Part one of my tales from our family holiday in South Africa took us from Cape Town to the Winelands, while in part two we head on up the coast along the Garden Route and then north to the Waterberg for a family safari…
Garden Route Road Trip
After Cape Town and the Winelands, the next adventure was a scenic six-hour drive along the fabled Garden Route past the charming Cape Dutch town of Swellendam and George, where our boy George had the obligatory 'George in George' photo opp, and finally to Plettenberg Bay, one of South Africa's loveliest coastal communities. We stayed at the glorious Kurland Hotel, a working polo ranch and elegant throwback to a more refined era, complete with full silver service dining room and terrace where we played board games in the evenings. Despite the rather grown-up ambience, the children adored the place, borrowing bicycles to explore the 1700-acre estate, visiting the polo pony stables, saying hello to the resident pot-bellied pig and then jumping in the pool for a refreshing dip.
Away from Kurland, Plettenberg Bay is home to a ridiculous number of family activities. In the space of three days we boogie boarded on the beautiful beach; had hats and water bottles swiped by cheeky monkeys at Monkeyland; saw macaws and more at Birds of Eden; all the biggest big cats (including a rather non-contextual Bengal tiger) at Jukani big cat sanctuary and went riding. Unanimously voted best of all by both generations, though, was a magical visit to the Elephant Sanctuary, where rescued African elephants are rehabilitated. To stand with, stroke, feed and walk (leading them by their extraordinarily muscular trunks) with these gentle giants was truly humbling.
So far, so animal-tastic, but we'd saved the best to last for our diminutive David Attenboroughs with a flight to Johannesburg and drive due north to the Waterberg, a malaria-free (so ideal for small children and pregnant mums-to-be) region that's home to the magical Ant's Hill and Ant's Nest. These two properties sit 15-minute drive apart in a private 12,500-acre reserve that rather ingeniously is dedicated not to the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant), but rather to family-friendly activities such as riding and walking safaris. As a family we're not riders, but the Ant's horses are so well-trained, and so well-matched to the capabilities (or otherwise) of the riders that within half an hour of our first ride, we were sitting on our horses a matter of metres away from a wonderful old bull giraffe. The theory goes that the animals (from zebras and giraffes to antelopes of all sorts from kudus to impala) see people on horses as just another species, so they're pretty relaxed in the presence of riders. It makes for a truly memorable experience, and we soon settled into a routine of early morning rides with the afternoons dedicated to walking or 'conventional' 4x4 safaris with the brilliant Ant's guides. After lunch each day, the children enjoyed bug walks (to appreciate the area's smaller species); an introduction to snakes from resident expert Craig, and even some archery, and they loved every minute of it. The most magical moment, however, was being at Ant's Nest one evening as the white rhinos protected by the reserve's admirable Save the Waterberg Rhino foundation came into camp to be fed. There's a clever wooden platform that reaches out over the feeding area so the children were able to get within a foot or two of these awesome but critically endangered animals. We talked to the rangers whose crucial job is to protect the rhinos, and the children came away as confirmed conservationists.
Throw in a lovely surprise lunch by a waterhole one day, and a fishing expedition (for tilapia) in a dam under a beautiful African sunset one evening, and the whole safari experience was epic, and made even better by the charm of the accommodation. We stayed in the Family Cottage at Ant's Hill, a hugely characterful stone-walled and thatch-roofed building with a gorgeous terrace with panoramic views, an upstairs 'eyrie' room for the younger two, outdoor shower and kid-size kikoi (traditional East African cotton fabric) dressing gowns. The team there are wonderful and adore looking after little ones, and collectively we agreed it was the best possible introduction to safari.
Finally, it was time to head home, which was good timing as the children were starting to suffer from sensory overload. We headed back to Johannesburg for the overnight flight home, stopping en route at the supremely elegant Satyagraha House - one-time home of Mohandas Gandhi during his time in South Africa - for lunch and a quick history lesson. We also met and thanked Zola, our Concierge-cum-conjuror, who had throughout the trip magicked up restaurant reservations, moved dates and times for activities and generally second guessed our every need. I may be a smidge biased, but the Original Travel Concierge service really is the secret sauce on all our trips, especially when travelling as a family, when every helping hand - especially a clued up local one - is a blessing.
On the flight the children were writing poems about African animals and fine-tuning their tales of derring-do to tell their friends back at school. The parents? We were thinking how hard it's going to be to come up with a family holiday even half as good. No pressure.