GAZING up at the stars in the clear night sky, we lounge in our wood-fired hot tub next to the luxury safari tent while listening to the wildlife around us.
Don’t worry, no Covid rules have been bent, no flight to South Africa or Kenya has been booked. We’re in the New Forest, not the Kruger National Park.
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Forget a ten-hour plane journey. You can be here in two hours from London and let the kids run wild.
This is the Green Hill Farm Holiday Village, Wilts, a remote, newly refurbished 50-acre paradise on the edge of the forest.
The owners have used the off-season — and lockdown — to revamp the site for touring caravans, motorhomes and tents and erect eight luxury holiday homes and safari tents with hot tubs.
I’m here with my wife and young daughter, who immediately spots the new adventure playground as we drive in.
After parking, the luxury safari tents are just a minute’s walk away in a secluded field, surrounded by woodland and overlooking a fishing lake.
Each tent sleeps up to six, with three bedrooms, a play area and a brilliant bathroom with a shower that would be the envy of most hotels.
The living room has sofas, a TV, fully equipped kitchen and a huge dining table.
There is a wood-burning fire, immersion heaters and even hot water bottles.
Out on the balcony, planned to give you complete privacy, is the wood-fired hot tub, perfect for unwinding after a day being run ragged by the kids or exploring the forest’s delights.
One of those treats is the nearby New Forest Wildlife Park, close to the towns of Lyndhurst and Ashhurst.
We have booked in for a keeper experience, a one-to-one tour of the park with a member of the site’s knowledgeable staff.
Our daughter has a field day as she feeds the deer and bison with carrots and hurls fish towards hungry otters. We also see wolves, wallabies and wild cats, among many other animals.
To make the park even more of a wonderland for kids, there are two playgrounds, meaning children of all ages can explore while their parents rest their feet and grab a coffee.
Keeper experiences start from £85, while general entrance to the park costs £13.50 for adults and £10.25 for children.
Another trip out rivals the wildlife park for our daughter’s “day of the holiday”.
This time it was Peppa Pig World inside Paultons Park, a 15-minute drive from our base.
The pink piglet can provide the soundtrack for many a rainy day and here is her world, brought to life in full Technicolor.
Our daughter charges through the gates as soon as she sets eyes on the real-life creation of Peppa’s House.
She loves Grampy Rabbit’s boat, delights as she bounces on George’s dinosaur ride and almost gives her dad a heart attack as she tries to lurch out of the Windy Castle aerial attraction.
The reason for her excitement is she’s spotted “a real-life Peppa and George”.
When we are brought down to earth, she rushes off to meet them and invite them to her upcoming birthday party.
Meeting your cartoon heroes is hungry work and there are some great places to eat in the New Forest including the Balmer Lawn Hotel, near Brockenhurst, and its newly refurbished Lodge Kitchen and Bar.
We soak up the evening sun on the heated terrace with a drink and canapés before heading under the outdoor canopy to eat.
You have two menus to choose from. There is the fine-dining Beresfords restaurant, where I enjoy a delicious roasted hake with crushed Jersey Royals and spinach, or the Lodge Kitchen & Bar where you can get pizzas and sharing boards.
It is very family-friendly, with a great kids’ menu.
You are spoilt for choice for activities. One day, we saddle up at Forest Leisure Cycling and explore the great trails the New Forest has to offer by bike.
On another, we head to the beach at Sandbanks, near Poole, 45 minutes away from our campsite. Beaches towards Southampton are closer, just 30 minutes by car.
If you want to stay on site at the Green Hill Farm Holiday Village, your family would be happy.
STAYING THERE: A three-night weekend break or four-night midweek break, with accommodation in a safari tent sleeping up to six at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village, is from £619 at lovatparks.com or call 0333 200 1010.
Caravan, camping pod and lodge accommodation is available.
OUT & ABOUT: Entrance to the New Forest Wildlife Park is from £13.50 for adults and £10.25 for children.
Keeper experiences are from £85. For more info, see newforestwildlifepark.co.uk or call 02380 292 408.
Entrance to Paultons Park is from £35.75 for anyone over one metre tall. Kids under one metre go free. See paultonspark.co.uk.
Bikes from £20 a day from Forest Leisure Cycling – forestleisure cycling.co.uk or call 01425 403584.
For the Lodge Kitchen and Bar, see balmerlawnhotel.com or you can call on 01590 623 116.
There is a football pitch, crazy golf, trampolines and a splash park in summer.
You can hire bikes, fishing rods and book young ones on an array of classes which include archery, bug hunts and plate decorating.
You don’t get that in the Kruger National Park.
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