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Time: GMT+2

Language: Afrkaans, Ndebele, English
Currency: Rand
Dialling code: +27
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Family Holidays in South Africa

Give Africa a good shake, leave to stand a while and let all the best bits settle at the bottom. It’s almost as if South Africa has distilled everything that is thrilling and remarkable about the continent. You might find wilder national parks in Zambia, the wildebeest migration in Tanzania or emptier roads in Namibia, but the Rainbow Nation’s irresistible lure lies in its sheer diversity. You’ve got Cape Town – right up there with other urban beauties like Sydney and Vancouver. You’ve got vast swathes of wilderness, stunning wildlife, superb food, great places to stay, and, best of all for families, you’ve got plenty to keep you busy. Boredom simply is not an option – not in a country where, in the same day, you can stand on top of Table Mountain, swim with wild penguins and then tuck into a plate of good old-fashioned fish and chips.

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The Garden Route

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With its sandy beaches, family resorts and countless tourist attractions, the Garden Route is unashamedly the Cape’s family holiday hotspot. From west to east, these are the highlights that should feature on your itinerary:

Mossel Bay If you’ve driven straight from Cape Town along the N2 you will be more than ready for a break at this gateway town to the Garden Route. Head to Santos Beach for swimming or take a one-hour boat trip to Seal Island to view the whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds that inhabit Mossel Bay. The Bartholomeu Dias Maritime Museum contains a replica of the ship used by the Portuguese navigator when he stopped here in 1488 to take on fresh water.

Wilderness National Park A network of rivers, lakes and estuaries, Wilderness supports 79 of South Africa’s 95 species of water bird. Hire a canoe at Ebb & Flow South Camp and paddle through this watery maze for a spot of twitching. Easy ticks include yellow-billed ducks and redknobbed coots cruising open water, weaverbirds fussing about in reedbeds and the neat ‘plop’ as a pied kingfisher dives for fish. Extra points for a fish eagle or the dazzling malachite kingfisher.

Knysna Protected by pincer headlands, the large lagoon at Knysna was originally developed as a shipbuilding and timber port. Today, it is the epicentre of Garden Route tourism, offering everything from scuba-diving to oyster-slurping. The Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train runs between here and George and there are also cruises on the lagoon and good family dining at Knysna Quays. However, two of the most popular kids’ attractions lie between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. At Monkeyland you can explore a 23ha sanctuary and cross a 120m-long rope bridge in search of no less than 14 species of free-swinging primates. Almost as much fun are the squirty water bottles provided at the open-air restaurant to deter mischievous marmosets from making off with your lunch. Nearby, the Elephant Sanctuary and Knysna Elephant Park offer walking tours with jumbos and a chance to learn about Africa’s most southerly pachyderm population. The wooded hinterland of the Garden Route was once a stronghold for elephants, but now only a few survive in the wild.

Plettenberg Bay Plett’s marine life is legendary and although you can catch tantalizing glimpses from headlands and beaches, you need to get afloat to really appreciate it. Cleaving the surf in a dramatic beach launching, a boat trip will get you up-close and personal with seals lolling around Robberg Peninsula and pods of 150+ bottlenose dolphins leaping through the curling, turquoise walls of huge rollers. Horse riding, sea kayaking and skydiving are also available, while a surf school caters to all abilities.

Nature’s Valley Heaven for shell-seekers, this quiet hamlet nestles behind a beach strewn with all sorts of tidal goodies. Pink and mauve urchins stud rock pools like designer pincushions, while a dense forest dripping with old man’s beard runs riot behind the beach. Pack a picnic and go exploring.

Tsitsikamma National Park Watch surf bloom four storeys high before hiking the easy 1km boardwalk to the suspension bridge over Storms River Mouth. You can learn about the native plants from interpretation boards along the way.

Jeffrey’s Bay Famed for Supertubes (once described as ‘the most perfect wave in the world’), J-Bay is South Africa’s surfing Mecca. Teenagers, in particular, will love its ‘happening’ vibe and there’s no better place in the country to hone your surf style.

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Family-friendly places to stay in South Africa

Jaci’s Safari Lodge 
Where? Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
Why? A suspended walkway leads to the entrance of this rustic concoction of canvas, stone and thatch where spacious family tents have a monkey’s-eye view through a dense grove of tamboti trees. Kids love the rope swing, swimming pool and riverside walk to a wildlife-viewing hide. Special game drives are available for youngsters.

Cape Grace Hotel
Where? Cape Town, South Africa
Why? A boutique hotel with a great location on the V&A Waterfront, the Cape Grace has luxurious two- and three-bedroom family apartments (with kitchens). Kids receive welcome baskets stuffed with goodies and there’s also African story telling, gingerbread decorating, and a children’s menu. A spa, fine dining and luxury private yacht are some of the adult perks.

Kurland Hotel
Where? Garden Route, South Africa.
Why? This Cape Dutch-style hotel is set in its own polo estate. Kids are spoilt rotten with free access to the kitchen for cookies and ice creams, a walled play area with jungle gym and pool, a huge playroom with pool table and home cinema, plus activities such as horse riding and tennis. Cottages have loft rooms specially designed for children.

Ant’s Nest
Where? Waterberg, Limpopo, South Africa.
Why? Where once there was little more than a dilapidated tin-roofed farm shack, the eight-bed thatched masterpiece of this stunning bush home rises above landscaped lawns and a large outdoor heated swimming pool. Located in a private game reserve, Ant’s Nest offers delicious home cooking and child-friendly horse riding and game drives.

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William Gray, the editor of Family Travel Expert, has written a series of award-winning family travel guidebooks. Find out more about family holidays in Africa by ordering your copy of Travel with Kids here.

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The Family Travel Expert's William Gray is also the editor of, packed with 101 unusual and original ideas for family holidays worldwide. Click here to visit the website.