On Tuesday after the Easter weekend we prepared to head off on our family camping adventure with two young kids in tow. Upon arriving to get the keys for our campervan, we were still mentally check-listing whether we had remembered to switch off the stove and lock the doors in our mad rush to leave home. It was a manic departure to say the least, but we were excited.
While Ben went off to sign papers for the vehicle, I was tasked with learning the finer details of how to operate the van. I feared it might be complicated but I was wrong. Besides the obvious “drive in the front and sleep in the back”, there is a bit more to driving a camper van than you might think, but all of which is easily negotiated: operating the pump and gas; dealing with the toilet; filling up with diesel; oil and water changes – all expertly explained in the pre-trip briefing.
With the warm April sun filtering in through my passenger-side window, we set off from Cape Town, as happy as campers heading off on our Garden Route and Route 62 adventure. Our home-on-wheels was seven metres long and also fairly wide, so for virgin camper-vanners like us, it took some getting used to.
Confidence is of course key when driving such an impressively large car like this – and my husband Ben is a confident guy and so it was smooth sailing almost from the start. We had opted for the less-expensive insurance option and reading the fine print en route, realised that our policy didn’t cover night driving. This meant that just to be safe, we’d need to arrive at our first destination before dark. No problem, but in hindsight, the more comprehensive insurance plan was a better option, if, like us, you’d like to make a few scenic detours.
Warmwaterberg Spa between Barrydale and Ladismith was a welcome sight after a long spell on the road. As dusk settled, we sunk our tired bodies into the inviting water of the mineral hot spring. It was incredibly serene, with only a few other hushed voices filling the space around us. Soon my body had seized the long-overdue opportunity to relax and I was on Cloud Nine.
After our dip, we bundled up the boys and headed back to the van to put them to bed. Over a sumptuous dinner at the resort’s restaurant, we were greeted – cap in hand – by Eben, an old farmer from the area who gave us an interesting history lesson this magical little part of the Klein Karoo.
Most of the next day we spent driving to ATKV Hartenbos in Mossel Bay, our stayover for the next two nights. This century-old Afrikaans culture-inspired organisation and group of resorts cater for the ideal family holiday at seven beautiful locations around South Africa. As we drove into the Mossel Bay campsite at night, the thick veil of darkness was pierced by the campfires of at least a dozen families preparing dinner.
After negotiating the vehicle into our designated site, we made ourselves comfy, really enjoying ourselves – and the company. Young boys ran from one campsite to the next playing tok-tokkie, others rode their bikes, while some of the older girls French-plaited their hair and strutted around in the hope of attracting similarly-aged courters. It felt like we had stumbled upon a peacock-mating ceremony, but it was admittedly all rather endearing. There was something about these seemingly naïve children remarkably different from the city-slickers we were used to back at home. Only the next day did the penny drop: the apparent absence of smartphones meant that the children had to mingle and interact, a socialising routine increasingly absent from twenty-first-century childhood.
A short morning walk along the sea-facing promenade led us to the Hartenbos Seafront Funpark, where kids entertained themselves for hours with waterslides, adventure golf and an enormous jungle gym. Dining options weren’t in short supply either, with everything from burgers and pizza, to more formal wine-and-dine restaurants, and some retail therapy on offer.
The next morning we bid farewell to Mossel Bay and drove to the Harkerville Forest Lodge campsite between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. While I cooked a rainy-day chicken soup Seth explored the play area with Ben while our youngest, Zach sat on the floor clapping furiously to Johnny Clegg. After dinner we snuggled up in our camper van and watched a Sherlock Holmes film. Occasionally I would part the curtains of our small window to see the clouded moon throwing muted light onto the dewy, cold grass outside. It’s these small and seemingly insignificant moments that stay with you forever.
Winding our way back home to Cape Town and concluding our local is lekker camper-vanning holiday, we were grinning ear to ear, having had an absolute blast. The excitement levels ahead of our visit to the good ol’ US-of-A cannot come sooner. For now though, we’ll take some happy Sho’t Left memories home and be grateful for discovering the best way to see sunny South Africa
Hacks for carefree travel with your kids
List it or leave it
Parents are often tempted to take absolutely everything on holiday, but making a list of the bare essentials is far more practical. For your own convenience, check with your accommodation whether they provide things like camp cots and prams.
Check, check and check again
Ensure you have the correct travel documentation for each member of your family. Remember that requirements differ between countries in terms of passports, unabridged birth certificates, immunisation records, etc. Also, leave yourself enough time to acquire all of the necessary documents before travelling. A handy tip is to scan your documentation and save it to the cloud, providing you with access from anywhere.
For your time in the air
Long flights are tough on children and even harder on parents who could have an inconsolable child out of their normal routine. If possible, plan flights around their sleeping patterns to avoid a restless flight for everyone. It’s also advised to download plenty of apps and games on your phone or tablet to keep them entertained throughout the journey.
A gorgeous chalet on the side of a cliff is enough to make any parent anxious, so consider choosing accommodation with your family’s safety and security in mind.
Consider the mode of transport your family will use while on holiday. If public transport is an option, a compact stroller is useful for when your little is tired of walking, or needs a nap. If you’re hiring a car, include a car seat in your rental agreement.
Don’t bring the entire medicine cabinet, but rather try to make provisions for fevers, runny tummies and coughs all with one medicine if possible. A basic medical aid kit will also serve the family well, which includes essentials like antiseptics, plasters and a thermometer. If your family needs special medication such as anti-malarials, make an appointment with your physician in good time.
Prepare for any eventuality
Medical mishaps while travelling abroad can be a very expensive exercise. Comprehensive travel insurance will cover most medical emergencies but it’s important to determine what level of cover your medical aid provides outside of South Africa. Specific limits and exclusions may apply, so familiarise yourself with what these are and whether you require additional travel insurance to cover any shortfalls.
Story by: Sofia Tosolari