Best of South Africa Travel expert Ash Jarvis shares the hotels and lodges she returns to with her kids whenever they return to South Africa.
It’s a larger hotel than I would usually choose, but its views of Table Mountain, excellent restaurants and swimming pools make the One&Only my favourite place to stay with the kids in Cape Town.
The location is excellent – an important consideration given that at busy times of year traffic can take away precious hours. From the hotel, you can walk right into the heart of the V&A Waterfront, with its bustling street entertainment, restaurants, bars and shops. The V&A is also the base for many of Cape Town’s most famous excursions, such as the Robben Island ferry, the Jolly Roger Pirate Boat and helicopter trips.
Breakfasts here are amazing, their afternoon tea a must, and the choice of restaurants includes Africa’s only branch of the world-famous Nobu Japanese restaurant. The swimming pools are great for the youngsters, with comfortable sun loungers for parents to grab some downtime, and the informal poolside bistro restaurant is another good place to relax. There’s also a kids’ club, offering activities and hang-out rooms for teens, with all the latest games and consoles.
We love the Cape Winelands, where you can truly relax and enjoy some proper family time in the sunshine with plenty of space and lots of outdoor adventures for all the family. My kids love staying in the Orchard Cottages at Boschendal Farm Wine Estate; we prefer the two-or three-bedroom options, which have great views over the valley and are close to the farm reservoir-style swimming pool.
Boschendal Farm is completely self-sufficient – you could stay here for weeks. The estate’s enjoyable little farmers’ market has a deli selling local farm produce including milk, cheese, fresh veg, salads and chutneys, and offering a lovely menu for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There’s also a butcher’s, selling the estate’s own farm meat, which is handy as each cottage has a lovely BBQ area with everything provided.
There is, of course, a wine shop, where you can sample the home-produced nectar and then take it up to your private verandah to savour whilst taking in the views.
The mountain bike trails here are excellent, with tracks for beginners as well as one or two routes which will challenge hardened mountain bikers. Wild swimming, horse riding and gourmet picnics under huge Cape fir trees all make this place truly magical, pulling my family and I back year after year.
We never pass through Hermanus region without staying at Grootbos, set high on the escarpment above Walker Bay with panoramic views of the entire coastline.
There are two lodges: Garden and Forest. Garden Lodge is the best option if travelling with kids, with its large two-bedroom units offering enough space to swing a whole family of cats, while the view from the bath tub is arguably the best I have ever enjoyed (with the added attraction of amazing home-made bathroom products using local fynbos flowers).
The area is famous for its whales, sharks and fynbos, so it’s no surprise that activities include shark-cage diving, whale watching, land-based marine safaris, fynbos hikes and beachcombing, all accompanied by an expert guide and included (with a few exceptions) in the room rate.
The food is excellent – with three meals a day included – and there’s a great pool, large green lawns and a games room for the kids.
Further up the coast we often stop at Buffelsdrift, a nice place to break the journey from Hermanus to Knysna – plus you get to stay in a tent! The family option is great, with interconnecting tents plus two bathrooms with roll-top baths.
The nearby Cango Caves, one of South Africa’s largest cave networks, offer some fun tour options, including one that requires an enormous amount of bravery and a headtorch! Other attractions include the lodge’s colony of meerkats, a small herd of orphaned elephants and a fabulous star-gazing programme.
Under Milkwood, Knysna
We love these self-catering chalets, which are right on the Knysna Lagoon. It’s a great sun trap in the afternoons, and the tide goes out really far, so the kids can spend hours beachcombing and relocating hermit crabs, and we can watch them from the bedroom while having an afternoon lie-down. Easy access to kayaks and paddleboards means there is always something to do.
The chalets are self-catering, although it’s only a three-minute walk to the East Head Café, looking right over the water where the lagoon meets the ocean. Come here for the delicious breakfasts whilst watching the enormous rollers breaking below.
I have two favourite places in Plettenberg Bay, one right on the beach and the other high up at the edge of a gorge above a pine-forest valley.
The Bungalow used to be a backpackers’ lodge, but was recently converted into a hippy-chic boutique getaway. The beach is right in front of the property, with kayaks, surf and boogie boards and stand-up paddleboards all provided.
And when the kids tire of that they can retreat for some private time into the family villa with its unique slide-shut wooden pods. There’s also a small plunge pool, a cocktail bar, pizza oven and full-time sushi chef. In short, it’s a little slice of heaven.
