Taking A Toddler To The Wild: Does It Add Up?

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Written by Beth Norton

I’m looking out over an expanse of water that is such a mesmerizing shade of blue I can’t stop staring. Beyond the sapphire hues, beguiling shadows creep down the mountain range encircling the lake. It’s as if the sinewy mountains are protecting us from the world beyond; encircling us in this place of splendour. My gaze is broken by a creature emerging from the shadows, advancing towards the shoreline. It puts its trunk into the water and tips its head back to spray the contents into its mouth. A contented low rumble comes from its throat and echoes across the water. This is elephant territory, and I never want to leave.

I’d been yearning to be back in the Zimbabwean bush for a long time. Living in the UK with my husband and our toddler son, my thoughts are often in Zimbabwe, where I grew up. We try to visit every year, but since having a child, it has become trickier to extend our holidays to the wilderness. Whilst I love exploring Harare, with its child-friendly lifestyle and array of outdoor eateries, there’s always a hankering to truly go off the grid. But how to enjoy being in the bush with a toddler who’s still too young to understand the danger of wild animals? I know that many Zimbabwean families do it, but my Anglicized two-year-old has almost zero experience of even a domestic cat, never mind a lion. He simply wouldn’t understand the silence or stillness needed in the presence of an elephant or buffalo.

With this in mind, I had a number of criteria when looking for a bush lodge for this part of our holiday. The lodge had to be accessible from Harare (which would be our base). It had to be affordable in price, especially as we were going with a number of family members. I liked the idea of the getaway being a treat for all of us, so I wasn’t drawn to the idea of cooking in a self-catering lodge. It had to have safe communal areas without ledges that a little person could fall off. Most importantly, I wanted to be close to truly wild animals, and to get that feeling of escape that comes from the bush, without worrying that my child’s safety was at risk from the wildlife (and vice versa). I wanted to introduce our son to these creatures safely, and to show them how special they are.

This led my search to Matusadona National Park and to Spurwing Island. Because the island is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel for most of the year, certain animals such as lions, leopards and hyenas can’t easily access it. This means that some of the more dangerous animals don’t usually live there − but you have a good chance of seeing them on game drives. Other wildlife does live on the island, including elephant, jackal, hippo, crocodile, serval, genet and much more. A walled bank deters animals like hippos and elephants from climbing into the residential area, and enclosed cabins stop them from entering the rooms themselves.

Please purchase Issue 4  for more tips to handle the bush and a baby! 

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