Holly Tuppen explores South Africa’s Western Cape with her young family
No jet lag; wildlife at every turn; English-speaking; kid-loving and unbelievably good value for money. Cape Town and the surrounding region has lots going for it when it comes to family travel. Combine all this with epic drives between the most family-orientated self-catering accommodation out there – darting between beachfront huts, wild farmsteads and stone cottages on ancient lagoons – and you’ve got a pretty wonderful family holiday.
Depending on how long you have, how good your kids are in the car and what’s top of the agenda (wine-tasting, kite-surfing or safari), here is a mix and match guide to family travel in Cape Town and the Western Cape:
However well it goes, a 10-hour flight with little ones will take its toll. Head straight to boutique aparthotel More Quarters (morequarters.co.za) to recover. Here you’ll be welcomed by a soothing lounge, the friendliest of staff and homemade iced tea. Apartments vary from one to three bedroom, tucked away on a pretty cobbled road off trendy Kloof Street. It also has everything you could ever want for the kids, including toys, cots, high chairs, snacks and babysitters.
Early the next morning (if you can resist spending two hours over corn fritters and pastries at breakfast), head up to Table Mountain for sweeping views and a chance to get your bearings. Over to the east is Cape Town’s Hackney – edgy, arty coffee shops and markets centred around Woodstock. To the west is the V&A Waterfront where kids will love the big wheel, watching street performers and spotting seals popping up to say hi to the fisherman and tourist boats.
Once you’ve had your fix of wandering and shopping, hit the beach. Clifton Fourth Beach is popular with families, but just around the headland, Camps Bay is slightly more accessible (with no steps) and has a toddler-friendly tidal pool. When refreshment calls, escape the crowds by heading up to The Roundhouse’s Rumbullion (theroundhouserestaurant.com) lawn for a picnic or sundowners with a view; it’s here that The Twelve Apostles – a collection of limestone stacks – dramatically cascade down into the sea.
Constantia, Claremont and Cape Peninsula
Cape Town is cocooned by mountains, vineyards and sea, making it easy to escape the urban bustle. The Tarragon (thetarragon.com) in Hout Bay is a laidback base from which to explore Cape Town’s greener side. Several self-catering apartments are nestled into the side of the mountain with views down to the sea. Pretty gardens with a pool, roaming wildfowl and huge purple giraffe statues will keep kids of all ages entertained.
Ensure a day to explore the Cape Peninsula itself; enjoy surfer hangouts in Muizenberg, ice creams in Simon’s Town, penguins at Boulders Beach and zebra and baboon sightings in Cape Point National Park. When hunger calls back in Hout Bay, feast on seafood at the child-friendly Dunes restaurant on the beach or the slightly grittier Fish on the Rocks in the old harbour. Up over the hills from Hout Bay are the vineyards and mansions of Constantia; Groot Constantia (grootconstantia.co.za) is South Africa’s oldest wine-producing estate and is big enough for the children to romp about under the oaks while you enjoy a glass of Chardonnay in the sunshine.
To the north of Table Mountain National Park is the leafy suburb of Claremont. Kirstenbosch Gardens is a beautiful spot for a nature-filled morning of picnics and flower trails. Pop into the Vineyard Hotel (vineyard.co.za) for brunch served up with old-fashioned charm on the lawns. The hotel is famous for its mountain views and resident tortoises.
West Coast National Park
When leaving the city, most people make a beeline for the garden route, so heading in the opposite direction can feel quite intrepid. Langebaan is a world-renowned kite surfing resort on the edge of West Coast National Park. Whether kite surfing is your thing or not, this laidback resort is a pleasant stop for seaside fun. There are lots of Airbnb hideaways in this area, but hands down the best is Slaley Beach Cottage. This corrugated iron ‘villa’ is one of the oldest and prettiest holiday homes in town. There’s no Wi-Fi or TV, but with a west-facing veranda overlooking the sea and the beach for your backyard, simple pleasures remove any need for mod cons. Lazy days should include at least one seafood extravaganza; head to Die Strandloper (strandloper.com) for a fiesta on the beach, or Beaches (dining-out.co.za) in Yzerfontein for calamari on its shady terrace, which overlooks the 16-mile beach. For an afternoon paddling in balmy water and bird-watching, drive to Churchhaven, where rustic, wood-clad beach houses fringe the shallow lagoon beach.
