Katie Derham: Cape Town, with kids in tow
A holiday that involves taking two young
children on a 10-hour night flight sounds like a recipe for disaster.
But nothing could be further from the truth if your destination
is South Africa, says Katie Derham.
"South Africa. You've got to go there. The
beaches, the food, the vineyards, the animals."
Our first stop was a no-brainer:
we stayed with friends in the ritzy beach suburb of Clifton
I'd heard this sort of thing many times and even volunteered to
look at the holiday snaps of smitten friends. But with a five-year-old
and a new baby? A 10-hour flight? And on a whim? By which I mean,
without spending months planning it.
Well… it would be an adventure. There's
something about winter in Britain that makes even the most hare-brained
scheme seem attractive if it involves sunlight and cold wine. And
this time last year, I was on maternity leave, so didn't have the
inconvenience of work to get in the way of a good holiday plan.
So, having sprung five-year-old Natasha from school with the promise
of lots of times tables and "a project on elephants",
we headed to Heathrow.
First great thing about South Africa with children:
no jet lag. Night flights - OK, not wonderful when you're sitting
at the back but, frankly, new parenthood prepares you well for broken
And as for the children, Natasha was in heaven
at being allowed to watch back-to-back Disney. And the tiddler,
little Eleanor, was snug in her flight cot (30,000 feet is a pretty
good place to sleep through the night for the first time).
We arrived in Cape Town early in the morning,
and the drive from the airport in our monster rental van (hats off
to Avis - cheery staff and plenty of child-seats…) was breathtaking
for the views, and for the shock of passing townships on the way
to a city frequently voted "the place I would most like to
live". A timely reminder, perhaps, that we might be embarking
on a great holiday but that South Africa isn't quite the rainbow
nation of multicultural harmony the tourist board would have us
We had three weeks to play with, and a thousand
recommended routes for our voyage of discovery. Thank goodness we
met the marvellous Jayneen, an experienced travel agent and guide
who not only knew all the unspoilt spots, but also understood the
joys of travelling with children.
"Plan it around the animals," she said.
"And don't drive for more than three hours a day."
It seemed good advice, so, after adding that we
wouldn't mind sampling a bit of local wine, too, we sat down with
maps and got plotting.
Broadly, we were to follow the Garden Route, which
runs east along the coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Well,
technically it starts at George, a town about halfway along, but
the trip to George looked green and pleasant, too.
We'd heard a lot about South Africa's top-notch
b&bs and were keen to try them. They really are a long way from
the chintzy, metal-teapot-in-your-room, share-the-loo places we're
used to in the UK.
B&bs South African-style can be mini-boutique
hotels, with pools and five-star facilities. All are good value
and come with the convivial welcome of a host who cares about your
Jayneen was keen to show us her favourites. But
a word of warning. The ones that look stunning probably don't want
sticky fingers and dirty shoes on the furniture, and can be pretty
strict about children. Or rather, no children. Undaunted though,
our trusty travel agent did a thorough trawl, booked us in, and
we were off.
First stop, Hermanus. This is the best land-based
spot in the world to see whales, and we were there just at the end
of whale-watching season.
Imagine a coast not unlike Devon's but with humpbacks
breaching in the surf just yards from you. It beats sandcastles.
There are some spectacular cliff-top walks (I'd take a sling, not
a buggy) and any number of empty beaches with dunes to race up and
The little town itself is down to earth. We're
talking quality fish and chips here rather than fine dining (though
check out the Burgundy restaurant, with the friendliest maître
d' and the most expensive crayfish in the southern hemisphere).
The museum is fun, with plenty of whale skulls
to entertain the troops, and photos showing just how bleak the life
of a whaler must have been not so very long ago.
Onwards to Wilderness National Park, with the
most awe-inspring 12-mile beach, a string of extraordinary properties
perched on the dunes, a nature reserve and lagoon behind (good for
boat trips and bird-watching) and a little town with a great pizzeria
and a hippy market to satisfy all your tie-dye needs. We loved it.
We stayed in what I can only call the footballer's
wife of the b&b world. It was called Xanadu. It was fabulous.
We're talking a lot of swagged curtains. Many gold taps. Considerable
statuary. And our first introduction to real Afrikaaners, who had
just moved down from the north. They were charming. They had a hot
tub. They had several big, white, fluffy dogs which frolicked in
the surf. We, and our five-year-old, were in heaven, probably for
very different reasons. They were very tolerant of us. And put a
lot of towels out whenever the baby was near the silk upholstery.
