Travelling 5000 kilometers across our vast country is no small feat, especially with a five and seven year old. We did not stay in luxury accommodation, trying to keep it relaxed and self-catering for the kids. Besides being tired afterwards, it was a wonderful experience and we explored so many breathtaking places along the way. Of course packing for such a trip is something in itself, as you need everything from a swimming costume to gloves, scarves and beanies.
Our first stop was Mukala Game Reserve outside Kimberly. I must say it was beautiful and the great bonus of a smaller game reserve with younger children is that you see more animals in a shorter period of time, so no one loses interest. The camp we stayed in was perched high up on a hill overlooking a river and we fell asleep to the sound of water flowing.
We then went to Kimberly and its Big hole… There have been some improvements since my last visit, but the museum area that I remember being this quaint old village taking you back in time, is quite dilapidated. We also did not find any diamonds…
Pretoria and then Dullstroom were our next stops visiting family and then staying at an extremely quaint stone cottage called Kliphuisjes in Dullstroom, with everything and so much more that you would require for a wonderful weekend, warm robes and a packed fireplace included. Dullstroom is really a gem of a village with quaint shops and restaurants. However, a Tuesday is not the best day to visit, we disovered. Being a weekend getaway, Tuesday is their equivalent to a Monday and we could only find one restaurant that was open at night and most of the shops closed before 4 o’clock. We did manage to pop in to the very large clock shop that the kids loved. Waiting for, and maybe begging the shop assistant to move the hands so that the different clocks would cuckoo, was lots of fun. There are plenty of antique, interior and various others shops, that I have to visit on my next trip, as we only slept there one night.
On the way to the Kruger National Park we did some sightseeing in Mpumalanga, Pilgrims Rest, Gods Window and Bourkes Potholes. The last two mentioned are still glorious natural wonders that have been upgraded to accommodate larger groups of tourists, but Pilgrims rest was disappointing.
Going to Kruger was an experience that I would definitely recommend. We saw all of the big five except the elusive leopard, whom we assume was sniggering to himself in a tree, as we drove by. The park is really well kept. The camps are neat and well equipped, the shops sell everything that you really need and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. The restaurants are great and the bush stops are great for brunch and a light lunch. Of the few camps that we visited Letaba Rest camp was my favourite. We stayed in a 3 bedroomed, 3 bathroom chalet right above the river and the elephants came right up to the fence at night.
I also discovered that Skukuza has a very friendly doctor (my well stocked first aid kit did not cover ear infections…). Then, just a word of advice when going on day trips… there are not many bathrooms in the game reserve. Only the rest camps and the 2 bush sites have bathrooms, which poses a problem with small children… and weak bladders.
It is very hot in the game reserve… cooler at night, but summer in the day reaching far into the thirty degrees. So pack in your summer clothes and sunscreen. Another tip, it is dusty and dry in the winter, so black and dark navy pants with little children and dusty cars are not ideal, unless you are going for the footprint look. Khaki, stone and medium blue denim washes work best. Sneakers and sandals are a must. (avoid canvas sneakers… they will not stay clean for a minute!)
From there we headed south through masses of plantations, through Natal and then to The Golden Gate National Park. From extreme heat to -5 degrees. It was a bit of a shock to our systems, but the amazing mountain formations were definitely worth it. Luckily the rondavel we stayed in had heated panels and electric blankets, which were very welcome indeed.
One of the things I would have done differently on this trip, was stay longer in Clarens. We only popped in, and I will definitely have to return. As it was a family holiday, I did not visit many shops, and we did not encounter many on our way, as we were on a sight seeing trip, BUT in Clarens, I found one amazingly beautiful boutique Mona Lisa Garment Gallery. They have a mix of vintage clothing, a collection of evening pieces and gowns that took my breath away, and modern pieces, scarves, wraps and accessories that were so unique. If you have not been to this village before, do yourself a favour, the restaurants, shops, galleries and natural beauty make it the Franschoek of the Free State.
After Clarens we made a quick overnight stop at the Gariep Dam before heading home. Seeing that mass of water gave me hope that the water will come in the Western Cape too!! The serenity and promise of life that water brings really made an impression.
Just a few tips and lessons that we learnt on the trip:
- Visit fewer places for longer, the endless packing in and out is tiring, and takes away from the fun and rest factor that a holiday should have.
- Use modern technology to entertain the kids, they get bored, and counting cars was not even an option on the roads that we drove, as there were hardly any.
- Pack enough snacks, everyone laughed at me with my snack trolley, but it helped!!
- Force the children to go to the bathroom when you are at a garage, emergency stops are not fun and not always possible. (especially in Kruger!!)
- Taking photos of animals is much more challenging than taking photos of children. (Especially when everyone wants to take a photo!!!)
- Potholes are a problem, when driving in a province and the car in front of you changes lanes continuously, do not be alarmed, follow him as he knows the area and is avoiding the potholes. Obviously be on the lookout for oncoming traffic.
- Take regular stops at places where the kids can run and stretch their legs.
- Puffer jackets are great space savers and the thickest jacket that you really need.
- Polo necks are only necessary in Clarens and two pairs of socks, gloves, scarf, a beanie and thermal underwear. (Pack in for everyone, even if your husband is not a scarf guy, he will thank you!!)
- You only need sneakers, a flat pair of ankle boots and sandals (leave the heels at home and shoes get damaged with dust mud etc.)
- A few good pairs of jeans, a few hoodies and a sweater, long and short sleeve tops, scarves and earrings will get you far.
- Charge all your devices every night. Take a few adaptors with, to make sure all the cameras etc. have a plug.
- Always be on the look out for fun items to take home, accessories with a memory are my favourite.
- Enjoy travelling and sleep when you get home!!