A Second Family Perspective

After the success of our South African trip for the Christmas 2002 holiday, we decided to go back again. This time we planned to explore a little bit of the Garden Route before returning to the wonderful Ant’s Nest in the Waterberg.

From our family perspective there are several places I would like to mention. The first of these is the Arniston Hotel on the Overberg coast two hours drive east of Cape Town. Several friends had already recommended the hotel and although the brochure doesn’t do it any favours, we decided to give it a go. The village of Arniston is quite different to the other seaside towns we visited along the Garden Route. The pretty thatched fishermen’s houses of Kassiesbaai, the oldest part of Arniston, have been declared a South African National Monument and this seems to have kept the whole village relatively quiet and unspoilt. The hotel itself is right in the centre, opposite the beach and fishing slipway. We stayed in their most simple room, which was clean and comfortable (and had the all important cable TV for the kids’ early morning entertainment). Behind the main façade, there is an outdoor dining area, pool, and pretty garden around which the rooms are arranged.

Although there is a beach right in front of the hotel, the best swimming beach is a ten minute walk or two minute car journey along the coast. It was sandy, safe for swimming and never too busy despite it being the New Year period. It was fantastic for both surfing and body boarding. Another bonus was that being the Indian Ocean, the sea was also reasonably warm.

Apart from swimming, there were plenty of other activities to keep us busy. Cape Agulhas (where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet) is close by and we spent an entertaining couple of hours on quad bikes in the National Park. There’s plenty of fishing, either from the shore or deep sea, which the hotel can arrange. The walking nearby is excellent and the hotel will happily provide a picnic lunch and directions. The local Overberg towns were interesting to look around, particularly Bredasdorp which is home to Africa’s southern-most golf course.

We stayed in Arniston for three nights, but could have happily spent a week there. It’s family friendly, not grand by any stretch of the imagination but very comfortable and welcoming. The service was good and the food we enjoyed here was some of the best we had on our trip. And at around £70 per adult per night it was also a lot cheaper than some of the other places we stayed at.

We then headed further along the coast towards Cape Town and to Gansbaai where we spent four nights at Grootbos. This private nature reserve is home to the largest private fynbos (native Cape vegetation) garden in the world. A maximum of twenty five guests stay in cottages scattered through the very pretty gardens. These vary in size from two bedrooms and bathrooms, to one bedroom and bathroom. The one bedroom cottages have sleeper couches in the lounge area so they can easily accommodate a family of four. With lovely verandas looking out towards the sea, they were delightfully comfortable.

The emphasis here is on the flora and fauna of the area. Although this might not sound hugely interesting compared to the big five, the expert botanical guides can make flowers and shrubs seem fascinating; even to small boys who aren’t normally the least bit interested in botanical things. Children are given ‘bug boxes’ to collect insects and are then encouraged to identify what they’ve found in the research centre afterwards.

Grootbos is run rather like a safari lodge and guests are encouraged to take a morning or afternoon activity, or both. This can be a game drive around the estate, a guided walk in the milkwood forest, a guided beach or cave walk. Alternatively there are horses stabled on the property, and they can provide a mount for riders of all abilities. During the whale watching season from July to December, the cliffs nearby at Walker Bay apparently offer some of the best land based whale viewing in the world.

After Cape Town we returned to Ant’s Nest in the Waterberg. This time it was for a week, to stay in both the original property and then on to sample their newly built Ant’s Hill Lodge. Ant’s Nest was just as good as we all remembered. We rode, walked and the boys told anyone prepared to listen that they could drive a vehicle. After three nights, we drove half an hour through the bush to the new property which is run totally separately with its own staff and horses. In fact if you weren’t told, you would never know from one that the other existed, and neither diminish the remote experience to be had at both locations.

During the design and building phase, owners Ant and Tessa Baber had kept us all updated with progress and therefore our expectation was high. Not surprisingly, as Ant and Tessa have a keen eye for design and attention to detail, it reached all our expectations. It is completely different to the homely Ant’s Nest and is built on the side of a gorge with spectacular views. The property has more of a lodge-style atmosphere with five cottages, including one family cottage with two bedrooms and bathrooms. Each is beautifully decorated with a private veranda overlooking the gorge and the plain beyond. There is not as much garden as at Ant’s Nest, and with the steep slope down into the gorge it is probably not as suitable for really small children, but in all other ways it’s a totally fantastic property.

Like Ant’s Nest you take it on an exclusive basis, and it can easily accommodate two families travelling together. Again flexibility is the key here and the same activities are offered as at Ant’s Nest. There are horses to suit all abilities and the riding is particularly good, if anything slightly better here as there are a greater number of long sandy tracks allowing you to go further and a little faster. Game drives and walks into the gorge and along the river bed are great, and the dry bed became an impromptu shooting range for tins cans one evening. We tracked the pregnant rhino for two days until we found her snoozing under a bush (still very pregnant) and loved our bush breakfasts and lunches.

Our six nights at Ant’s made a wonderful end to another superb holiday – we will be back.