Why a safari holiday was the best way to say goodbye to our childfree life

Why a safari holiday was the best way to say goodbye to our childfree life

safari honeymoon south africa – Penny Walker

I strode back towards the safari vehicle, the dust lightly swirling around my walking boots, thinking that perhaps using the bush bathroom wasn’t the wisest decision. Robin, our guide, confirmed my fears as she set out snacks beside a lazy river in Marataba.

“I had to send Ed (my new husband) out after you,” she said with a slow smile. “This is leopard territory.”

Balancing the risk of becoming lunch for a big cat with the literal pressures of early pregnancy on the bladder, although far from glamorous, seemed to fittingly epitomise my feelings. Throughout our honeymoon I had struggled to reconcile the independent, confident attitude to travel I had always had with a newly acquired anxiety. Was the road too bumpy? Was that spider poisonous? Was the pool too cold? Did that drink have booze in it? On discovering that I was pregnant just a few weeks after our wedding, my behaviour had fundamentally changed.

Even our choice of destination had been affected. At short notice, we’d had to shelve our dream of visiting the Okavango Delta and look for an alternative that was malaria-free. It’s a surprisingly common search performed not just by pregnant people, but by those travelling with young children, those with health conditions and those who are simply bored of medical red tape.

Our options appeared fairly limited; while there are some small areas of Kenya, Namibia and Botswana that have a reduced malaria risk, South Africa seemed by far the most popular – and easiest – choice. Keen to swerve the crowds, we avoided the south with its heavy tourist footfall and opted for the less visited north instead. We would split our time between Madikwe Game Reserve on the Botswana border and Marataba in Marakele National Park at the foot of the Waterberg Mountains. (While the northeast of South Africa, home to the Kruger National Park, is in a malaria zone, this quiet corner of the country is not.)

Why a safari holiday was the best way to say goodbye to our childfree life

safari south africa – Penny Walker

Our journey to the beautiful Jamala Madikwe lodge was relatively easy; the most challenging part being the bout of morning sickness I experienced on the 11-hour flight from London.

The sight of elephants frolicing in a waterhole just beyond the deck as we enjoyed a welcome drink – regrettably non-alcoholic for me – made the frantic planning, travel and morning sickness worth it.

Madikwe is a relatively new reserve, having been rewilded and transformed into a protected area for wildlife in 1991 after the soil proved too poor for farming. This we learned from our guide, Lazzie (Lazarus Boikie Nokane), who pointed out where his parents’ farm – the place of his birth – had once stood. Lazzie revealed that the elephants are something of a menace in relatively flat Madikwe.

With a growing population but a limited area (680 km2), the vegetation is being stripped from every corner and the impact on the landscape is profound. As we drove along the fence line, he pointed out the difference between the two sides. One was much greener than the other and the sight highlighted the careful balance that must be maintained in these complex eco systems.

Why a safari holiday was the best way to say goodbye to our childfree life

south africa safari lion – Penny Walker

The landscape of Marataba in Marakele, just a few hours’ drive away by car, could not be more different. The Waterberg Mountains preside over these plains, providing the most spectacular backdrop. During our first night in a luxury tented suite at Marataba Safari Lodge, forked lightning tore through the sky, setting bushfires on the slopes – fires, Robin assured us, that were much needed in order to preserve the ecology of the area.

Between the plains of Madikwe and the foothills of Marataba, notable encounters included a cheetah with her young cubs playing by the water, several black rhino, a male lion calling for his brother, a solitary brown hyena scavenging from a giraffe carcass and a lion cub sharpening its claws on a termite mound larger than he was. We spotted a number of pregnant animals and I empathised with their obvious discomfort on the plains.

Why a safari holiday was the best way to say goodbye to our childfree life

south africa safari – Penny WAlker

It was our final drive at Madikwe that provided the most memorable encounter; wild dogs hunting kudu. We watched the pack race along a ridgeline at the edge of the reserve in pursuit of the antelope when one suddenly swerved and headed straight towards us, the others following in its wake. The people in another vehicle close by had spotted the dogs and by halting in order to watch had unwittingly scared a leopard from its kill.

Injured and weak, an impala was stumbling noisily through the vegetation. The dogs don’t kill an animal before they start eating it and their reputation as brutal creatures has led to their own cruel treatment by man, giving them the status of one of the world’s most endangered mammals.

A safari holiday may be far from the relaxing, sandy beaches and idyllic blue waters that many people opt for for their honeymoon, but for us it was a final opportunity to say farewell to our independence. In its stark brutality it reminds you of both the beauty and fragility of life. Everyone finds their own meaning in the experience, but for me, with a new life growing inside me, it felt poignant; captured in my memory as the moment that my life began to change forever.

Essentials

The writer was a guest of Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk; 01242 386 460) which offers six nights on safari including three nights at Jamala Madikwe and three nights at Marataba from £6,295 per person on a fully inclusive basis including all international and internal flights and safari activities.

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