Travellers tales: Cape Town, Winelands and Hermanus with a toddler-in-tow
Eliza shares her South African holiday with a toddler.
09 Jan 2023
Share article on
When we told friends we were planning to head to South Africa on a family holiday with our 18-month-old toddler, we got one of two responses. There were the nay-sayers who gave the stock response ‘Twelve-hour flight with a toddler, good luck!’, and then luckily, there was the second camp who reassuringly said, ‘We did a similar trip when [insert child name] was under two and LOVED it’.
South Africa holiday with a baby? Turns out it's child’s play. No jet lag, no malaria, English speaking, good value and friendly-faces ready to welcome you at every turn.
We started on the coast in Hermanus and Stanford then headed inland to the winelands before finishing in Cape Town but you could easily do this in any order you fancy...
The dreaded flight
After weeks of list making and days of packing, we headed to the airport weighed down by our many bags, mostly for our toddler How can someone so small need so much stuff?!
A short flight in the summer was filled with delays, tears and no sleep so we approached our long-haul flight with apprehension. Pram checked in the gate (easy-peasy), a bag filled with books, toys, snacks, bottles, nappies and changes of clothes came onboard with us – in the end the key item was having downloaded some episodes of Peppa Pig onto our phones as easy entertainment. Bad parenting? Maybe. But there is a time and place for making life easy.
The flight was long but not traumatic. Once we accepted that Ottie (our daughter) would not sleep until the lights were out, it was much easier. We kept her entertained, then once the lights were dimmed, we gave her a bottle, hushed her and took turns for her to sleep on us until the lights came back on. Were we all overtired on arrival? Yes, but we always knew arrival day would be a bit of a washout napping where possible and planning an early night.
We were met off the aircraft, luggage was gathered for us, we collected our car and were soon off on the open road to Hermanus. So far, so good.
On arrival in Hermanus, we had a spot of good luck. The Marine Hotel kindly let us check in early which made the world of difference to our stay - it meant we could have a quick bite to eat and then settle down for a much-needed nap.
Hermanus has long been regarded as the whale capital of South Africa, but as we were at the tail end of the whale season, I wasn’t sure whether we’d be fortunate enough to see any, so I was astounded when entering our hotel room, I went to the window and a whale obediently popped its tail out of the water right in front of my eyes! We had been in Hermanus all of three minutes.
We spent one night at The Marine Hotel but wish we had stayed two to properly explore. Located on the famous coastal cliff path you can spot whales from your room and it is a short potter to the local restaurants and shops.
Whilst this was the most ‘adult’ of the hotels we stayed in, they could not have been more welcoming to us as a family – all the staff knew Ottilie’s name, they provided oat milk for bottles, the early check-in was a godsend and their restaurant recommendation was spot on. We opted for a suite so we had a play space and somewhere to sit when Ottie went to bed but for families with older children, it is possible to have a private corridor linking off to two bedrooms. There is a small but beautifully warm pool, treatment rooms and a sunny communal sitting area for afternoon tea decorated with protea wallpaper and art.
The Hermanus Cliff walk is an absolute must, especially if your little-one is at an age where they can still be kept securely in a pram, and even better, fall asleep as ours did.
Almost 11 km of agapanthus-lined paths with stunning sea views and plenty of benches to stop and spot whales from. 9 km of the path is wheelchair or pushchair friendly, and there are information boards throughout telling you about the different whales, dolphins or birds you might see.
We were here in late spring and the colours were incredible – bright zesty orange flowers with vivid green leaves, hazy purple flowers, giant agapanthus and yellow protea bushes all contrasted with the blue sea and sky.
Next up: Coot Club
Our next destination was the hotel itself. Coot Club is located 20 minutes outside Stanford, down a bumpy dirt road, on the edge of the Klein River estuary. The focus here is all about the kids and reconnecting them with nature.
Our 18-month-old was slightly too young to get the most out of Coot Club, but this is an ideal spot for families with children 3 plus where there are a myriad of activities available. Kayak or SUP on the river estuary, take a safari jeep to the beach, go wild swimming (or take a dip in their pool) or fly down their inflatable water slide which was a real hit with the kids when we were there.
Meals here were a relaxed affair. Above the restaurant is a vast ‘cub house’ with toys for every age ranging from baby books to ping-pong, allowing the little ones to entertain themselves whilst the adults enjoy a glass of local wine.
We stayed in one of the spacious traditional stone cottages which had a firepit outside so we could huddle together and star gaze once our toddler was asleep, but their contemporary new cabins on the water’s edge are definitely worth checking out for a more modern nautical vibe.
