1. Vergenoegd Duck Parade
This one pretty much does what it says on the box – but it’s certainly a unique experience. The brace (it’s the right collective noun – check it!) of Indian Runner Ducks at Vergenoegd make the journey from the farm’s dam to the vineyards three times a day, where they help boost the farm’s biodiversity credentials by eating the snails and bugs that would otherwise threaten the vines and grapes – instead of using pesticides.
They’re herded to a ‘starting line’ of sorts at a set of gabled gates by some very patient team members, where they all stand proudly and wait for a signal. There’s a pathway charted for them through the grounds in front of the homestead by a set of shin-high barriers, lined by enthusiastic visitors who travel from far to see the parade. Once all the ducks are gathered, there’s a signal of sorts and the waddling begins.
A curious Indian Runner Duck quirk is the way they waddle – leaning forwards with their wings tucked back, giving them more than a passing resemblance to shuffling italic letters. The total flock numbers more than 1200, but they do race past relatively quickly – spurred on, no doubt, by the promise of a fresh bounty of snail snacks nearby.
The ‘waddling workforce’, as they’re known, are a pivotal part of the pest management program, which has been a work in progress since 1984.
The daily duck parade is free of charge, as is the breeding program experience. Wine tasting and cellar tours attract a fee of R85 and R300, respectively, with bookings for those available, online.
There’s also a breeding program in place, and visitors can extend their stay beyond the 10-minute parade to take a tour of the duck pens and breeding rooms.
Visit the official website at: www.vergenoegd.co.za
2. Two Oceans Aquarium
‘Explore’, ‘Experience’ and ‘Engage’ are the Two Ocean’s Aquarium’s touchpoints, and there are plenty of opportunities to do all three, for visitors. This isn’t an entertainment showcase for all things aquatic – it’s a working conservation environment where sea creatures are often brought in from the surrounding oceans for rehabilitation.
Probably the country’s premiere aquarium – though the team at uShaka Marine World in Durban would probably have something to say about that – the Two Oceans Aquarium’s focus is on immersive learning experiences, and there are plenty of chances to get up close and personal with the fish, birds and allsorts, without having to wonder about the ethics of the animals being taken advantage of for entertainment.
Apart from wandering the wondrous halls, glass tunnels and interesting displays, visitors can also enjoy feeding time, with sea turtles, rats and guitarfish getting hand-fed at noon in the massive I&J Ocean Exhibit, and the African penguins being fed individually – according to their unique dining preferences – at 11:30 and 14:30.
The ragged tooth sharks also get their weekly meal from divers on Sundays at 15:00. Qualified divers can swim with the sharks in the predator tank and the other large fish in the ocean exhibit – so not necessarily for the kids, but fun, nonetheless.
They would probably be perfectly happy diving head-first into a giant turtle shell (a great photo opp, and permanent display), racing between the luminous jellyfish tanks and gently handling shells, plants and animals in the Touch Pool.
Pack some snacks (there are plenty of pause areas), make time to sit in front of the giant windows at the Ocean and Predator exhibits to just marvel at the tank inhabitants circling and don’t miss the chance to buy a plush turtle or harmless-looking shark at the gift shop on your way out.
Book your tickets online to skip the long queues during the holiday season – not a terribly common feature amongst South African attractions!
Visit the official website at: www.aquarium.co.za
3. The Animal Sanctuary @ Butterfly World
If the kids love nature and the zoo – but you have some ethical questions about animals being kept in captivity – then Butterfly World is a great compromise, and the opportunity to support an organization that does great work.
The pivot to ‘The Animal Sanctuary @ Butterfly World’ is a nod to the fact that visions of having your cheeks tickled by swarms of loving butterflies need to be tempered by seasonal reality. In the absence of butterflies during the colder months, the sanctuary is still home to a fantastic array of birds, reptiles and other exotic animals, most of which have been rescued from people’s homes and given the chance to live out their days in a more appropriate environment.