Swartland and Franschhoek
Inland from Langebaan, the brilliant whites and aquamarines of the seaside turn into deep browns and blues; welcoming you to big-sky country. Through quaint Darling and industrial Malmesbury, the landscape becomes prettier again in Swartland – a wine region home to South Africa’s oldest village, Riebeek Kasteel, which is worth a stop for pre-loved shops and organic cafés. For some of the finest hospitality out there, spend the next few nights at Bartholomeus Klip Farmhouse (bartholomeusklip.com), a 10,000-hectare reserve. Kids aren’t allowed in the main lodge itself (although it’s worth making the most of the onsite babysitters to sneak out for a romantic dinner there at least one evening) so families get put up in their own cottage: Wild Olive House. Beautifully furnished with heaps of soul, staying here is a little bit like visiting your Great Aunt. Brunch, high tea and dinner is all brought to the house ready prepared, and Jonathan turns up daily in his Land Rover to take the whole family out on game drives. After spotting springbok, zebra, bat-eared foxes and ostrich all basking in the early sunlight, you can wander down to the boathouse for tea by the water or go for a paddle on the dam in a kayak. Later, the private pool at Wild Olive House helps wile away the hottest parts of the day – if the whole family doesn’t end up slumbering amongst swallows on the shady veranda.
If anything can tear you away from the warm embrace of Bartholomeus Klip it’ll be the seriously slick wine estates of Franschhoek. While hopping on and off a wine tram from one estate to the next doesn’t sound particularly child-friendly, the reality is quite different. Head to the bigger estates like Boschendal (boschendal.com) for picnics and music concerts, or opt for a deli lunch at La Petite Ferme (lapetiteferme.co.za) where kids can play on the lawn as the adults enjoy the views of Franschhoek Valley. Watch out for the baboons that come down from the mountain in the late afternoon.
Meander back down to the coast to the foodie haven of Stanford, in between the whale-watching and shark-diving centres of Hermanus and Gansbaai. The drive is worth taking your time over; drifting over the famous Franschhoek Pass, skirting the epic Berg River Dam and heading off-road when Google Maps fails you (it’s all part of the adventure). Stay at Mosaic Private Sanctuary (mosaicsouthafrica.com), just outside of Stanford, where families can rent cottages with cosy fire pits surrounded by thick fynbos bush, or the main house, which has views of Hermanus Lagoon. Meals can be pre-ordered to cook on the braai, and Mosaic Lagoon Lodge’s restaurant, which serves locally sourced dishes, is on the doorstep. Between the lagoon, sand dunes, fynbos trails and Walker Bay, activities like kayaking and mountain biking are plentiful.
But is it safe?
This is the question asked by almost everyone before and after our trip. During two weeks of driving more than 200 miles and staying in eight different places, we didn’t once feel threatened. Admittedly security is big business in South Africa; the electric fences and armed response team signs all over Cape Town can be unnerving. Sadly, this is the reality of living in a city trying to overcome a wealth of social problems. South Africa is a young country and a large proportion of people living in the Western Cape are working hard to make it a better place for everyone. This energy is infectious and is reason alone to visit. If you want to understand this first hand, go on an enlightening Uthando tour (uthandosa.org) of social projects in the townships.
Quick facts & useful tips
• If you want your trip planned ahead, get in touch with Sally & Alice (sallyandalice.com) which specialises in family travel in Africa.
• Hiring a car is 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 but blue skies are plentiful and tourist attractions tend to be quieter; December to March is peak season due to the 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 anti-malarial tablets are required for Cape Town or the Western Cape.
Want more of gorgeous Africa? Emma Jordan takes her toddler on safari