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Looking for a getaway that offers luxury, relaxation and a rare opportunity to see the Big Five in the wild? We’ve found just the place, and it’s only a three-hour drive from Cape Town.

Located in the heart of the Little Karoo, and spanning 58 000 hectares, the vast spaces of the Sanbona Wildlife Nature Reserve provide the ideal environment for families to connect not only with each other, but also with nature.

This was not my first visit to Sanbona. My husband, Craig, and I spent a relaxing weekend at the Dwyka Tented Camp nine years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child. Now, with two children in tow, aged seven and eight, we were thrilled to experience our first African safari as a family at a place that already holds so many warm memories. This time we stayed at the Gondwana Family Lodge, which has a dedicated Kids’ Centre and offers complimentary childminding facilities. The lodge has also introduced a Family Getaway Experience, available until 20 December 2019, that makes younger guests feel a part of the safari experience while teaching them about wildlife conservation.

We arrived on what happened to be “World Giraffe Day”, so Erin and Conor were treated to giant, giraffe-shaped biscuits to munch on while we checked in. They also received a welcome pack that included a Sanbona backpack and interactive booklet, filled with information about the animals they could expect to encounter during their stay.

Much thought has gone into catering to the needs of younger guests. Erin loved being able to choose her own meals from the child-friendly menu, offering staples such as chicken nuggets and pizza. I have to confess, I also sampled some of the children’s food as it was so beautifully prepared. Spaghetti Bolognaise has never tasted so good. Meanwhile, Craig and I were as spoiled with our menu options, which included traditional dishes such as bobotie and a selection of the most sumptuous desserts I have ever tasted.

We were unable to enjoy a braai in the boma due to the poor weather, but this option usually includes storytelling and roasted marshmallows under the stars for the children.

There were plenty of other activities to keep us all entertained. Erin loved exploring the skull garden – a trail populated with plants and bone relics from animals found on the reserve. The Kids Centre, with its puzzles, books and massive chalk wall, proved to be the ideal spot to regroup after a few hours exploring the reserve. Erin particularly enjoyed adding her artistic touch to the mural. Part of being “Kids on Safari” entailed placing their handprints on a statue of a lion as a pledge to preserve wildlife. The children were presented with certificates and badges certifying their status as rangers and eco-warriors when we left. Although not heated, there is an outdoor swimming pool with a shallow end that is suitable for children. Children older than 16 years are able to go on guided wilderness walks.

Only children over the age of four may join the game drives, which take place twice a day. There’s something quite exhilarating about driving along a rocky path, in a bumpy four-wheel drive, searching for the white lion or a shy giraffe. I wondered if my children, accustomed to being entertained, would see the beauty of just being out in the open, with no phone filter or barrier between them and some of the Big Five game. I need not have worried. Conor soon declared, after spotting a herd of elephants at a watering hole alongside our vehicle, that Sanbona was his “most amazing experience ever – even better than sushi”. They both enjoyed training their binoculars on the rocky outcrops, looking for the flash of white that would signal the presence of the reserve’s elusive white lions. We did eventually spot them, albeit only in the distance. However, we were able to see buffalo, hippopotamuses, gemsbok and even a jackal, among others.

Our ranger, Roman, patiently answered our children’s many questions and made sure to involve them in searching for the animals. He even indulged my children’s sudden fascination with animal excrement, in all shapes and forms, and did not flinch when this culminated in an impromptu game of “stomp on the dung” during one of our refreshment stops. This “pit stop” on the sunset drive, complete with snacks and a sundowner, was a great opportunity to chat to the other guests – many of whom come from overseas to experience one of South Africa’s largest privately-owned game reserves.

Gondwana’s 12 suites, as well as the main dining and lounge areas, have been revamped. Each unit comes with a sleeper couch, ideal for a child, and there are interleading rooms to accommodate larger families. Our children relished the independence of having their own space, even though we were just down the passage. Again, the beauty of Sanbona is really the attention to detail – a mini Nespresso coffee machine in each room, cookies for the children and water next to our beds at night. The suites open onto a sheltered patio, with breathtaking views of the reserve. Removed from the lights of the city, the night sky above our room was awash with stars.

Not once did Conor ask for his iPad or television – a first for my screen-obsessed son. Erin wanted to experience as much as she could; even overcoming her claustrophobia to spend three-and-a-half minutes in the sauna room. Next time we visit, she wants to try out the children’s spa treatments – she has her heart set on the “Chocolate Facial”.

We were only at Sanbona for two nights, but it felt as if we had been on a week-long retreat. This was largely thanks to the special attention and care we all received from everyone at Gondwana. We had hardly been dropped off at the Welcome Lounge, at the entrance to Sanbona, to collect our car, when Conor asked when we were coming back.

Need to know

  • Located in a malaria-free area.
  • Offers guests a choice of four different lodges and camps. Besides Gondwana, the Dwyka Tented Lodge accommodates 18 guests in nine luxury tents with private jacuzzis, ideal for couples. Tilney Manor caters for 12 guests in six spacious open-plan suites leading on to private verandas. The Explorer Camp, operating during summer, offers a walking experience for up to six guests, older than 16 years, while sleeping in luxury tents.