Our trip to South Africa was twelve years in the making. In 2006, my mother returned to her native homeland to be back amongst the mountains and sea she grew up with. Last summer, my partner Jen and I took our five-year-old daughter Juno and 10-month-old son Becket on an adventure to meet my mother’s side of the family and explore the breathtaking landscapes and vibrant cultures that intertwine there. By foot, rail, and wheel, we spent eight weeks journeying throughout South Africa’s southern and eastern capes. We had unforgettable experiences exploring back roads, hiking along mountainsides covered in fynbos, eating amazing culinary dishes infused with South Africa’s eclectic history, and going safaris in search of the animals I’ve dreamed of seeing since I was a child.
For the first few weeks we stayed with my mum and visited family in the False Bay region, located on the Indian Ocean just south of Cape Town. The Southern Cape has a Mediterranean climate and consists of dramatic rocky mountains surrounded by dynamic seas and scenic beaches. From here, we were able to explore many of the area’s sought-after destinations: we took the rotating cable car to the top of Table Mountain, drove the spectacular Chapman’s Peak Drive route, hiked with my mum throughout the scenic Cape Peninsula National Park, visited the world-renowned Two Oceans Aquarium, and tasted the vast array of seafood at local harbours.
Although we visited South Africa during their winter season, it didn’t stop us from spending countless hours at the beaches. Days were filled with surfing, boogie-boarding, castle-building, eating sand in Becket’s case, searching for shells, and playing with all sorts of found treasures. We occasionally watched dolphins and sea lions surf the waves, and were lucky enough to witness the amazing spectacle of dozens of female Southern Right Whales coming in close to the coastline to bear their calves. In some instances, the whales were within metres of the shoreline.
When I ask Juno about some of her favourite memories of our trip, she almost always says, “saaafffaaariiii!” Simply put, going on a safari with your family is surreal. I felt the need to pinch myself and take a moment to absorb what we were seeing. My 40-year-old self transformed into a five-year-old full of wonder. Sitting in your car with a child in your lap while herds of 60+ elephants gather only metres away is magical. Juno’s favourite safari memory was following a herd of elephants to a watering hole, while watching her brother press his face up against the car window as he enthusiastically shrieked and squealed in delight at the sight of these gentle giants. Listening to the matriarchs call their herd, watching bulls jostle for position, and seeing the baby elephants scampering about makes you feel as if you’re in an episode of National Geographic.
One of my favourite memories was parking the safari jeep in the middle of a vast plain at sunset, and watching a journey (herd) of giraffes walk toward us. In absolute silence they moved right around our jeep and on toward the bushes beyond. It was mesmerizing. Until you experience a safari, you have no idea how thrilling it feels to explore the savannah in hopes of catching an experience you’ll never forget.
For a couple of weeks we drove South Africa’s Route 62, which is likened to the United State’s Route 66. This scenic meander leads you through farming communities, vineyards, orchards, river valleys, and beautiful mountain passes. On this road trip we were exposed to the wide selection of South Africa’s eclectic food.
I rediscovered the amazing taste of bobotie, a Malay dish consisting of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. I remember my mum making her own version when I grew up, but I had completely forgotten about it. The South African braii is something I will always cherish; the art of socializing while slowly grilling meat over coals is something that many South Africans share. I love fresh roosterkoek, a South African bread that rises while being cooked over the coals. The chakalaka, a sweet tomato relish, is a great flavouring to add to any dish.
Sharing this journey with our kids forced us to move slower and see the details from their perspective. Exploring with them gave us the added appreciation of being in the moment and experiencing the intensity of life’s emotions.