Pure relaxation awaits at these waterside country escapes.
1. Western Cape – Garden Route National Park, Wilderness
The forest cabins in the Wilderness section of Garden Route National Park’s Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp are set in a paradise of lakes, white sandy beaches, rivers, mountains and indigenous forests. These raised wooden cabins are surrounded by lawns, big trees and overlook the Touw and Serpentine rivers. They are furnished with either two or four single beds, as well as the basics required for a comfortable stay in a self-catering unit. The communal kitchens are ideal for your cooking needs if you opt not to braai. Make time to get even closer to nature – there are a variety of hiking trails to choose from. Alternatively hire a canoe for a trip down the river or even go fishing on the nearby beach. Bird lovers in the family will have plenty to see as the area is a playground for feathered species. The colourful Knysna Turacos visited often during my stay. – René de Klerk
044 887 1197, www.sanparks.org
2. Lesotho – Makhangoa Community Camp, Katse
If you’ve not been to Lesotho it’s time to go. The place is awesome. A mountain culture unlike anything else African this side of Ethiopia is just the beginning. Pastoral scenes and wild views framed by valleys and crags under the bluest sky you may ever see are indelible. There are bird specials and plant specials and of course, flyfishing. Problem is, places to stay that make the most of all of this are rare, until now.
The Makhangoa Community Camp is a private initiative that has established a small, rustic lodge overlooking the Bokong River at its inflow into Katse Dam. Visitor numbers are restricted and there’s no camping. The serviced accommodation is in thatched, lava-stone bungalows with ablutions out back. There are self-catering and catered options. Flyfishing in the warmer months is crazy-good, as yellowfish for Africa, charged with the exuberance of summer, cram into the crystal clear river. But you and the family can visit for whatever reasons each of you desire. Maybe to ride Basotho ponies, mountain bike the bridle paths or trail run endless ridges. – Edward Truter
3. Northern Cape – Tatasberg Wilderness Camp, Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
The Richtersveld is, to put it mildly, not for the faint-hearted. Arid and dusty with towering black mountains, all that seems to take root are determined aloes and the weird, tiny plants that you see everywhere once you start looking. A Cape porcupine that ran off into the distance with his heavy dress of awkward quills, still stands as one of my favourite sightings. At a close second is the mighty Orange River that slashes a deep and black gash through the merciless countryside.
If you’re not a camper, your only bet to stay close to the water in the wilderness area is the Tatasberg Wilderness Camp. The wooden chalets perch against a gravelly bank, while the Orange lazily flows by. I’ve been on a couple of interesting walks in the surrounding area but, otherwise, this is not the place to visit if you’re looking for a jam-packed schedule. Believe me, no cold beer will ever taste as good as it does at Tatasberg. Better spend your time enjoying the small things like the silence, the views and the cool river water. – Petro Kotzé
4. Western Cape – Plett Lagoon Villa, Plettenberg Bay
You can’t get closer to the water than this wonderful luxury villa, which fronts directly onto the Keurbooms Lagoon. With a private jetty, big, heated infinity pool, Jacuzzi, day beds and braai area out front, it’s designed to take advantage of its waterfront location and stunning views.
The villa is fully equipped for 24 guests (I kid you not there are 24 full sets of champagne and wine glasses) – with several braais and a pizza oven – so it’s perfect for entertaining. A magnificent waterside escape for families or groups of friends. And since it’s in a gated estate it feels super safe; we slept with the patio doors open. There are three, large, en-suite bedrooms – one of which opens onto the patio – all very private, and there’s a smaller bedroom and a kids room that sleeps up to nine youngsters. Kayaks and access to a tennis court sorts out the active types. This is the home you’ve always dreamt of, so don’t rush a stay. Spoil yourself and book in for a week. – Fiona McIntosh
5. Eastern Cape – Areena, Near East London
It’s not often you spot bushbuck grazing sociably at a braai – it’s more likely to be the graze in this nation of carnivores. But the placid four-footed lawnmowers in the campsite at Areena are so used to the regular weekend caravanners that they hardly bat an eye when the smell of boerrie and chops wafts past. And they’re accompanied by a flock of furry bunnies and an amiable ostrich.
This is all part of the charm of this riverside resort 23km from East London, where you can watch Fish Eagles and kingfishers diving into the tidal river from a chair in front of your caravan, or even throw in a line if you happen to score a front-row site. Canoe the couple of kilometres to the Kwelera River mouth to watch the surfers at Yellow Sands, one of East London’s premier surf spots, while the kids play in the sheltered lagoon.
