01 August 2014 by Cassidy Parker

Family friendly: Travelling with children in South Africa

Travelling with a family can be a daunting undertaking. The number of things to consider – from places to sleep and places to eat, to child-friendly facilities and appropriate activities – can leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. However, holidaying with a family in South Africa has quite the opposite effect ...

Exploring the world below at the Two Oceans Aquarium

South Africa is a destination that is particularly receptive to family travel – there is, quite literally, something for everyone, from the smallest member of your family up.

While South Africa has an abundance of novel and interesting experiences for children, there is perhaps nothing so rewarding as the game-viewing opportunities it affords. Encountering zebras, giraffe, elephants, rhinos, lions and cheetahs for the first time is memorable for an adult, but life changing for a child. The imprint is indelible, the love for the natural world it nurtures long lasting.

A zebra in the early-morning light, Kruger National Park. All images courtesy of Tara Turkington, unless otherwise stated

Just two hours from Johannesburg, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is the perfect place to begin your children’s introduction to African animals. The park is easy to navigate and affords magically close views of a wide variety of animals. 

If some time in a private game reserve is within your budget, Madikwe Game Reserve and Sabi Sand Reserve both offer child-friendly lodges and exclusivity on game vehicles, helping you to enjoy your experience without worrying about other visitors. The Kruger National Park, it almost goes without saying, is an exceptional experience no matter how young or old you are and is, quite simply, unmissable.

Fifteen years separated Canadians Brian and Mara Bordignon’s first trip to South Africa from their second. In the case of the latter, however, instead of two, they were four. 'Marriage does that,' Brian muses.

Brian and Mara knew that they wanted their children, Agostino, nine, and Sofia, seven, to experience this part of the world. Says Brian, 'We fell in love with South Africa the first time round and were very happy to share such an amazing experience with our children.'

Time-restricted and therefore Cape Town-focused, the Bordignons jam-packed their days with adventures to the V&A Waterfront, the Two Oceans Aquarium, the seals at Hout Bay, the penguins at Boulders Beach, and the inhabitants of Cheetah Outreach. Sojourns to Aquila Private Game Reserve and along the Garden Route were also included.

The Bordignons at Cheetah Outreach, at Paardevlei, Somerset West. Image courtesy of Brian Bordignon
South African safari: Agostino (9) and Sofia (7) at Aquila Private Game Reserve. Image courtesy of Brian Bordignon
Sometimes you just need to sit on a frog – Two Oceans Aquarium

If bringing younger members of your family with you on holiday, you may well be bringing older members too. There are many parts of South Africa that are accessible not only to prams, but to wheelchairs too. The Sea Point promenade in Cape Town and Durban’s beachfront offer seemingly endless walks along some of South Africa’s most beautiful coastlines – complete with emergency ice cream stops, restaurants and bars. The Silvermine Nature Reserve, which forms part of Table Mountain National Park, also has areas that are wheelchair friendly.

Durban's North Beach, along which the promenade runs for miles
The walkway at Silvermine Nature Reserve is pram- and wheelchair-accessible
Children explore the Silvermine Nature Reserve

If time doesn’t allow you to while away the days with safari adventures and casual strolls, take a look at some of South Africa’s more obvious child-friendly attractions. Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium offers a multitude of marine delights and is massively educational to boot, as is Maropeng, the official visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, just outside of Johannesburg.

Recalling their time spent at the aquarium, Brian says, 'The selection of aquatic life at Two Oceans Aquarium is phenomenal, and the displays are stunning. We were all in awe at the spectacle. It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours in Cape Town when the weather outside is not cooperating.'

Learning opportunities and opportunities to play the fool at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Image courtesy of Brian Bordignon

If the children you are travelling with are a little older, and have developed a taste for adrenaline, Karkloof Canopy Tours in KwaZulu-Natal offers a release, as does white-water rafting on the Vaal River near Parys.

'The experiences our children had in South Africa were exceptional,' says Brian. 'They tested their own limits by braving it out on an eventful boat ride to see great white sharks, hiking on mountain trails, experiencing close encounters with unfamiliar wildlife, and trying new foods. There is little doubt that these were transformative moments.'

You're never too young to learn the power of a little perspective

For more ideas on what to do with children while on holiday in South Africa, take a look at the links below:

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Category: Adventure, Attractions

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