South Africa is a wonderful country to visit at any time of year but it is particularly appealing during the cold winter months in the UK. There are many reasons to visit including no jet lag, easy overnight flight options and relatively good value for money even in peak weeks (particularly appealing to those bound by school holiday dates), not to mention the amazing weather!
Below are just a few highlights and top tips to ensure a great family trip in just a week.
Fly into Johannesburg
You can jump on a plane from London Heathrow to Johannesburg and arrive in comfort (even in World Traveller – economy class) in around 11 hours non stop with British Airways. If you are lucky enough to fly on the huge Airbus A380 you will be rewarded with comfort not usually associated with economy, long haul flying! The Airbus A380 provides economy seating on both the main deck and upper deck and can carry over 500 passengers in up to four classes. The upper deck provides a two-four-two configuration and we found the space and comfort a world away from the usual British Airways jumbo jets, it is supremely quiet and comfortable. The ‘I Fly A380’ website shows you which flights and airlines fly this plane on which routes. Johannesburg provides a good hub for travelling all over South Africa and is a good starting point for your trip. Whilst there is masses to see near Jo’burg such as visiting the Kruger, internal flights in South Africa are an easy way of fitting a lot into a week and if you don’t have the luxury of several weeks holiday then they are worth considering – the distances are vast.
Visit a game reserve
Clearly there are many opportunities to see the Big Five closer to home in the likes of Tanzania and Kenya but South Africa is unique in that it provides a wonderful ‘introduction’ to safaris for children whilst offering a luxury experience for adults too. Many of the private game reserves allow children as young as four to go on game drives and also provide childcare should parents wish to do some game viewing child free.
We can wholeheartedly recommend the fabulous Shamwari Private Game Reserve (only an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth; a short flight from J’Burg) for serious luxury and malaria free game viewing with highly experienced and enthusiastic guides. There are nine lodges within the 20,000 hectare private reserve that can cater from anything from honeymooning couples to families with young children.
Riverdene Lodge (9 rooms) is specifically aimed at families and provides a ‘Kids on Safari’ program which includes taking them on game drives from age four upwards and learning about conservation at the Born Free Foundation.
There is a fenced swimming pool which provides brilliant respite from the midday heat and an amazing kids club with everything from toys for babies, drawing, Lego and a huge climbing frame complete with zip wire and climbing wall which keeps the older children entertained. The nannies that run it are lovely and can also provide child minding in the evening too. Bring warm clothes as even in summer the early morning games drives can be surprisingly chilly!
Wine tasting and more at Franschhoek
Located under an hour from Cape Town in South Africa’s western cape lies Franschhoek arguably one of the wine hot spots of the world but also increasingly a gastronomic one too. Stay at Mont Rochelle – a Richard Branson owned hotel since 2014 following a major refurbishment to provide some serious luxury in a stunning 100 acre estate complete with outdoor pool and tennis court. It also produces its own wine and the Mont Rochelle MIKO White 2016 is particularly good.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram offers eight routes and allows avid wine lovers the chance to hop on and off at various vineyards in the local area and enjoy tastings without anyone having to be the designated driver! The tour starts and ends in Franschhoek and costs around £13 per adult. Wine tastings and lunch must be booked directly with the vineyards at extra cost and we would recommend pre-booking in peak season when many restaurants can reach capacity.
Try Grande Provence for a relaxed afternoon sipping award winning wines and enjoying bistro fare in the stunning gardens. If you prefer something more formal there is a restaurant complete with crisp white linen and fabulous food in the 18 century Manor House. Slightly unexpectedly there is also a Cheetah Outreach program within the hotel grounds which is worth a visit and offers the chance to support these amazing endangered animals through a genuine ecotourism program.
Also worth a visit is the Le Bonheur Reptile centre which offers very close encounters with Nile crocodiles (in the form of cage diving!) or if you prefer to keep your feet on dry land they offer snake and crocodile talks and feeding demonstrations which are also pretty spectacular! We would recommend pre- booking at peak times. The Franschhoek Motor Museum is another must see stop for any car enthusiast and showcases an unbelievable collection of cars from the last hundred years and so, around eighty are on show at any one time (the collection totals 220) which are displayed on rotation – you can check the current exhibition online beforehand.
This beautiful city makes a great base to explore the surrounding area but there is also plenty do in the city itself. The V and A waterfront is worth a visit with artisan markets, a vast selection of restaurants and boat trips to Robben Island to name a few. Stay at The Cape Grace Hotel or The One and Only Cape Town for ultimate luxury in a fabulous waterside setting. The affluent Clifton area of Cape Town offers four (first to fourth) stunning beaches each attracting their own visitor type – 1st beach is the most laid back and popular with tourists. Camps Bay is also popular and offers a more accessible beach than at Clifton.
Those seeking a challenge can hike up Table Mountain (around 1.5 hours minimum depending on the route) which has an incredible position in the centre of the city – there is also the option of taking a cable car to the top. It can be windy and misty at the top and the cable car is closed accordingly so it may take you a couple of attempts to reach the summit. Another exhilarating trip worth taking is the drive down to Cape Point and The Cape of Good Hope – park your car and walk between the two along the Cape of Good Hope Scenic Walk for stunning views of the coastline, shipwrecks and cheeky baboons!
No visit to the western cape would be complete without a trip to see the gorgeous Boulders African Penguin Colony near Simons Town (around an hour from Cape Town V&A waterfront). There are currently approximately 3,000 penguins in the Boulders Colony thanks to conservation efforts over recent years; they had suffered a steep decline in numbers due to commercial fishing, pollution and habitat loss which reduced the colony to only two breeding pairs in 1982.
Be prepared to queue in peak season as this is an incredibly popular attraction – there are viewing platforms – accessible with a small conservation charge – to see the penguins up close without damaging their habitat. It is possible swim with the penguins at one of the neighbouring beaches but remember it is the Atlantic and you may not want to stay in for long!