The Company’s Gardens date back to the 1600s and are the raison d’etre for Cape Town. Looking for a way to the East Indies - the source of spices, silks, tea and porcelain for Europe - the Dutch East India Company chose a route around the tip of Africa. The journey took months and sailors were at severe risk of scurvy from a lack of fresh produce. So the Company sent some employees to the Cape of Storms and told them to start a vegetable patch. More than three centuries later, that ‘vegetable patch’ is now a green lung in a cosmopolitan city that bustles with workers, sightseers, squirrels and hadedahs (what South Africans calls sacred ibises). Easily walkable in a morning or an afternoon, there is plenty to see and do in and around the Company’s Gardens.
She pushes her huge tail down, ducks under the waves with tremendous forces and then, with colossal power, launches her huge body above the water, coming down with a fantastic splash. Everything is quiet except for the chorus of ‘Wows!’ from my fellow boat passengers. There’s a shared anticipation and keen excitement as we hope she’ll do it again… Our luck is in as she once again uses her tail fin to propel herself like an aquatic rocket above the ocean off Kleinbaai, a tiny hamlet on South Africa’s Whale Coast, less than an hour’s drive from Hermanus and regarded as the whale-watching capital of the world.
Contrary to popular belief, bucket lists aren’t only for retired folk who are keen to SKI (‘spend the kids’ inheritance’). Today, youngsters are more switched on than ever before and after spending hours watching BBC or Lost Planet documentaries, many can’t wait to come to Africa and experience the thrill of seeing a leopard in the wild or elephant family at play for themselves.
With a coastline that clocks in at 26 000km or over 16 000 miles, it is not surprising that Africa has some of the best beaches in the world. Throw in pristine water, thriving coral reefs, swaying palms and frolicking dolphins and you have all the ingredients for the ultimate family beach holiday. And the accommodation does not let you down either: instead of mega resorts, package deals and sun lounger territory wars, expect to find laid-back African family beach villas packed with everything from their own pools, Jacuzzis and private beach access to being taken care of by friendly and knowledgeable butlers, housekeepers, drivers and chefs.
Growing up in South Africa, I was lucky enough to make regular visits to private game parks and reserves, like Addo Elephant National Park and the Kruger National Park. My first ‘game ranger-tracker-and-driver’ was my grandfather, who taught us grandkids the value of getting up before dawn, driving slowly, keeping quiet and training your eye to distinguish elephants from rocks and springbok from impala. At about 10, the ‘I want to be a game ranger when I grow up’ phase hit hard, and I amassed a huge collection of dead dung beetles, abandoned weavers’ nests, old warthog teeth and found antelope horns.
The scene that greeted us as we drove out of Cape Town made it hard to believe we were in Africa. Lit up by the soft light of a September morning, the city’s surrounding mountains were dusted with snow and the vineyards that lie below them glowed with good health. My daughter and I were stunned into silence by the beauty of it all, but we didn’t dilly-dally: we had a rendezvous with sea monsters.
Like a cardsharp with an ace up both sleeves, a safari villa is hard to beat. Not only are they tucked away in beautiful private reserves, but they are the best way to enjoy a completely individualized safari. And for the larger-than-usual group, they are exactly what's needed.
Family holidays in Africa began at an early age for me but each has remained indelibly imprinted on my mind. I was a young child on our Lake Kariba fishing adventure and barely into my teens when we canoed down the Zambezi and explored the Okavango, but we still talk about these trips decades later. Although, as adults, we now lead separate and far-flung lives, subsequent family holidays to Zanzibar, Mozambique or Botswana have served to bring us together, reinforcing family ties and sharing wonderful experiences.
Today's teenagers are rarely seen without earphones resolutely docked in their ears, fingers deftly generating more text messages per minute than Reuters issues global news updates. Their constant connectivity with friends in cyberspace often disconnects them from the people around them, their parents and even their siblings.