That environment is an immersive one – and one which the kids will truly love. The reception area doesn’t give much of a clue to what awaits visitors, but with entry fees paid, a door swings open and offers admission to a warehouse-sized space where the birds (largely) fly free and the animals are housed in generous zones or pens to give them a taste of a more normal life. There are areas outside too that are home to monkeys and tortoises, a tragically lone Arctic Fox rescued from a vastly inappropriate habitat in a private residence, as well as a section that houses the creepier crawlies and the surprisingly whimsical ‘Road Kill Skeleton Display’.
Some parts of the experience are more interactive than others – watch out for the enthusiastic, curious free-flying birds that love getting up close and personal with visitors. Some sections are partitioned off, and are home to snakes, less social birds and the like.
Apart from being a great place to wander and marvel at the array of critters, the team is also happy to host more educational group outings – and there’s a daily animal show during holiday times.
The fact that many of these animals were once considered pets is borne out by the extensive vocabulary of one particular yellow-crested cockatoo… See if you can track him down.
Visit the official website at: www.butterflyworld.co.za
4. PlayDate SuperPark
It’s pretty tricky to just stumble across PlayDate Superpark, despite its location in the heart of Africa’s most-visited tourist attraction, the V&A Waterfront – which is amazing, considering its scale. Great for rainy days – or just burning off excess energy – PlayDate is a triple-storey 3D maze that’s as fun as it is challenging, for kids of almost all ages. Basically, it’s a traditional outdoor park, on steroids.
The maze lines all four walls of the space, and criss-crosses overhead, so it’s easy to keep an eye on the kids as they race along ziplines, cross challenging balance beam courses, climb, clamber, slide and soar. The maze itself is also accessible for adults, in the event that one of the smalls decides that something is a little too tough, so it’s easy enough to pop in and retrieve them, even though there are plenty of staff positioned throughout to help them with the more challenging bits.
On the ground level is the ubiquitous coffee and snack shop, with ample seating, as well as a softer play area for those not yet mobile or tall enough to go charging around the course. You may even lose Mom or Dad to the F1 simulator near the door, if you don’t keep close enough tabs on them… There’s also Air Hockey, Mini Golf, Target Throwing and a ‘Pitch and Play’ mini golf section for a bit more dynamic, head-to-head challenges.
Online booking is well advised, particularly during holiday periods, with options for supervised or unsupervised (by the staff) visits, 1- or 2-hour stays or all-day passes, starting at R85 per child. Adults enter for free, to wrangle their small humans. Online booking includes the electronic signing of a waiver in the event of injuries, which could always happen in such an adventure-filled space, but the staff are generally always pretty close by to help avert anything too calamitous.
Park across the road from The Watershed (next to the Two Oceans Aquarium) in the V&A Waterfront’s Breakwater Parking Garage to access the venue most easily.
Visit the official website at: www.superpark.co.za
5. Clay Café
Another one that’s as much fun for tall humans, as small, Clay Café is a great spot to spend a solid half-day getting some arts & crafts in – especially if the weather outside isn’t great.
While they do sell an interesting array of completed, fired ceramic pieces at the shop in the front of the building, the real appeal of Clay Café lies in selecting ‘bisque’ (unfired) clay figurines, plates and various ornaments from the jam-packed stock room, choosing your paints and brushes and settling in for a couple of hours of creative fun. If you find yourself short of inspiration, there’s an ‘Inspiration Wall’ that hopefully does what it says, rather than making you feel massively talentless and inadequate.
The on-site restaurant has an extensive menu that caters for everything from snacks to substantial meals, and they have the ability to keep great coffee and healthy juices flowing too, as you and the brood immerse yourselves in the experience.
Once everyone’s put their finishing touches to their masterpieces, names are inscribed on the bottom with a sharp object and placed in the ‘firing tray’ in the front of the store. The team will also allocate a reference number to help track the progress of your item. The collections room is out the back of the restaurant & painting area, and worth a visit just to see the stupefying array of items awaiting collection.
