Perfect Day Trip to Pretoria with Kids

In a country where you can drive right up to a lion in the wild and watch him eat an antelope, or where you have to be careful an elephant doesn’t sit down on your car, you might think going to a regular old zoo isn’t all that exciting.

However, the Pretoria Zoo, also known as The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, is supposed to be well worth the visit. Since we never made it there during our three years in South Africa, I was very happy when Debbie Spazzoli, a good friend of mine, recently took her family for a visit and came back with a guest post including pictures for my blog.

The following is a great guide, not only for the Pretoria Zoo but also the Union Buildings and Sci-Enza, for when you have visitors in town or are just looking for a family day trip in the Johannesburg area.

A Visit at the Pretoria Zoo


October arrived with a bang. It is my birthday month and the year that I turn 50. It has been a very busy year and so by the middle of October I was ready for half term. Most private schools in Johannesburg get a long weekend for half term sometime in October. Friday and Monday make for a breather before roaring towards exams, school concerts, and the end of the academic year. Many families take this time to go to Sun City, Umhlanga Rocks, or even Cape Town. This year we decided to use the time to have a day trip to Pretoria to see the jacarandas and visit the Pretoria Zoo.

Pretoria Zoo

I have visited the Pretoria Zoo three times in the last year, and I have enjoyed every visit. There has recently been some negative press about the safety of visitors. Personally, I have had no problems, and as long as you are vigilant – a must in South Africa – I can’t see any reason not to visit the zoo.

Pretoria Zoo

The journey from Lonehill took just 45 minutes, and after paying R20 for parking we joined the queue of 30-40 small school children on their class visit. The children have colourful t-shirts that help the teachers keep them together and stop them getting lost. The entrance fee of R75 per adult and R50 per child was duly paid and we headed into the Zoo, after first having some ‘Disney’-like photos taken of us that we were told to look out for at the end of our visit.

Next we decided to hire a golf cart for two hours, as there is so much to see at the zoo, and because I also wanted to get in a quick visit to the Union Buildings, see the jacarandas and pop in to Sci-Enza at the University of Pretoria. Golf cart hire is R150 for two hours with a R100 refundable deposit. You will need to produce a drivers licence in order to hire the cart, and don’t let your kids drive the cart or you will be chased and reprimanded!

First stop was the Reptile Park and Aquarium. With hindsight we should have gone to see this before hiring the golf cart, as we spent almost an hour looking at the snakes and the wonderful aquarium.

Trying to get the two boys to hurry up, we jumped onto the golf cart and headed up past the gorgeous flamingos, elephants and monkeys. Stopping to admire the animals, we spotted our first rhino. Sadly the rhinos have been dehorned, but it is for their own safety. Such a beautiful creature and we need to dispel the myth that there is any medicinal cure to be found in ground-up horn!

Opposite the rhino enclosure is a big picnic area where boerewors was being braaied (barbequed). It would have been a lovely place to stop and have our lunch, but we decided that we should go on.

Up and over the Apies River, we managed to see one of the most dangerous animals in Africa – the hippo. When we went in September last year, we were fortunate enough to see a 2-day old baby hippo playing with its mother.

Next were the koalas and kangaroos. We did not have much time left, so we will have to go back to visit the Bird Paradise, but we did manage to see the zebras and a couple more rhinos.

Time was up and we raced back to hand in our golf cart and buy our souvenir pictures at the exit from the zoo.

Pretoria Zoo

Visit the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa website for more information about opening times and tours (and to see the cutest pictures of cheetah cubs!).

Next Stop: Union Buildings

Only about eight minutes away are the Union Buildings where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first president of the new South Africa in 1994. He also lay in state at the Union Buildings in December of 2013 while people the world over came to pay their respects. The union buildings are well worth the visit given their beautiful architecture and location on top of a hill overlooking Pretoria.

Pretoria Zoo

We were also going to see the 9-meter high bronze statue of Nelson Mandela that was recently unveiled near the Union Buildings.

We did not stay long as by now the kids were starving, and instead we jumped back into the car and headed for Hatfield, where the University of Pretoria is situated.

statue of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria

Jacaranda lined streets

The streets around Hatfield are lined with the beautiful jacaranda trees in their full purple bloom at this time of year. I was itching to take more and more photos but decided that one or two would suffice. Even though Johannesburg has its own jacaranda trees, the city of Pretoria is called the Jacaranda City for a reason, and an annual pilgrimage during October and November is a must.

Pretoria Zoo

Pretoria Zoo

University of Pretoria

Luckily for us my middle son is a student at UP (more commonly known as TUKS), so we parked at his apartment and walked across the road to the university, where we had our picnic on the lawn in front of the Old Arts Building.

Pretoria Zoo

Pretoria Zoo


Sci-Enza – a combination of the word “science” and “sebenza,” the Zulu word for “work” or “to do” – is the oldest interactive science centre in South Africa. Interestingly, it used to be called Exploratorium, but when its San Francisco namesake trademarked the name, the Pretoria one changed theirs.

Sci-Enza is located close to the university and the entrance is free.There is so much for the kids to touch and discover that we could have quite easily spent the whole day playing and learning at the same time. One of our favorites was the mirror maze, and we can also highly recommend the Camera Obscura. The staff at Sci-Enza was very welcoming and gave the boys brochures about planets, stars, and the moon phases. Sadly, time was not on our side, and it was time to head back to Joburg before the Friday traffic became too hectic!

Click here for more information about Sci-Enza.

Pretoria Zoo

Hi, I am Debbie. We moved to South Africa in December 2004 from Zimbabwe with my husband and our 3 sons on a 2 year inter office permit. We have been in South Africa for 10 years and are proudly South African permanent residents. Our boys are almost more South African than Zimbabwean, but with many happy memories of growing up in Zimbabwe.

For ideas for another day trip to Pretoria, read In the Footsteps of Paul Kruger and the Voortrekkers.

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