There is nothing that mixes better than kids, bright but gentle summer days and animals. Throw in a beach and you have a right party! Over the last few years, we have used this formula quite successfully to have a blissful December holiday and ring in the New Year.
My December favorite, though, is undoubtedly South Africa. The people are warm and friendly and the main language is English so it is easy to get around. Despite all the caution about the commonplace petty crime, it’s one of the most beautiful countries to head to and offers several ways to get up close and personal with nature. While we’ve been there several times and covered off Jo’burg, Durban, Cape Town, the Garden Route, Drakensberg Mountain and the Kruger National Park. The country is dotted with national parks and game reserves which make for some fabulous wildlife experiences on safari and even more so if you choose to camp within the park. Safaris, though, are recommended only for children older than 6 years.
Some of the places young kids will really enjoy are Cape Town, Jo’burg, Sun City and Sodwana Bay.
Cape Town: by far one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town marries the natural hubbub of a harbor with the majestic feel of the Table Mountain.
Cape Town aerial view
Sara was 2.5 years old at the time we last visited, and the star attractions for her were the animals. A short drive away from Cape Town is the Boulders Beach, the home of the African Penguins. We carried a day bag with swimsuits and snacks, parked in the parking area outside the beach and headed in for a day of fun.
Peeking at the penguins over the walkway
There is a walkway, which allows you to see the penguins in their houses, but climb up the boulders, and you reach the beach where the penguins swim. But the best part is, you can swim with them!
The penguin trail at Boulders Beach
Splashing with the penguins
Carry a light bag and a simple change of clothes along with some dry snacks. This can be a good 3-4 hour expedition. A combination of beach and penguins, we had a tough time convincing S to get a move on!
Then there is the Duiker Island, also nearby, that one can go Seal spotting.
On the boat for a view of the seals
Animals apart, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, at Cape Town, is a great place to hang out. It offers a fabulous view of the table Mountain on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Though if you want he views from the Table Mountain, plan to be in the city for at least 2 days, as there is a good chance of the clouds covering the mountain on any given day.
Image Courtesy – Hessbeck-Fotografix
There is a variety of restaurants, a shopping area and enough space of little kids to run around and have fun. On good day, you’ll find local musicians striking up a tune by the harbor. All in all, a place you can spend the whole day around.
The last must-visit attraction is the Newlands Stadium to watch a match. We’ve been all over the world to watch cricket and football matches, but the South African experience beats all by far. Most stadia have grass banks where people bring in their picnics. I have seen whole barbecues being set up and the smell of delicious meat waft through the stand. Kids get a special treat, the organizers hand out bats and balls during the break and kids are allowed to go onto the pitch and play!
That’s some fast bowling
Jo’burg: Is like your typical big city, but greener and the sun shines brighter.
For kids, there is the Jo’burg Zoo in the city, but the real attraction is the Lion Park just outside of Jo’burg. About 40 minutes drive from Joburg is a cross between a nature park and a zoo which houses a number of the African animals. Kids have a great time feeding some of these like the giraffes and ostriches. One can also pet the small lion cubs and play a little with them. It is better to go earlier in the day, as the animals usually nap in the afternoons and you may have to wait for them to wake up.
Feeding the Giraffe which had an incredibly long tongue!
Petting the lion cubs who were dozing in the afternoon
Don’t eat my hands, hungry ostrich!
In the city of Jo’burg, you will find the really gigantic malls which the South Africans seem to love. They have different themes – Montecasino is done up as if in Italy. Melrose Arch, Kimley Mall and Sandton City are some of the other places for a look see. The shopping is different from the typical brands you see in India or South East Asia and Dubai, so here is a chance to pick up things that will not be visible on every 6th person.
Morning side is a great place to catch a fancy brunch, be sure to dress up and wait for an hour for a table.
For great pizzas head to Andiccio 24. It’s a hole in the wall with only self-service, but pizzas to die for.
Sun City: Cliched as it is, Sun City is a number of the South African experiences compressed into a 2 day stay. From holding a small crocodile in your hands, to the casino hotels to a giant pool to tribal art to a short safari in Pilanesberg National Reserve, it is all right there.
Giant wave pool at Sun City
The crocodile park at Sun City
Most jungle safaris do not allow kids under the age of 6. I wouldn’t even recommend taking younger kids, as a safari means waking up at the crack of dawn and patiently waiting almost the whole day for animal sightings. For older kids though, it can be quite an experience. Kruger National Park, of course being the best. Staying within the park for a couple of nights is a good option.
Sodwana Bay National Park: On the East Coast, almost on the border of Swaziland is the Sodwana Bay National Park. An unspoilt beach park, it offers great diving and snorkeling experiences. For slightly older kids who are comfortable swimming, it can be a great destination. The sea is calm and there is a huge variety of marine life to observe. It is a popular getaway for the locals and for getting your diving license!
There is something quite raw about Africa, the sun shines brighter, the people are friendlier and one can almost hear the sounds of the beginning of humanity or maybe its just the echo of my feelings from when I watched The Lion King as a child. Whatever it is, it makes South Africa special for me and I enjoyed it all even more while travelling with our daughter. I’d definitely recommend South Africa with kids.
Marketer by day and blogger by night, Pooja is probably the only travel blogger who goes to exotic destinations with toddlers in tow. She was brave enough to take a 3 month old to Mexico, Cuba and US West Coast all in one trip, and hasn’t stopped since. The family has been to over 50 countries so far. Of these, about 20 have been with their two kids. Pooja also has a personal blog www.thebackpackingmama.com where she shares all her travel stories.