Orders take about three weeks to be completed – they’re fired in huge batches once you’ve painted them, so it’d be ideal to visit Clay Café at the start of your stay, so you can be sure your finished item will be ready for collection before you head back home.
If the kids need a break, mid-paint, there’s a playground outside with giant trampolines, swings and bit of manicured grass for them to charge around on.
Visit the official website at: www.claycafe.co.za
6. Cape Town Science Centre
Educational playdates are often less fun than they even sound, but the Cape Town Science Centre has put together over 250 interactive exhibits and puzzles that easily dispel that notion. The innocuous-looking white building in Observatory, about 15 minutes from the middle of Cape Town, is home to a football-field sized space packed with every imaginable experimental experience.
A big hit seems to be the construction site at the centre of the hall, where the kids can build walls with interlocking foam bricks, cart them around in wheelbarrows and launch them to the top of the structure with manually-cranked conveyer belts (which are blissfully energy-sapping!). Calling it a ‘hive of activity’ is an understatement, as the hard-hatted small humans set about putting up walls with alarming speed.
There are a number of brain-bending puzzles to put together, some smart installations featuring tricky funhouse mirrors, a steep slide negotiated with ride-on sacks that teaches them about the relationship between friction and speed and even a massive train set that’s good for a few minutes of debate about if and when the two counter-travelling trains are going to collide. Crucially, all of the exhibits teach sound scientific principles without always appearing educational – an unusual thing for SA attractions and oddly satisfying. Of course, it’s not about tricking the kids into learning – but those with a yen for science will definitely find it extra-entertaining once they figure out the tricks!
There’s also a coffee shop, from which parents can see pretty much the entire venue as they sip and snack. Check out the website for details of special exhibits, Holiday Programs and venue hire opportunities for parties and the like.
Parking directly outside the building is extremely limited, so do expect to have to dodge some traffic when crossing the busy Main Road, with the kids in tow.
Visit the official website at: www.ctsc.org.za
7. Café Paradiso
Sitting at the top end of the restaurant-laden Kloof Street in the City Bowl, Café Paradiso is that rare bird that’s both excellent restaurant and child-friendly spot. Usually parents have to compromise on eating less-than-wonderful food in exchange for finding a spot that the kids will enjoy too, or having to cope with sulky small ones at a place that doesn’t cater for them beyond offering staples like fish fingers or burgers.
While the menu is indeed home to a great burger and some ‘hake goujons’ for the ankle-biter set (amongst some other great options), its appeal lies in the fact that it’s something of a Cape Town institution for its inventive breakfasts, crispy-based pizzas and substantial Italian-influenced mains – even drawing drop-ins from the celeb jet-set who regularly grace Cape Town to shoot movies or just ogle the scenery from the outdoor terrace. All without an eye-watering price tag…
Café Paradiso makes it onto our list because it offers the chance for kids to make their own pizzas, right in the heart of the kitchen and under the watchful eye of an enthusiastic and friendly group of minders. While you’ll no doubt want to cast an eye over what bizarre and wonderful toppings the kids are adding to their pizza, it’s also a welcome opportunity to sit quietly and sip something warm, or strong (or both!) or enjoy your meal while the kids are entertained, doing something a little out of the ordinary. Priced at just under R60, the activity also feeds the kits, as they eat the pizzas they make, and there’s also the option to decorate cupcakes, make gingerbread men or roll out some choc-chip cookies – all for the same price.
The team in the kitchen settle them down at a table, show them how to dust their boards with flour, roll out the pre-portioned dough (into any shape they like!), add a variety of toppings and pop them in the wood-fired oven, before presenting them at the table to enjoy alongside the adults’ meals.
When booking a table, ask for a seat at the ‘Inside Courtyard’ – it offers a direct view of the kitchen, if you’d like to keep an eye on the small ones as they prep their meal.
Visit the official website at: www.cafeparadiso.co.za
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The Seven Best is an online guide featuring curated lists of must-sees, must-dos and more as you plan your journey around South Africa.