- Photographs by Elizabeth Bradley

Elizabeth Bradley was infected with the travel bug early in life when her family lived in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Puerto Rico. She attended Stanford University. With her husband, Dan, Elizabeth traveled extensively through central Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal, before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico. More recently, she and her family of five have vacationed in France, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and southern Africa.

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