This story was updated on 4 March 2019.
Take a turn into the unknown at these five unexpected spots.
1. TiPi Bush Camp, Paterson
If you’re looking for an unusual experience, I suggest ‘going Hiawatha’ in the African bush.
Memories of the haunting Song of Hiawatha helped increase my appreciation of this malaria-free, environmentally-friendly property where, with little encouragement, we lapsed into reuniting with nature. TiPi Bush Camp in the Addo Afrique Estate borders Addo Elephant National Park.When we weren’t roaming freely with the non-predatory game, we sat back to view the activity in the picturesque valley below.
Accommodation, in one of only three spacious tipis, comprised a double bed and double sleeper couch that separated into twin beds. It’s self-catering so you need to take food and drinks – linen and all kitchenware are provided.
The clean ablutions were close by, and the sun provided all the energy – there is no electricity. Restaurants are about 20 kilometres from the camp but we chose to be mesmerised by the night calls – and then the sounds of silence.
The occasional car or train passing in the distance didn’t spoil the occasion. Birdsong started before sunrise giving us plenty of time to decide on one of the many activities suggested. We took another invigorating walk.
+27 (0) 82 821 9944; +27 (0) 83 951 0008; [email protected]
Words Olivia Schaffer
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2. Farmer Redbeard’s Bush Bus, Robertson
Can you beat this for an unusual place to stay?
The school bus is tucked away in aptly named Wilde Paarde Kloof at the foot of the Langeberg mountains. With caravan-like accommodation for four, the bush bus is in a secluded grove on Farmer Redbeard’s land where his family have farmed for 300 years.
A canopy provides shelter over the bus and there is a separate bathroom facility close by. The great thing about staying on the farm is that you can learn about the birds and the bees (literally), for Farmer Redbeard shares the secrets of beekeeping, fruit harvesting and winemaking with his guests.
There are guided birding walks, wine tastings and a chance for kids to do exciting things like make stick bread over an open fire. There are also romantic cottages for two and the 300-year-old Die Ou Huis (sleeps eight) on the farm, while the nearby Robertson Wine Valley has lots of fun things to do.
+27 (0) 23 615 1204; +27 (0) 84 205 6166; [email protected]
Words Marianne Heron
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3. Jail Bird Guesthouse, Chrissiesmeer
I never thought I would want to spend time in jail but this re-purposed jail in the Mpumalanga Highveld town of Chrissiesmeer has a charm all its own.
Cell No 1 is the oldest of two cells, having been built of sandstone in the 1880s when the village was just starting up as a halfway trading station between the goldfields of the Lowveld and the Witwatersrand. This was a time of traders and stagecoaches, highwaymen and fortune seekers, so the good and the bad passed through here.
The inn, which still exists across the road and is now known as John Jack Inn, must have seen many a bar fight, and Cell No 1 would have provided accommodation. Cell No 2 was built in the 1940s by the Italian POWs of World War II. Despite what I thought would be cold sandstone walls, both cells are now simply furnished but cosy bedrooms. The old corrugated-iron charge office has been converted into a bathroom, kitchen and dining area. There is a pleasant outdoor sitting area paved in old sandstone and I loved the thought of all the history surrounding me as we sipped sundowners and looked over the lake.
You can either self-cater or pop across to the Billiard Room for supper. Don’t miss out on The Gin Shop nearby where the original Transvaal gin was made and was probably the cause of many people spending a night in the cells. Now it’s a much more civilised place but mind the ghosts as you walk back to your cell after a night out.
+27 (0) 82 929 1219; [email protected]
Words Sue Adams
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4. ZuluWaters, Estcourt
ZuluWaters is one of those hidden gems that you stumble across and can’t believe you never knew of before. There are a few accommodation options, starting with the self-catering Nandi House and Lake House, and culminating in the very exclusive Shaka House, complete with private chef. We tried Nandi House for a weekend away, and what a lovely spot it is. Self-catering only, it also has a scullery and a kitchenette, and a little balcony to catch the morning sun.
A freestanding fireplace rounds off the beautifully appointed interior. Built on an early 1900s stone reservoir, it is a modern stone, timber and corrugated-iron (or wriggly tin, as the Aussies charmingly call it) construction with two double bedrooms and incredible views. A vast reserve of more than 7 000 acres, ZuluWaters straddles biospheres between mountain and bushveld. Fancy a spot of flyfishing for seven-pound trout in a mountain stream? You can do that here. Fancy horse riding across grasslands, watching buffalo and rhino grazing on the slope in front of you? You can do that too. Night drives? Yip.
History walks? Yip. Fine dining? Yip. More than anything, visiting ZuluWaters is an experience, one that is to be savoured. Close to both Estcourt and Mooi River, ZuluWaters is conveniently located to explore the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
+27 (0) 36 352 0100; [email protected]
Words Stephen Smith
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5. West Coast Flower Pop-up Camp, Lambert’s Bay
If you like to stay off the beaten track, this camp outside Lambert’s Bay is perfect. There are nine tents set up along an unspoilt stretch of pristine beach in a private nature reserve, just for the West Coast flower season in August and September. After that, it vanishes as if it’s never been, until it pops up again the following year.
This is no ordinary camping experience. The tents, designed in France, are spacious and comfortable, each positioned to maximise your view and your privacy, and with its own en suite bathroom with toilet, basin and shower. Hot water is delivered for your shower each morning and evening. There is also a larger communal tent where delicious three- course dinners and breakfasts are served, and the food is surprisingly good considering the venue.
The camp is beautiful and attention to detail makes it very special, like binoculars and bird books in the communal tent. A fire on the beach every evening is an inviting place to sip a sundowner and chat to fellow campers and, when you retire for the night, you’ll find the beds turned down, a chocolate on the pillow and a hot-water bottle under the covers.
Even when the flowers are not at their best, the area around Lambert’s Bay has lots to explore, from Bird Island with its gannet colony to Doringbaai where you can learn about abalone breeding or taste wine on the pier.
+27 (0) 76 268 0501
Words Des Featherstone
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