Tsala Treetop Lodge, Plettenberg Bay
My other favourite in Plett is Tsala Treetop Lodge which, as the name suggests, gives a feeling of being really high up in the treetops. The spacious two-bedroom villas are all accessed via a raised walkway through the forest canopy. There are a couple of restaurants – one child-friendly, the other not so much – plus a great pool and lawns which you’ll share with the many tame bushbuck that roam the estate.
Kwandwe is a favourite because you feel like safari royalty, with a magnificent suite, pool and private game vehicle, tracker and ranger. Meals are usually served al fresco, and the property is rich in wildlife, including the Big Five.
The staff here are extremely good with kids, spending hours teaching them how to create rock art, do traditional African beading and play games that are popular in nearby villages. My kids learnt to bake in the kitchen, which went down a treat, and they also loved the excellent ‘mini-rangers’ programme, complete with certificates of achievement at the end.
The brief shuttle flight in and out of Kwandwe Reserve from Port Elizabeth is also very exciting for the young ones.
Durban is a wonderful place to visit during the UK winter months. The average sea temperature is around 22°C and daytime temperatures around 24°C. We stay in Umhlanga as this is where I holidayed as a child, so the rock pools, brightly painted lighthouse and excellent bodysurfing bring back great memories.
The whole family can dive with sharks at the city’s fabulous aquarium – although it’s not for the fainthearted – while if you prefer keeping dry you can also accompany the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board on their early morning patrol of the shark nets along the city’s many swimming beaches.
We stay at the Oyster Box Hotel, which is an institution in this part of the world. The hotel has direct access onto the promenade, which follows the coast for miles in each direction – great for runners like me.
We opt for the standard sea-facing rooms, and at night I throw the doors of the balcony open as wide as possible to hear the crashing of waves on the shore. The curry buffets, high teas and exceptionally friendly staff are just a few of the reasons we like to visit each year. That and the resident cat, Skabanga, who my kids adore.
From Durban it makes sense to head northeast to the Drakensberg Mountains. We have stayed in many places around both the northern and southern sides of ‘The Berg’, but our go-to choice now is The Cavern, a cross between Dirty Dancing and Boutique Hotel in the mountains.
We like to stay in the newer part of the property, as the rooms are brighter and modern – and further away from where the troublesome monkeys hang out. Rates include all meals, with light lunches on the balcony under the trees and supper served in a cosy dining room. The hotel also stocks a brilliant selection of wines, with private tastings in the cellar.
Daily guided hikes are included, with lovely family walks to waterfalls, horse riding, quad biking and mountain-bike trails. Staff vs Guest football matches are another regular occurrence, with much laughter and hilarity. There is an outdoor adventure centre nearby where the brave can zipline through the trees.
Lion Sands Tinga Lodge, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Greater Kruger
For a Greater Kruger safari, Lions Sands Tinga Lodge is my first choice. Their new, private two-bedroom villa sleeps up to six and comes with a private housekeeper, chef and butler, as well as vehicle, ranger and tracker.
The game rangers here at Lion Sands are hands down the most informative I have ever encountered – and I have done hundreds of safaris. The wildlife in this concession – one of very few that are actually inside the Kruger National Park – is prolific, with resident leopards and a pride of lions. The location next to the river is also lovely, while the lodge is conveniently situated just a ten-minute drive from the airport.
And if you’re extending your trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe:
The Stanley & Livingstone, Victoria Falls
When we visit the Falls, we like to be slightly out of town, and The Stanley & Livingstone is only a 15-minute drive away, making it the ideal spot from which to enjoy all the activities in the area. Staying here allows Big Five safari outings in the mornings and evenings, combined with a tour of the Falls, a bungee jump, gorge swing, gorge canopy tour or even white-water rafting.
The accommodation is beautiful, with very spacious interconnecting rooms, and there’s also sensational food. The only thing missing is a view of the Zambezi River.
So, for a good dose of the river and its unique beauty, we jump onto a speedboat and power upstream for an hour to a private island in the middle of the mighty Zambezi. Named after a local chief, Chundu Island has just eight tented chalets. It is by no means five-star, but I have never had such attentive, fabulous service from staff. Days are spent on the water, fishing, canoeing or just drifting on a game-viewing pontoon with a Zambezi lager in hand.
One of the highlights of Chundu is the large beach area that appears at certain times of the year. This allows for football and volleyball matches, suntanning, sand-castle competitions, picnic lunches and just a little more freedom for the kids to run around without fear of big cats. There are of course lots of big hungry crocs, but the beach is large enough to not have to worry too much…