7 cool things to do with the kids these winter holidays
Once a week on a Wednesday evening at 7pm, South Africa's travel fundis get together in the Twitterverse to talk travel for an hour. It's called #TravelChatSA and is a celebration of everything South Africa has to offer the traveller.
With the school holidays upon us, this week's conversation was all about #FamilyTravelSA and participants were asked to talk about the best season for travel, describe their challenges when planning a family holiday, name their favourite spots and suggest the best way for families to travel.
Needless to say, the ideas rolled in, from spending a day at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town to the advantages of road-tripping with children.
It was a fantastic online conversation that illustrated just how family friendly South Africa is. So, in the spirit of #TravelChatSA and #FamilyTravelSA, here are some more ideas for what to do with your kids these winter holidays ...
1. Visit the Big Hole, Kimberley
There's a reason to take the alternate route from Cape Town to Johannesburg via Kimberley, rather than up the N1 through Bloemfontein. It's the Big Hole, of course. While some people might be surprised to learn that this isn't the only 'big hole' in Kimberley (there are several other similar cavities excavated for diamonds), this is the biggest hole to have been dug by human hands. De Beers has done a great job of creating an interactive display around this landmark that tells the story of diamonds and how they influenced the history of South Africa. But for the kids, peering into that vast hole is what it's all about.
Where? Kimberley, Northern Cape. Follow the signs. They're everywhere!
When? The Big Hole is open every day of the week except Christmas Day
How much? A family ticket costs R280 (for two adults and three kids aged between two and 12)
2. Splash around in a water park
After all these years, some might think that the Valley of the Waves at Sun City is a bit cheesy, but it's really, really good fun and no South African childhood is complete without at least one visit here. The biggest adrenalin rush is down the almost vertical 70m slide with a 17m drop on the Temple of Courage (Mom, don't look!), but there are also gentler pursuits too, like lazing on the artificial beach. For those heading to Durban, the Wet 'n Wild World at uShaka Marine World offers similar water adventures with pools, high-speed chutes and a river ride. (It's warm enough in both Sun City and Durban for some winter water fun.)
Where? Sun City, North West province, or uShaka Marine World, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
When? Valley of the Waves is open from 10am to 5pm in winter; Wet 'n Wild World: Monday to Sunday 9am to 5pm in the school holidays
How much? Check for specials on the website for Valley of the Waves, such as the midweek rate, which is priced from R160 per person. At uShaka you can get a combo ticket to both Wet 'n Wild and Sea World for R200 for adults and R150 for kids
3. Down some pineapple juice at the Big Pineapple
There's nothing quite so juicy and delicious as an ice-cold glass of pineapple juice, and what better place to sample this Eastern Cape delight than at the Big Pineapple near Bathurst. OK, Australia also has a Big Pineapple, but the folks here say that this one (at 16.7m high) is even bigger than theirs, which is only 16m high. It's the kind of thing that sticks in the imagination. There's a shop, information display and viewing deck.
Where? Outside Bathhurst, just off the R67 road, only 15km from Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape
When? It's open to 4pm in winter every day of the week
4. Go up Table Mountain by cable car
A trip up Table Mountain by cable car is virtually compulsory when you're in Cape Town, and the good news is that in winter there is a special for families, called Kidz Season. This allows two children to ride along for free with every adult return ticket bought from the Lower Cable Station. The offer lasts until 30 September 2014. And, who knows, with the Cape winter biting, there may even be snow up there. What's not to like?
Where? Follow the signs from central Cape Town to the top of Kloof Nek and then turn left to get to the Lower Cable Station
When? The cable car is open every day of the week, weather depending
How much? An adult return ticket is R215. With two kids in tow riding for free, that's a real bargain
5. Spot the Big Five
Every kid deserves to see the Big Five and it's easier to do this in some places than others. The Kruger National Park is an obvious choice, but if you've left it too late you might struggle to get a booking in the winter holidays. There's another, easier option in the form of Pilanesberg near Sun City, where your chances of spotting big animals in a small area are vastly improved. Or failing that, take the kids to the Johannesburg Zoo, which is well-run and where the animals are well cared for.
Where? Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg or the Johannesburg Zoo
When? Kruger's gates are open from 6am to 5.30pm in July. Pilanesberg is open from 6.30am to 6pm from May to September
How much? Day visitors to the Kruger are charged R62 per adult and R31 per child, but there's an additional fee for advance bookings, which are essential during the holidays. At Pilanesberg, it costs R65 per adult and R20 for kids. The Johannesburg Zoo charges R38 for kids and R61 for adults (but Gran only pays R38)
6. Ride a roller coaster (or watch them do it)
At Gold Reef City in Johannesburg, kids can experience the thrill of roller-coaster rides like the Anaconda, Golden Loop, Runaway Train and Jozi Express. Ratanga Junction in Cape Town has the stomach-churning Cobra and Diamond Devil Run on offer, but isn't always open to the public because it also hosts private functions. Even if it isn't your cup of tea, there are sure to be some daredevils in your brood who feel they won't have lived until they've been whipped around at high speed on one of these things.
When? Out of season, Gold Reef City's theme park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but in the holidays it's open all week from 9.30am to 5pm
Where? Gold Reef City is in Ormonde, south of Johannesburg, while Ratanga Junction is at Century City off the N1 outside Cape Town
How much? A family ticket at Gold Reef City goes for R515 (two parents, two kids under 16). At Ratanga, a Full Adventurer ticket for someone over the height of 1.3m is R172, while the Mini Adventurers (under 1.3m) get in for R85, and Gramps can go in for R60 on a non-rider Fun Pass.
7. Learn about dinosaurs and other cool stuff at a museum
When the weather turns chilly, then it's time to head indoors and little kids love nothing better than delving into a time when dinosaurs roamed the world. At the South African Museum in Cape Town (part of Iziko Museums) there's a great display on African dinosaurs from the Karoo, where kids can learn more about these 'scavengers' and 'grubbers' of the past. This winter, there's also an exhibition on the giant squid as well as sharks, whales, dolphins and coelacanths. Speaking of coelacanths, the museum in East London has a special display on this fascinating fish, which was caught off the coast there.
When? The South African Museum is open from 10am to 5pm daily
Where? Company's Garden, Cape Town
How much? Adults R30, kids R15 at the South African Museum. In East London it only costs R15 per adult and R5 for kids