There was definitely more of a buzz and more activities during the weekend, so worth considering when booking if you are looking for somewhere with a vibrant busy atmosphere.
Exploring remote beaches
If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, then the beach the other side of the Klein River Nature Reserve ticks the box. About a 15-minute drive from Coot Club down a sandy track (a high clearance vehicle is required or Coot Club can take your there) leads to miles of deserted beach, sand dunes to race up and the chance to spot whales in the sea. Wild, remote and utterly beautiful.
As we left the sea behind to head inland to the Winelands we wondered how would we balance wine tasting with a toddler?
Where we stayed: Boschendal
When we were researching our accommodation, we were torn. Do we stay in Franschhoek with all the restaurants and boutique shops on our doorstep, or choose somewhere out of town, but with more space for our toddler to run around?
We opted for the latter and chose Boschendal, one of the oldest wine farms on the Western Cape with plenty of space and a relaxed vibe - definitely the right call. Franschhoek is a pretty town to potter around, but our 18-month-olds patience in a pram is limited and crowded restaurants with a busy road meters away aren’t exactly relaxing with a toddler.
Boschendal gave us the gift of being able to switch off and relax; the main tree-lined courtyard where the restaurants are is uncrowded and spacious, littered with beanbags for her to jump on and the largest chickens I’ve ever seen for her to toddle after.
We stayed in the beautiful Orchard Cottages which are a 5-minute drive from the restaurant amenities and benefit from a pool, sprawling gardens and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains
A lunchtime picnic is a family must and can be done whether you are staying at Boschendal or not. On arrival, our checkered picnic rug was laid out, chairs provided and an old wooden wine box full of scrumptious picnic food was presented to us. A chilled glass of chardonnay, live music from the bandstand and our little one running around on the grass made for a very happy and relaxed afternoon.
Naturally, we wanted to do some wine tasting whilst here but we also wanted to make it baby friendly, so we opted for the wine tram which even Ottie could enjoy – wind in her hair, plastic wine glass to bang and stunning scenery trundling by.
It is worth understanding that although it is called the Wine Tram, a large portion of the routes are done by bus, so if you are travelling with little ones and are unsure if you will complete the full day (we found three hours plenty), I’d recommend choosing a route which starts with the Wine Tram (rather than bus) as kids are likely to enjoy it more. The larger wineries also tend to be more child-friendly so bare this in mind when choosing your route.
We did the yellow line and visited Grand Provence and Rickety Bridge; both very family friendly with climbing frames, swings and lawn games on offer as well as oodles of wine to try. We combined wine tastings with platter board lunches filled with cold meats, cheese, hummus and olives that we could all nibble at.
The trending Instagram star of the Winelands! The restaurant gets booked up months in advance and staying here is pricey but for a small fee, you can still pop in for a day visit. Vast, immaculate fruit and vegetable gardens complete with picture-perfect hanging wicker eggs to climb in, ducks waddling along the paths, chickens pecking under your table at lunch, divine rose towers, scent rooms to explore, olive oil tasting and ice cream parlours. It is HUGE and well worth a morning exploring. The only downside is the number of people taking sunglassed, pouting selfies....
The final leg of our journey was 3 nights in Cape Town. The only place on our trip that I had been to before but last time as a 17-year-old on one of my first adventures without parents… Could it live up to my memories?
Again, Far and Wild nailed this for us. From the moment we stepped out of our car, we were welcomed with open arms. Check-in was done in our apartment where toys had been thoughtfully laid out for Ottie. Ottie entertained; we could focus on the map as they made suggestions of how we could spend our 3 days in Cape Town.
The apartments are very comfortable with small terraces to unwind on when your little one goes down, concierge goes above and beyond and the kitchen has everything you need if you decide to cook – or there are plenty of restaurants on trendy Kloof street and Uber eats also works well if you are feeling lazy!
Almost everything is within a 10-minute drive of the apartments so it is quick and easy to get around; either drive yourself, use their shuttle min van or get an Uber.
Cape Town activities
Wondering what to do in Cape Town with a family? Fear not, there is plenty!
The iconic flat-topped Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most famous landmark and a must for any first-time visitor, but be warned, it frequently shuts due to the wind and can get cloudy so plan to do this the first clear day you get.
