Maybe it’s because of fairy tales, but children gain a keen sense of adventure when you head over any kind of mountain, perhaps they have this vision of another land opening up before their eyes when they crest the last rise. And it’s true, when you wind your way up the Outeniqua Pass, leaving the lush green of the coastal belt behind you, the Klein Karoo unfolds before you like a different land, one of folded grey hills, wide open spaces and big skies. The low grey-green scrubland also makes games like ‘I Spy’ much easier, you can see far and spot more animals, birds and… ostriches.
We have not yet succumbed to using screens as entertainment for road trips so we make up inventive word games and this time round we discovered the most unexpected entertainment for little hands and minds, you are never going to guess what it is!
Knitting, yes knitting was a complete win, luckily my 7 and 9 year old had both already been taught the ins and outs (pun intended) at their school as one of their crafts, because if I had had to teach them simultaneously from the front seat while whizzing through the countryside, let’s just say the road trip would not have been quite as successful as it was. But somehow the inevitable restlessness of children strapped into a car for hours was incredibly eased by their hands having something rhythmic and productive to do and they could multi-task by also looking out the window and playing word games or just simply sitting in happy silence with the needles clicking to the obligatory road trip music. And no I don’t have two girls, my 7 year old boy absolutely loves the satisfaction of seeing his knitted scarf grow in length through his doing alone and he has no inkling of gender stereo-typing when it comes to knitting, long may it last.
Road trips with kids are always better when divided up into bite sized chunks (like 3 hours), but no matter the length of the journey the joy of arriving at the destination is always the same. We pulled up to our wooden cabin on the vlei at De Zeekoe Guest Farm just outside Oudtshoorn and the children reveled in exploring our cosy home for the next two nights. And as we settled ourselves on the stoep to soak in the view we knew we had come to a good place to rest our souls when a pair of Fish Eagles welcomed us with their calls. What more could you ask for? And De Zeekoe ticked so many happy holiday boxes for the children, they could canoe on the vlei and visit the bird island where the fish eagles nested, ride their bikes easily and freely down the farm roads, stoke the evening fire in the huge indoor hearth and most of all, what all children wish for, is the time and space to have mom and dad’s undivided attention for card games and ball games, storytime and together time. We always try to keep phone use to a bare minimum, if it at all, on road trips with our kids, it makes all the difference to their world.
And De Zeekoe ticked so many boxes for me too in terms of a holiday with a conscience. I love the fact that they empower and upskill all the local families on the farm to work and manage the guesthouse and they have also set up a school, for all the neighbouring farm children too.
It’s one of the many reasons they are Fair Trade certified, employing and upskilling local people is a crucial key to the health and wellbeing of our country in terms of local economic development.
De Zeekoe guesthouse and farm employs, houses and educates 22 families! They also see the value in supporting local producers and while their breakfast buffet is sublime (you have to try the carrot quiche and tomato tartlets!) it just takes it to another level for me that the eggs are locally sourced and free range. Now if only my children would appreciate the concept of a diverse and delicious breakfast buffet and not simply go for the corn flakes because they don’t get them at home. We had a good laugh…three bowls of corn flakes later!
But I’ve skipped to the breakfast before telling you about our most exciting adventure at De Zeekoe! Holidays are not usually associated with early mornings, but this was definitely worth getting up before sunrise for. We bundled ourselves, beanies and all, into the car to get to the meeting spot for Meerkat Adventures by 6am then drove in convoy to the nature area not far from the R62. Tea and rusks, sunrise over the scrublands and before we knew it we were sitting in a semicircle of camp chairs right next to a meerkat burrow. And then we waited. You see we were up earlier than the meerkat family. You have to be or else you will never spot them while they are out foraging in the wide open spaces, this particular family has over 20 burrows to choose from to lay their weary heads every evening, that is one seriously vast area they cover. The excitement of seeing the first head pop out of the burrow was immense and we really had to pinch ourselves because it does seem dreamlike to sit in the wild watching wild meerkats go about their morning sun worshipping ritual while completely ignoring you (unless you sneeze!)
For anyone who is keen to give their children (and themselves) animal encounter experiences where the animals are not caged, not interacted with or interfered with and are able to go about their natural rhythms in their natural environment then Meerkat Adventures is definitely one for the bucket list.
The guides were so incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about conservation, but I won’t spoil it for you by telling you all the delightful nuggets of meerkat info and how these magical encounters have been made possible, beyond saying it involves years of passion and patience. I will never forget watching the pregnant mommy meerkat lean back with her front paws rested on her rounded belly just like we do, or the way the little ones played and rough tumbled – to give my children the gift of this experience was priceless.
Some tips for taking kids to experience the meerkats with Meerkat Adventures
- Children need to be able to sit still and quiet for a few hours so it is definitely not recommended for little ones.
- They recommend children be over the age of 10, the high pitched voices of children remind the meerkats of an alarm call to danger, this is especially enforced over busy season time.
- It’s a very good idea to have something quiet for the children to do while waiting for or sitting with the meerkats (we sat for over 2 hours). And what am I going to recommend? You guessed it, knitting was an amazing activity that kept the children’s hands occupied but still allowed them to be present. Any hand craft like that would be similarly useful. Screens would not be recommended because of the noise and the focus would be removed from the magical meerkats.
To book at De Zeekoe for B&B rooms, self catering, dinner or meerkat tours (you get a discount when you are a De Zeekoe guest) visit their Eco Atlas page. Even the self catering cabins have a cleaning service (with biodegradable cleaning agents of course) which further adds to the holiday relaxation element.
To book directly with Devey Glinister and the Meerkat Adventures team simply visit their website.
Happy roadtripping, ours didn’t end there, we still went to Die Hel and back, but that is a story about going over a mountain for another day….
P.S. if you would like to make your road trip as zero waste as possible, here are a few things to have in the car with you for those inevitable food stops where you are given polystyrene parcels and plastic straws…
- a few tupperwares and food containers for takeaways
- reusable water bottles to fill up along the way
- reusable straws, glass or stainless steel
- some cutlery so that you can say no to the plastic ones
- reusable shopping bags
You will be amazed at how willing all the roadside food stops are to comply with your planet saving ways!