There are many reasons why South Africa is a perennially popular holiday destination, not least its beautiful landscapes, balmy weather and big hearted, welcoming people. Flying time from the UK may be just under 12 hours, but the minimal time difference means that jet lag is not a concern. Blessed with a wide range of good value accommodation choices, well tarred roads, an excellent network of domestic flights and numberless opportunities for adventure and relaxation, South Africa remains a superb choice as a long distance trip for all ages.
I travelled with my wife and two sons aged 10 and 7 to Cape Town in the Easter holidays when the summer heat was dissipating, but the days were warm and dry (the daily temperature was generally in the mid-20s Celsius). We collected a hire car at the airport and drove to Fernwood Manor, a lovely guest house near Kirstenbosch Gardens, where we stayed for three nights.
During the days we explored the iconic city of Cape Town: taking a catamaran cruise on Table Bay, riding the cable car up Table Mountain, visiting the penguins at Boulders Bay, travelling along the scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive, playing on the white sandy beach at Kommetjie and touring the city and its outlying suburbs by open top bus.
As a tour operator we are often asked to recommend family friendly destinations where there are enough varied activities to amuse and interest relatively young kids: this trip proved that South Africa delivers in spades!
From Cape Town we drove eastwards to Hermanus and the wonderful Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. The reserve overlooks the ocean and is home to small animals and a unique array of plants and flowers.
Our guide Clayton introduced us to the variety and splendour of the fynbos world on a nature drive by open 4×4, and we also explored the reserve on horseback along sandy tracks. The kids also helped out on the reserve’s farm, collecting our eggs for breakfast.
Above: Walkers Bay
A boat trip on the ocean took us offshore to Dyer’s Island where hundreds of seals were lying on the rocks, avoiding the narrow strait prowled by predatory sharks (we passed one shark diving boat which baited a very large Great White Shark).
On one memorable late afternoon we drove down to Walker Bay where we found ourselves alone in a vast grotto, once home to prehistoric man, and walked along the deserted beach, ocean waves crashing onto the shore.
A half day’s drive further east along the Garden Route brought us to the spectacular coastline of Plettenberg Bay and a lovely guest house overlooking Robberg Beach. We spent the mornings surfing the long, rolling waves, and the afternoons canoeing on the Keeurbooms River and zipwiring in the Tsitsikamma Forest.
On one morning we rose early for the short drive to Knysna Elephant Park: the keepers introduced us to their charges and explained elephant behaviour and ecology. We then rode the elephants to an open, grassy clearing where we could feed the eles, their tongues rasping the skin on our hands.
Our final stop was Hlosi Lodge on Amakhala Game Reserve, a superb lodge with interconnecting family rooms overlooking the plains and hills. We were expertly guided by Dee Ann who introduced us to the resident wildlife on the reserve including lion, jackals, zebra, giraffe, white rhino, ostrich, elephant and the very handsome greater kudu.
We also took time out to look at the smaller aspects of the African bush: animal tracks and droppings, termite mounds and giant snails. Bush breakfasts and sundowners, as well as an enchanting boat trip on the Bushman’s River, also contributed to an excellent introductory safari experience.
Amakhala and most of the other Eastern Cape game reserves are within an hour’s drive or so to Port Elizabeth Airport from where we flew to Johannesburg and back to London.
This was a wonderful, action-packed family holiday with experiences galore – try it yourselves!