A dizzying ride up in a spinning cable car took us to the top and we were met with freezing blasts of air. Earlier in the day we had been sunbathing on Camps Bay; what had happened?! We had been told it can be cold at the top, but this was akin to a ski slope. Panic purchases of a hat for our little one and another jumper and we were ready to take in the breathtaking views. Peering down over Cape Town we tried to identify the various landmarks before heading to the Kloud Bar for a mountain drink.
The buzzing V&A waterfront is a must for any visitor filled with restaurants, shops and plenty of street performers playing traditional music and showcasing their dancing skills. It is filled with energy and makes for a very enjoyable wander.
If you’re planning to visit Robben Island, then this is also where you get the ferry from.
The irony of travelling halfway across the world to visit an Aquarium when we have them in the UK isn’t lost on me, and yet, it was one of the best things we did in South Africa simply because our toddler was beside themselves with excitement. She was jumping up and down, pointing at every giant fish, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at the jellyfish and amazed by the sharks. Witnessing her sheer youthful joy, meant we loved it too. In fact, I think that if we had had time, we’d have returned a second visit. The aquarium is focused on what is found on the South African coast and so is educational for adults too.
If planning a trip with kids, it is worth taking a look at the feeding times before you go so you can combine it with watching the penguins or sharks getting fed.
If Hermanus is the whale capital, then Boulder’s Beach in Simons Town is the penguin capital. Home to around 3,000 African penguins, this is the place to see them waddling on the beach, surfing the waves and swimming in the sea.
Entrance here was expensive, and this was the one activity we did whilst in South Africa that felt like a real ‘tourist experience’. The penguins are on a small area of beach and you see them from a viewing platform, along with crowds of people, all huddled together like, well, penguins. Further on from the main penguins, is Boulder’s Beach which forms part of the same entrance fee; here there are fewer penguins, but it is much less busy. You can wander on the sand and swim in the sea so make sure you don’t miss this bit.
I last visited Boulder’s Beach when I was 17 and I absolutely adored it, spending hours photographing the penguins. Returning as an adult didn’t have the same magic, but if you’ve children or teenagers this is an absolute must.
Driving back from Boulder’s Beach, it is well worth paying the toll to go via Chapman’s Peak. This captivating drive climbs from Houtbay to Chapman’s Peak giving magnificent ocean views as you wind your way along the clifftop road
Located at the foot of the Twelve Apostles mountain range, Camps Bay is where a vast stretch of pristine, soft sand meets the thunderous waves. Filled with dog walkers, families and loved-up couples, it is a wonderful place to spend a morning and it feels a world away from the busy waterfront despite only being a 10-minute drive.
But is it safe?
Long flight aside, this is the question every parent asks themselves when travelling and having earnt the nickname ‘Captain safety’ within our household, it was top of my worry list. I can hand on heart say I didn’t once feel threatened or unsafe during our trip.
Yes, South Africa does have significant crime issues, as do most places with vast wealth inequality but you can mitigate this by not taking unnecessary risks. In Cape Town, we followed advice on where was safe to take money out, didn’t stroll around non-tourist areas and made sure our bags were zipped up to avoid easy pickpocketing. We didn’t drive at night, stuck to the main roads (which is where sat-nav took us regardless) and locked our car doors at traffic lights. All sensible advice that is easy to follow and meant that we felt safe throughout.
Embrace being there with your baby/toddler/child. Choose activities, restaurants and accommodation that they will enjoy, if they are happy and entertained, you will feel relaxed and enjoy your holiday all the more.
Be realistic about your car journeys. Our original plan was to do the garden route and to go to Plettenberg, something we are keen to do next time but for our first trip, we’re pleased we kept all our car journeys under 2 hours. It made life easy, and therefore more enjoyable!
Don’t be afraid to have a busy itinerary. Toddlers and children are full of energy – they’re interested in the world around them and thrive with new experiences. By being busy, our little one was naturally entertained, and it took the pressure off us.
Save money and share a room with your toddler. We hadn’t shared a room with our 18-month-old for over a year, but the first night we were all in a suite and she slept the night through despite being in a strange location, so we she stayed in our room throughout the trip. Having us nearby was a comfort to her, we didn’t worry about monitors not working and one room is cheaper than two.
Be flexible. Sometimes we had to cut an activity short because our toddler was over-tiered or we ate in because it was more relaxing than a restaurant. Did it matter? Absolutely not.
Will we return?
Definitely! Although we did a LOT, there is still so much that we want to go and see. We never made it to Constantia or the other beaches in Cape Town, we’d love to go back to Winelands and we’re keen next time to go further along the Garden Route and explore Plettenberg. Who knows, we might even tag on a safari…