Cape Town & Kruger with Kids: put to test
If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then consider this a scraped-clean bowl of what was your favourite dessert. With ice cream and a cherry on top.
I’ve often wondered about the Cape Town/Kruger Park combination with kids: does it really work as well as everyone says it does? Is it easy to do – really – with young children? Is there enough to do and see? How many hours do I have to spend driving?
Well, I just did it with six kids and three couples and a couple of grandparents. I’m happy to report that it easy to do, that there is more than enough to see and do, and you can decide how much driving you want to do. And oh my, did we have some fun.
The decision to start in Cape Town and finish with the Kruger worked well. There’s wildlife to see in Cape Town – the famous penguins as well as antelope, baboons and ostrich at Cape Point. But the animals of the Kruger Park are so abundant and so … massive, that anything after them may seem a little on the ordinary side. It’s also a good order to do it with young kids because Cape Town offers more activities to let them go wild: beach walks, mountain hiking, rock climbing – that sort of thing.
There’ll be a lot more sitting when on safari – the game drives, dinners and so on – and not so much walking available, especially with younger children (for obvious reasons – this is big game country!). So let the younger ones blow off steam to start with; then they’ll be happy for a chance to sit down after what Cape Town can throw at them.
It’s tempting to just stay in Cape Town. Table Mountain and the cable car is right there, as is the popular V&A Waterfront – a safe and got-it-all destination in which to stay, shop or dine. And it’s only an hour’s drive from the city centre, south down the peninsula on which the city lies, to the Boulders Beach penguin colony at Simons Town and the Cape of Good Hope Reserve where you’ll find Cape Point and its wildlife.
You can do all these activities on guided tours but Cape Town and the local area is pretty easy to self-drive and that’s what we did after landing at Cape Town International Airport. Then you can explore further – perhaps the Cape Winelands, or the Whale Coast. Or both.
It wasn’t whale season but the beaches were fun to run on and the rock pools full of shells, multi-armed anemones and even an octopus. And it’s always in season in the winelands; just make sure that the wine farms you go to are children-friendly, as many are, but some also have very high-end dining and you’ll probably need somewhere with a playground and pizza on the menu.
We spent some days on the Whale Coast in the endearingly-named Betty’s Bay – about an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town. There are so many penguins walking about by the coast that we didn’t even need to go into the main penguin colony, although it is an excellent one. Had it been peak whale season (August through October) we might have considered staying in the nearby town of Hermanus, noted for its easy land-based whale watching, but we saw plenty of other things – baboons, marine birds, a chameleon and tortoises – to make up for the absence of whales.
Then to the Kruger Park: it begins with a short flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg – not even two hours – but, when planning this trip, you need to make two decisions about how to do the Kruger.
First, you either hire a car at the airport and self-drive to the Kruger Park, or you fly from Johannesburg to the Kruger area and use transfers. We self-drove and it took around five hours; the roads were great in places and not so great in others. I wouldn’t necessarily do it again and would recommend the fly-in option to save time and sanity.
And second, you need to decide where to stay. Accommodation in the Kruger National Park ranges from rustic self-catering camps to private lodges but overseas visitors don’t have the time for self-catering and expectations of wildlife sightings may be high. Tick all the boxes and go for accommodation in a private reserve such as Sabi Sands, Timbavati or Thornybush. Everything is taken care of – meals, drinks, safari activities, transfers and game drives – and some camps have built their reputation on being family-friendly right down to the bunk beds. Now you’ll find extra activities for kids – especially younger ones – such as animal tracking, bug collecting and archery – and there’s always a swimming pool.
The wildlife is always good in Kruger and it’s even better in those private reserves. We lost count of the antelope and zebra and giraffe we saw and as far as elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard are concerned, well, people say the private Kruger reserves have the best Big Five viewing in Africa. It’s hard to disagree but I also believe that a great safari is also made up of the smaller things too – the giant stick insect we found was as long as a child’s arm and who doesn’t get excited about chameleons?
Time in the Kruger always passes too quickly and we drove back to Johannesburg, some of the family proving that you can indeed leave the Kruger in the morning and catch an evening flight from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport. But the rest of us took a stayover and left the next day with all the kids and luggage accounted for – mission accomplished.
Cape Town and Kruger with kids – it can be done!