By Holly Tuppen
Feeling bored of routine, restless and lacking in joy? It happens to the best of us. Maybe you need to head to Cape Town—the land of blue skies, optimism and wildlife at every turn. Africa’s Mother City, with its beaches, mountains and world-class wines at bargain-bin prices, offers an instant fix. Explore the Western Cape, where you can drive effortlessly between vineyards, game reserves and coastal idylls. There’s something for everyone, and even your tantrum-loving two-year-old will be welcomed with big smiles.
“That sounds incredible… but is it safe?” many people ask. We’ve just been on a two-week road trip with our one- and three-year-old and didn’t feel threatened once. Admittedly, security is a big business in South Africa; the electric fences and armed-response team signs all over Cape Town are unnerving. Sadly, this is the reality of living in a young city trying to overcome a wealth of social problems. Poverty in the townships is stark, especially when just moments away champagne flows freely in luxury hotels. But a large proportion of people living in the Western Cape are working hard to make things better for everyone. This energy is infectious and reason alone to visit.
Keen? If so, here’s the low-down on family-friendly places to stay and things to do, all within a two-hour drive from Cape Town.
Head up Table Mountain (use the cable car to spare little legs) to get your bearings—leave enough time for a good romp around at the top, where worn-down boulders look like dinosaur prints. For lunch or sundowners with a view, the lawn at The Rumbullion is child-friendly, as is Cape Point Vineyards (aim for the community market on Thursdays). It’s ridiculous how many beaches there are to choose from in Cape Town itself: the tidal pool at Camps Bay is slightly more welcoming than Clifton’s chilly waves, Kalk Bay is vibrant, Muizenberg has surfer vibes, Llandudno is peaceful when there’s no wind, and Boulders Beach is home to penguins.
The V&A Waterfront is not to be dismissed; avoid the mall itself and spend some time in the harbour-front food markets. Woodstock is the hipster end of town if a proper brew and arty pop-ups are your scene. Simon’s Town has the best ice cream and Hout Bay’s gritty harbour the best fish and chips (head to Fish on the Rocks and look out for seals). Further inland, visit South Africa’s oldest wine estate, Groot Constantia, and enjoy the views from the nature-filled trails of Kirstenbosch Gardens.
At the tip of the Cape Peninsula, the expansive Cape Point National Park is a good place for baboon and zebra spotting, as well as offering the chance to see the Cape of Good Hope—there’s a fun, rocky climb to the top of the cliffs suitable for a hardy three-year-old. Take time over Chapman’s Peak Drive and make sure you head to the other side of False Bay, to Gordon’s Bay and, further still, Betty’s Beach, which are more sheltered and less crowded than beaches in town.
Where to stay
The Vineyard is one of Cape Town’s finest luxury hotels for families. Old-fashioned charm meshed with an admirably sustainable ethos gives this hotel plenty of heart—felt immediately on arrival, when kids are greeted with gifts of rubber ducks and a copy of Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela. Interconnecting rooms are vast, with pretty boutique interiors (despite the hotel’s size). Any whiff of conference hotel is happily blown away by the landscape it looks out onto—Table Mountain National Park looms in the distance and landscaped gardens weave around a small stream, with plenty of nooks and crannies for hide-and-seek. Roaming tortoises add to the intrigue and the pool helps to while away hot afternoons.
If self-catering is more convenient, head to trendy Kloof Street where a pretty cobbled side road is home to apart-hotel More Quarters. Not only are you bang in the middle of Cape Town, but this place has thought of everything when it comes to kids: toys (bespoke to ages), cots, high chairs, snacks, shuttles and babysitters. Adults are taken care of too—the communal lounge is serene and comes with unlimited homemade treats and iced tea. Or, a cheaper option is The Tarragon, which has several apartments, pretty gardens and a swimming pool, perched on the hills overlooking Hout Bay.
Rather than take on one longer drive up or down the coast, we opted for a loop, with a bit of time inland for variety.
West Coast National Park
Instead of heading south, towards the Garden Route, try the lesser-explored north coast. Langebaan is a world-renowned kite-surfing resort on the edge of the West Coast National Park. Whether or not kite surfing is your thing, this laid-back beachfront town is a pleasant stop for seaside fun. Stay in quaint Slaley Cottage, which backs onto the beach, or try the more remote Churchhaven, where rustic wood-clad houses fringe the shallow lagoon beach.
If ‘proper’ safari is not feasible with little ones, then head inland to Bartholomeus Klip for a softer wildlife experience. This 10,000-hectare reserve is home to a ten-bed Victorian lodge, self-catering cottage The Wild Olive House, a dam with boathouse, a few farmsteads and a whole lot of wilderness. Dusty tracks and starry skies give the impression of the real African bush, but within just two hours of Cape Town and with all the home comforts you could wish for. I challenge anyone not to fall head over heels within two hours of arrival. We kayaked across the dam; spotted zebra, ostriches and bontebok on game drives; had running races through eucalyptus woods. Romantic dinners in the lodge and homemade feasts brought to our cottage were served up with a whole lot of heart.
If a proper stint in the manicured vineyards and estates of Franschhoek is not possible (it’s not the easiest or cheapest with little ones), then at least squeeze in a day trip—which is what we did on the way from Swartland to Hermanus. The drive alone will imprint on your memory and just a lunch in Franschhoek adds a week’s worth of experience onto your trip. For Chardonnay with a view, have lunch at La Petite Ferme. Browse for art and ice creams on the high street and jump on the wine tram, if time allows, for a spot of wine tasting.
The Whale Coast
Meander back towards the coast, this time to the whale-watching and shark-diving centres of Hermanus and Gansbaai. If you fancy heading out to sea for a marine safari, diving or fishing experience make sure you use Dyer Island Cruises, who are the most responsible operators in the area (they also have a cute penguin sanctuary in Gansbaai). Stay at Mosaic Private Sanctuary, just outside of pretty Stanford—families have the choice of cosy cottages or the main house, which has views across the ever-changing Hermanus Lagoon. Meals can be pre-ordered to cook on the braai, which are real fire pits that add to the excitement. For a romantic evening, Mosaic Lagoon Lodge’s restaurant, built around ancient milkwood trees, serves locally sourced food and drinks. Between the lagoon, sand dunes, fynbos trails and Walker Bay, activities like kayaking and mountain biking are plentiful. When the going gets too hectic, adults can take some time out at the Rain Milkwood Spa.
For us, two weeks in South Africa easily felt like a month. We became a little gang again, laughing at baboon bottoms and relishing in the drama of ‘getting lost in the desert’. Family life is exhausting and sometimes relentless. Mixing it up with a proper adventure does a world of good.
NEED TO KNOW
- If you want your trip perfectly planned to the highest standards, get in touch with Sally & Alice, who specialise in luxury travel with kids in Africa.
- Hiring a car is by far the easiest way to get around; make sure you have enough boot space for baby clobber and watch out for Google sending you down dirt roads.
- July and August are chillier and wetter but blue skies are still commonplace and tourist attractions tend to be quieter; December to March is peak season due to beautiful warm weather; September to November is the best time for whale-watching.
- To enter South Africa with kids, you need their birth certificates.
- No vaccinations or antimalarial tablets are needed in Cape Town and the Western Cape.