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.
First, take a peek at Table Mountain. If you can see the top, go for it. A frothy layer of cloud (known locally as the ‘tablecloth’) can obscure the 1073-m high icon for days on end, so you should aim to get up there at the first clear opportunity. The Cableway (tablemountaih.net) features a revolving floor – ensuring everyone can enjoy the spectacular views of Cape Town and liable Bay. At the top, allow two hours to walk to all 11 viewpoints (the paths are stroller-friendly). Keep an eye out for dassies.
Head for the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (waterfront.co.za) where you ca n explore a restored historic dockland and spot fur seals hauled out on the boardwalks. Next, take a ferry to Robben Island (robbennsland.org.za). The three-hour trip includes a fascinating tour of the prison by past Inmates. You’ll be able to peek into Nelson Mandela’s cell and see the lime quarry where he, and other prisoners, toiled during their incarceration at the hands of South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime.
It’s all serious, hard-hitting stuff, so if you have young children, stick to the Waterfront and visit the impressive Two Oceans Aquarium (aquarium.co.za) instead. Here you can get nose-to-nose with fagged-tooth sharks In the two-million-litre predator tank and stroke crabs in the touch pool.
In the afternoon, take your pick of Cape Town’s excellent beaches – the best ones are at Clifton and Camp’s Bay, but be warned: the water’s chilly! Children aged four or more will enjoy the interactive exhibits at the Telkom Exploratorium, while the SA Museum and Planetarium (museums.org.za), with its four-story whale hall and dinosaur displays, will appeal to all ages.
Get an early start for a spectacular tour of the Cape Peninsula. First; drive south to Simon’s Town where the African penguins at Boulders (sanparks.org) will keep you spellbound for hours. A boardwalk leads to the heart of the 3000-strong colony at Foxy Beach – a wonderful spectacle, but a beach that is strictly for the birds. You’ll find a less frustrating option for children at adjacent Boulders Beach where they can build sandcastles and if they’re lucky, swim with a penguin or two.
Continue south to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope where from August to December you can spot southern right whales in the sea 200 m below. Head north back towards Cape Town along Chapman’s Peak Drive (a breathtaking 10 km route etched into sea cliffs). Detour to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (sanbi.org) where children can burn energy in the ample open spaces, then dawdle back to the city, stopping for fish and chips at Camps Bay.