Farm 215 Nature Retreat & Fynbos Reserve Southern Overberg – Western Cape
Sometimes you stumble on a place where someone’s vision is manifested in every detail. Thanks to the tireless efforts of owner Maarten Groos, Farm 215 in the Walker Bay Conservancy is such a place. Here, as a guest, you feel you’re making a difference and that sustainability can work, even in this crazy, materialistic world. The income generated from tourism is ploughed back into rehabilitating the landscape, clearing alien vegetation and restoring the unique fynbos and forests of this beautiful corner of the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Among its many accolades and accreditations, the farm was the first reforestation site of Trees for Tourism, where visitors can assist with replanting indigenous trees. The guest house is built and managed according to strict green guidelines. The water comes straight off the mountain, almost everything is solar-powered or heated by a wood stove, and food is locally sourced and, as far as possible, organic. It’s luxurious but at the same time simple and sustainable.
If you want all mod cons stay away, although there are some ingenious energy-saving devices like water pipes in the chimney that warm water for underfloor heating. However, solar energy doesn’t power air cons, TVs or hairdryers. And your bath water will be brown from the tannins. But if you want to escape the rat race, wander for hours through exquisite fynbos without meeting another soul, see stars in a sky free of pollution and learn more about sustainability at ground level, I can think of nowhere better. – Fiona McIntosh
The backpackers lodge in the Tsistsikamma forest is über eco-friendly, owned and run by the young, environmentally conscious couple, André and Michelle Kruger. The double-storey lodge (a converted residence) is built entirely of timber. In addition to a solar-powered water-heating system, other eco-friendly features include irrigating the extensive and impressive garden only with grey water, as well as recycling refuse, and using low-energy light bulbs. Even the dishwashing liquid in the communal kitchen is environmentally friendly. With a licensed bar, a pool table, a comfortable lounge, a welcoming fireplace and a variety of comfortable rooms in the main building, it convincingly lives up to the four-star status issued by the Tourism Grading Council of SA for backpacker lodges.
The Krugers also rent out battery-powered Segway vehicles for visitors to explore the forest reserve. These one-person two-wheelers are happily accepted by SANParks because they are silent and produce no fumes. The lodge offers visitors a choice between one-star tents, two-star dorms, three-star double rooms or four-star accommodation with en-suite bathrooms. There is free WI-FI, a shuttle service and the personal attention of the owners. No wonder they have so many repeat bookings. – David Shreeve
042 281 1868
This attractive cluster of eco-friendly, straw-bale cottages on the Doring River is a winner. At Oudrif, the emphasis is on communing with nature and preserving this pristine environment without compromising on comfort. The cottages, which can accommodate ten people, provide excellent insulation in both hot and cold weather, reducing the need for conventional power. What electricity is needed is generated from solar panels (fortunately the sun seems to shine a lot in the Cederberg), water comes from the perennial river, and food is freshly grown in the riverside garden.
The cottages look out over the river onto burnt-orange, tortured Cederberg rocks and, in spring, the veld bursts into flower. Take it easy chilling on the deck or swim in rock pools, view magnificent rock paintings, explore the potholes in the deeply incised river gorges, cast a line for bass or Clanwilliam yellowfish (catch and release, naturally), clamber up the mountains and, if there’s enough water, go river rafting.
For Bill and his wife Janine, eco-friendly is a way of life. They are also fundis on the history and art of the area, as well as the flora and fauna, so each guided walk is a delight, searching for fossils, learning about the medicinal uses of some grey-looking bush or admiring the geology. At Oudrif there are no pretences, no pressures and, best of all, no cellphone coverage. – Fiona McIntosh
027 482 2397, [email protected], www.oudrif.co.za
Oudebosch Eco-cabins, Overberg, Western Cape
The Oudebosch Eco-cabins are situated at the foot of the mountains of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, but calling them ‘cabins’ is doing them an injustice. With their spacious bedrooms and large living areas I’d be happy to make one my home. Building was a year-long project that included collecting seeds from the reserve for the beautiful gardens and for planting on the roofs, and creating the eco-pool – a stepped water feature that naturally filters water pumped from the Palmiet River through reeds, plants and rocks.
The cabins tick all the eco boxes: they are north-facing, have solar geysers and composting toilets and grey water is filtered through reed beds before being allowed to soak back into the natural environment. There was no digging of foundations or concrete used in the construction so the wood cabins and stone gabions can be picked up and removed, to leave the natural landscape pretty much as was. The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve is one of the hotspots of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site and bird life is plentiful. There is also a host of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as rafting on the Palmiet. – Shaen Adey
021 438 0190 www.capenature.co.za
Mashovhela Bush Lodge, Soutpansberg, Limpopo
If you want to get away to a mountain retreat tucked into towering cliffs, you should head for Mashovhela Bush Lodge in the Soutpansberg mountains of northern Limpopo. This eco-lodge was built on the foundations of an old Venda settlement. Choose one of the 10 thatched chalets decorated to evoke a Venda village atmosphere; there is also the safari tent or the unique Hammock Camp where you can listen to the call of bush babies while you stargaze.
Mashovhela, the ‘place where the drums beat’, is named after the rock pool at the bottom of a spectacular waterfall. According to legend, King Thohoiyanda mysteriously disappeared with his sacred drum but its echoes can still be heard there. This 4 000-hectare Natural Heritage Site boasting dramatic scenery, including rocky outcrops where Verreaux’s Eagles roost, can be explored on your own or with a bird and nature guide. Mashovhela prioritises responsible energy-, water- and waste-management systems, using renewable energy for hot water and lights. As a member of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, Mashovhela is committed to the protection of unique biodiversity and habitat restoration. It has been recognised with a Gold Leaf Award, among others, and is a member of Fair Trade in Tourism. – Lisa Martus
012 991 6930 / 079 427 6333, www.morningsun.co.za
Rocherpan Eco-cabins, West Coast, Western Cape
Rocherpan Nature Reserve, on the West Coast just north of Velddrif, has long been a favourite haunt of birders, but the opening of eco-cabins in 2012 has put the reserve on a bigger radar screen. Designed by Justin Cooke, the same architect who completed the Oudebosch cabins at Kogelberg, the four units are green but comfortable. They have solar geysers and fireplaces and clever composting loos that use less water than conventional flush toilets.
Grey water is carefully disposed of into dry areas so as not to affect the salinity of the pan. Sliding glass doors open onto a deck, and the cabins are modest but airy, ideal for a couple or family. And if you can drag yourself away from the bird watching there’s a gorgeous beach and two hiking trails – the Rocherpan Hiking Trail, an easy 9km walk around the pan, and the 7km Beach Trail that takes you to the lookout point and back along the beach (three hours return). – Shaen Adey
082 319 1646, www.capenature.co.za