Family Travel: on Safari with a Baby

Niall Magennis and his partner Jo took their daughter Fynn, aged eight months, to Namibia on safari. Here, he discusses going on safari with a baby: the good, the bad and the ‘what I’d do differently next time’…

On safari with a baby

Where and why? 
We went to Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, and Etosha National Park – mainly because I had to travel to Windhoek for work.

As Namibia is relatively well developed by African standards — one well-travelled Namibian described it to me as being a bit like Africa-lite for tourists — it seemed to be a relatively baby-friendly destination, so Jo and I decided to extend the work trip into a family holiday.

How did you get there? 
We flew Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick to Cape Town and then had a connecting flight with British Airways from Cape Town to Windhoek.

To get from Windhoek to Etosha National Park, we hired a normal saloon car rather than a 4×4 as there’s an American-style highway that connects the two. A good tip we were given was to make sure the car’s air con worked properly before the hire car rep leaves you with the car.

The journey from Windhoek to Onguma Bush Camp (on the edge of Etosha Nation Park) was nearly seven hours and the African sun is ferociously hot during the day. Trust me, you don’t want to make that journey with a baby in the car without air con.

Water Hole

Tell us about travelling with a little one in tow…
There are no real fixes to travelling with a baby – you just have to adjust to the unexpected. Unfortunately Fynn caught a bug the day before our trip and around an hour into the flight vomited all over Jo.

She then refused to sleep in the bassinet (a sort of lie-flat bed for babies that attaches to the airplane’s bulk head) for the duration of the flight so we had to take turns cradling her while she napped.

However, if you are flying long haul with a baby, do make sure you request a bassinet in advance (most airlines offer them) as it worked a treat on the return journey. She slept from half an hour after take-off right through until they turned up the lights in the cabin for landing in London.

And the accommodation?
We stayed at the Hilton in Windhoek and Onguma Bush Camp right on the edge of the Etosha National Park. Both were excellent.

As you’d expect, the Hilton is a slightly bland-looking, modern hotel, but it does have a great sky bar with a view of Christ Church, a Lutheran church which has become an historic Windhoek landmark.

The hotel staff were amazingly friendly too, and made a big fuss over Fynn.

However, it can’t compare to the sheer drama of spending nights in the African bush. At Onguma we had a luxury recreation of an African hut, complete with a four poster bed and en-suite bathroom.

The restaurant and bar areas directly overlook a waterhole, so we had an amazing view of the wildlife while I tucked into a freshly prepared kudu steak and Jo opted for the better-than-you’d-expect vegetarian option.

Fynn and Jo Windhoek

Highlights of the trip?
Windhoek is a quirky city, as there are quite a few period German buildings. However, it was seeing exotic wild animals wandering the plains of Etosha that was truly amazing.

I’ll never forget my first glimpse of a pair of giraffes coming bobbing out from behind a clump of trees, nor seeing a herd of zebras galloping across the plain.

It’s almost as if everywhere you look is a sight more amazing than the last, from watching huge flocks of pink flamingos feeding on the salt flats to seeing a pair of lions getting jiggy mere feet away the safari jeep.

Low points?
Jo found it unnerving when she heard the lions roaring outside our hut at around three in the morning as it caused her protective, maternal instincts to kick in.

For me, the biggest issue was that Fynn was too young to travel on the safari jeeps — they’re very bumpy at times, and don’t have three point safety belts, so there’s nowhere to strap in a car seat. It’s understandable then that insurance companies don’t want to cover young children on these tours.

This meant that Jo and I had to take turns going on the safari trips as one of us always had to stay behind with Fynn. There were two excursions per day into Etosha — early morning and late afternoon — so we both got to go on safari each day, but you miss that joint experience of seeing things together as a family.

Would you recommend this trip to other parents?
Realistically, if I hadn’t been travelling to Namibia for work we wouldn’t have chosen this trip. At eight months old, Fynn was too young to really appreciate what’s special about Namibia and so we probably wouldn’t have chosen to go on safari with a baby.

I think Namibia would be an excellent place for kids of around eight years and up, as that’s the age they’re allowed on the safari vehicles and are likely to be as fascinated by the wild animals as you are. Fynn was much more interested in her toy zebra than the zebras drinking at the waterhole next to our lodge.

A top tip for going on safari with a baby?
Fairy Liquid Platinum is not just useful for cleaning feeding bottles, it’s also surprising effective for removing puke and poo stains from baby clothes.

lion

Would you go on safari with a baby? What makes you think it would be amazing/terrible? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below…

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