Knysna and Plettenberg are well-known stops along
the Garden Route, and while you can see why, perhaps too many others
have got there first. Both towns are in stunning locations, but
at first sight are becoming very built-up.
Get away from the centres, though, and you're
in the most glorious countryside, with lots of outdoor activities
- riding, kayaking and general rambling - to keep a family busy.
Mucking about in the pool and cooking barbies - or braais - at our
comfortable cabin in Knysna (the Tonquani Lodge) were also winners.
Monkey Land and Elephant World are a short drive
along the main coast road from here, and proved extremely popular
with Natasha. They were also theme parks of the kind where parents
won't resent spending the day. Monkey Land, in particular, is sensitively
designed and informative, and you see the most extraordinary wildlife
close-up. I can thoroughly recommend them, especially if you're
unable to spend a few days on safari.
Nature's Valley, on the road east towards Port
Elizabeth, was a diversion we almost didn't take. Thank goodness
we did. At last, some genuinely untouched forests and beaches -
stunning. We only spent a couple of hours here, but on a different
kind of holiday this would be the kind of spot in which you'd love
Now, I know that plenty has been written about
safaris; I'd assumed that it was the kind of experience we'd have
to forgo with an infant (visions of lions salivating over the travelcot).
But that was before we (oh, all right, Jayneen) discovered River
Bend Country Lodge in the Addo Elephant National Park, an hour north
of Port Elizabeth.
The two days and nights we spent here might not
count as a "proper" safari with the purists - we weren't
too far from civilisation, and some of the animals we saw had been
brought to the park. But you know what? We didn't care.
This was a place that provided luxury and safe,
child-friendly adventure in equal measure. Our rooms were fabulous,
with views of the watering hole, where lots of animals obliged us
by drinking regularly.
Natasha was greeted even more warmly than we were
by our ranger, who asked her if she'd like to go bug-hunting or
to make fairy cakes the next morning "to give mum and dad the
chance to try out the spa".
Extra babysitters had been laid on for both the
girls. A baby seat was provided for the Jeep so that all the family
could go out together to see the animals, morning and evening.
It was awe-inspiring. We ate and drank like
kings, comfortable in the knowledge that our children were welcome
and entertained, and were able to look forward to the game drives,
knowing that the pros were used to catering for all ages.
Jayneen had told us to plan our trip round the
animals, and she was right - this really was the highlight. I will
never forget being in the heart of a herd of 60 elephants (including
two little baby twins, Dawn and Dusk - unbelievably sweet) with
the females stopping to look with interest at our little ones.
Or walking with giraffes, or counting zebra, or
stopping yet again because Natasha had spotted another tortoise
in the grass. (How could her favourite animal be a tortoise - elephants
and giraffes not exciting enough?)
We left, still stunned by what we'd seen, to drive
west back to Cape Town. We thought we'd take the more direct route,
crossing the Kleine (Little) Karoo.
After some hundred miles of orange and lemon
groves, we found ourselves closer to the Africa of my imagination
than anything I'd yet seen. Long, long single-track roads. Endless
open, dusty space. Mountain ranges approaching and then receding
After 10 days of comfort and varied entertainments,
a glimpse, perhaps, of what it must have been like for the early
settlers discovering this land for the first time.
One stop only on the return journey, in the remote
high-valley village of Prince Albert. Thanks to an intricate irrigation
system, this is a fertile spot, with pretty colonial buildings and
an arty vibe.
We stayed at the De Bergkant Lodge, an immaculate,
old-world spot with huge bathrooms, heavy Dutch furniture and a
great pool. We would gladly have stayed longer, but had to settle
for just one evening.
We dined in an occasional restaurant run by a
retired government minister who indulges his love of cooking a couple
of nights a week. Great food, and what better entertainment than
first-hand tales of political intrigue from one of Mandela's inner
The final push back was through the vineyards
of the Cape. We looked longingly at some of the highly recommended
restaurants we passed, with their promise of exceptional local wines,
but figured that there was a limit to the tolerance of even the
kindest sommeliers as children charge around their superlative cellars.
And, of course, it's an excuse to come back another time.
Article from City of Telegraph.co.uk
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