By Karen Rutter
Going away on holiday is a special highlight for the family. But how many places provide specific kid-friendly programmes, which add that extra edge to a vacation? We’ve discovered a variety of family-orientated options that offer safe, educational, entertaining and fun activities for little and not-so-little ones. Many of them make use of the beautiful wild spaces South Africa is so famous for. Here is a selected range:
Bushmanskloof Wilderness Reserve, situated in the ruggedly handsome Cederberg, offers a three-day family package. This includes guided rock art excursions, evening nature drives and outdoor “quests” such as searching for animals and bugs, collecting treasures in the veld, and even a starlit sleep-out, all for little ones. There are also pursuits parents and kids can enjoy together, such as canoeing, hiking and mountain biking. With luxury accommodation and all meals included, this is a five-star family experience. Go to www.bushmanskloof.co.za.
Spier Estate outside Cape Town is extremely child-friendly, with rolling lawns, shady trees, a playground and picnic area, and a duck pond and river to keep young ones busy. In addition to the comfortable setting, the estate offers a unique interactive bird show where you are even allowed to hold an eagle. This is part of the Eagle Encounters rehabilitation and education centre, which caters specially for children. In addition, the Spier Hotel has a section that has been customised for families, with inter-leading rooms, a toddler-friendly enclosed garden with wooden jungle gyms, and age-appropriate toy boxes. Go to www.spier.co.za.
Ulusaba Private Game Reserve is Richard Branson’s own dramatic piece of Africa. Yup, he owns a bush lodge within the Sabi Sand Reserve. And the lodge encourages kids to come along. In fact, if they’re under 11 they stay for free. In addition, the lodge offers a range of activities for Cubs (as the kids are called), including special educational game drives and animal-identification trips. Plus they get their own menu. Not too shabby, all in all. Go to www.ulusaba.virgin.com.
The Oyster Box Hotel just near Umhlanga is positioned above the beach, making for an eye-catching experience. Apart from lush gardens and a heated swimming pool for children to enjoy, it also offers a Kids Holiday Club, where young ones can enjoy games under the experienced supervision of professional child-minders. There are board games, storytelling, face painting, and even access to Xbox and Playstation. Go to www.oysterboxhotel.com.
Samara Private Game Reserve, in the Graaff-Reinet region of the Eastern Cape, has its own Aardvark programme for kids in the bush. The lodge reckons its rangers are “experienced in looking after ‘future conservationists’, and excellent with inquisitive, hungry young minds”. The Aardvark boma is where all activities are planned, and these include spoor identification and tracking, star naming, crafting with African beads, adventure safaris, and even private dinners. Yet another all-star venue for the family. Go to www.samara.co.za.
Lukimbi Safari Lodge, inside the Kruger Park, features a kid’s programme in a supervised play area, as well as bush outings to look for animal tracks and do treasure hunts. Kids can also go on their own safari, and Lukimbi—being inside a section of the Kruger—is literally teeming with wildlife of all sizes and shapes. Excitement is guaranteed. Oh, and the children can sleep in fun safari beds and cots that look like African animals. Go to www.lukimbi.com.
The Beacon Island Resort has long been a landmark in Plettenberg Bay, resting on the beach stretching along this coastal town. The hotel is extremely family-friendly, and with its position right on the sea, there is no shortage of water-based fun to be had for the family. Within the premises itself, the hotel features an indoor heated pool and both casual and smart dining. Most importantly, it has a daily programme of children’s entertainment which is available to all guests and which varies on a day-to-day basis. Go to www.tsogosunhotels.com/resorts/beacon-island.
Sea cruises are a great way for the whole family to travel, stay together and enjoy a huge range of entertainment, with packages designed for both young kids and teens, plus family cabins to stay in. MSC Cruises offer kids’ and teens’ programmes that run both day and night, with different “clubs” for different age groups. Activities include parties, live shows, arts and crafts lessons, sports tournaments, talent shows and ocean-themed adventures. There’s even a ship’s newspaper they can contribute to. They also offer a Teen Card, similar to a credit card, which can be used to buy extras. Go to www.msccruises.co.za .
Tau Game Lodge, situated in the Madikwe reserve in the Groot Marico area, has the Tau Cubz Club. Children aged 3 to 5 years old sharing with parents are charged a nominal fee and automatically become members. Activities include a short game drive after breakfast just for the kids, followed by treasure hunts and crafts activities. The children are provided with their own Cubz Club backpacks, with a wildlife activity booklet that includes an animal sticker checklist and a Deputy Ranger sticker badge and certificate. A child-friendly menu is also offered. Go to www.taugamelodge.co.za.
Gondwana Game Reserve is situated outside Mossel Bay on the Garden Route, and is the only fynbos reserve in the world that has free-roaming Big Five game. The reserve offers a Junior Ranger programme to educate and entertain young visitors, and includes game drives and interactive fun. During game drives, kids will be taught how to identify mammals, birds, fynbos species, and even stars. They’ll also be quizzed on what they’ve learned by their own special ranger, and receive a level 1 Gondwana Junior Ranger Patch and completion certificate. Go to www.gondwanagr.co.za .
At Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, a fynbos paradise overlooking Walker Bay, children’s activities combine fun and education. The venue features a special playground, where children can explore their natural surroundings while playing with fluffy bunnies, friendly ducks and a domestic pig called Emma. A highlight of the children’s programme is the special treasure hunt, which takes place in the nearby Milkwood Forest, where a dedicated guide teaches little ones about the amazing web of life linking the milkwood trees to many other organisms within the forest. Go to www.grootbos.com.
Club Mykonos—the one in Langebaan, not Greece—is a firm family favourite during holiday periods. The “villas” all have access to the Langebaan Lagoon, where swimming and sailing are must-do activities. The organised programme for children includes aqua aerobics, donkey rides, puppet-making and soccer tournaments. And then there’s the Club Onos Clubhouse, an indoor play area with table tennis, an arts and crafts centre plus a storybook corner. Go to www.clubmykonos.co.za.
Yeah, you may think Sun City is all about glitz and glamour and casinos, but it’s also a family-friendly resort with loads of outdoor and indoor entertainment for kids. Kamp Kwena, situated on the lawns outside the cabanas (which are great for family stays), runs daily programmes and special outings for the little folk over holiday periods. Activities include mini golf, mini train rides and sandcastle building, and there’s a mini zoo to visit, plus loads of water-based games. For something different, Club Chirp is an under-18 dance club. Go to www.suninternational.com/sun-city.
Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa, near Port St Johns, is yet another popular family retreat. The crystalline waters and indigenous forests on the Wild Coast are a delight to explore, and there’s a dedicated entertainment team who’re on special duty for the kids. They’ll take them dune surfing and on mullet cruises, point out all the natural delights in the area, and even, it is rumoured, teach them to make outrageous milkshakes. During holiday periods there’s a daily activity programme. Go to www.umngazi.co.za.
RiverBend Lodge in the Addo Elephant National Park offers a variety of activities for children from a mini-rangers course, to baking biscuits with the chef. And don’t worry about the baby missing out on a game drive, baby or children’s car seats are put onto the vehicles so the whole family can go. They’re very flexible at RiverBend. Game drives for families can be done separately, conducted with your children in mind, and if your kids like eating in front of the telly, they’ll serve your dinner in the TV room. And when it’s time to enjoy some grown-up activities, complimentary babysitting is also available. Go to www.riverbendlodge.co.za.