Activities include an obstacle course, paintball, zipline, quad-bike game trails, hiking and river cruises. In addition to campsites, there are well-equipped self-catering units and chalets, as well as an on-site pub and restaurant. – Marion Whitehead
6. Limpopo – Stanford Lake Lodge, Magoebaskloof
Think of log cabins and you might picture a wooden house, tucked into the curve of a lake, with a curl of smoke coming from the chimney. And this is just what you will find at Stanford Lake Lodge.
Popular with couples and families alike, there’s mountain biking, birding and fishing on the 17-hectare lake leading down to the Ebenezer Dam. After a full day of activities we regroup and head back to our double-storey log cabin with its views out to the lake and surrounding forest. We contemplate taking a stroll up to the Growth Centre at the top of the farm for a relaxing foot massage. But then again, we may decide to simply watch the flames dance in the fireplace and read the fascinating history of Harley Stanford instead.
The fully equipped cabins each have a private deck with a built-in braai and are a perfect base from which to explore the Magoebaskloof area… that’s if you can tear yourself away from the lake. – Lisa Martus
7. Western Cape – Kuifkopvisvanger Cottages, Velddrif
A sweet little Barn Owl living in a tree beside the farmhouse wasn’t the only owl we surprised at Kuifkopvisvanger farm. A pair of Spotted Eagle-Owls roosting next to one of the self-catering cottages flew away as we approached; they’re attracted by all the owl boxes that have been placed on the farm.
Kuifkopvisvanger’s self-catering cottages are in the heart of a birding hotspot on the Berg River – see how many of the 160 bird species you can spot on the farm’s 8km of river frontage. We took a paddleboat up river and saw plenty of Pied Kingfishers diving in search of lunch. The six simple cottages on the banks of the Berg River are also popular for fishing as elf and steenbras lurk in the tidal waters in summer.
The pet-friendly units sleep between two and nine people. Braai on the stoep with views of the river, take a canoe down to the estuary or stroll around the sheep farm. Bring your mountain bike to pedal the farm roads. If you visit in spring, your kids will be delighted to watch the crop of hanslammetjies being bottle-fed. – Marion Whitehead
8. Limpopo – Stone Cottage, Waterberg
Close to the hamlet of Rankin’s Pass in the Waterberg, Stone Cottage at Rhenosterpoort sits on the edge of a beautiful farm dam. Fully equipped for self-catering and with a lovely braai area, it sleeps four in a double bed and a double bunk.
It’s a wonderfully tranquil location where you feel miles from civilisation. There is no traffic, no cellphone reception; the only intrusions are the splashing of jumping fish, the call of Fish Eagles and the grunt of bush pigs. Magnificent gorges, tinkling streams, tumbling waterfalls, lush vegetation and sightings of game such as kudu, impala and warthog make this a popular hiking venue, but other guests come to fish, to chill around the dam enjoying the birds and to sit out at night under unpolluted starry skies. – Fiona McIntosh
9. Western Cape – Walshacres Riverside Farm, Stanford
Think of Stanford, and country markets, art galleries and wine and beer tasting come to mind. Stay at Walshacres and you can do all this, as well as have peace and quiet on the Klein River. The farm is located on the way to Stanford, 4km from Hermanus.
After a welcome from Nina and Russell Metcalf, drive to the riverbank where two self-catering cabins have all the comforts of home and are fully fenced. It’s only a few steps to the jetty where there are canoes or you can moor your own boat. Paddle upstream to Stanford or downstream to prawn flats and bird hides on Klein River Vlei, or just sit on the jetty with a glass of fine local wine watching river traffic go by, such as a noisy family of Egyptian Geese or shy kingfishers flitting from branches to reeds. It’s the perfect spot for water sports, to chill and as a great base for exploring Stanford and Hermanus. – Karen Watkins
028 341 0685, 082 614 6322, [email protected]
10. Western Cape – Agulhas Rest Camp, Overberg
With its rolling hills and fynbos-covered plains, Agulhas National Park is one of the Cape’s best-kept secrets. Tourists flock to have their photographs taken at the monument marking the southern tip of Africa but few stay long enough to really explore the main part of the extensive coastal park.
I’ve stayed a couple of times at the spacious and extremely well-equipped, two- and four-bed self-catering chalets at the main rest camp (about 8km from the lighthouse) and rate them as some of the best SANParks accommodation in the Cape. The wooden and thatch chalets, each with a big veranda and ocean views from all the rooms, are built on stilts in accordance with the low environmental impact principles of design. The bedrooms are en suite and well furnished and there’s a sleeper couch in the lounge that can accommodate a couple of kids or extra guests. There are lovely walks, and safe swimming in the lagoon. Lagoon Lodge, a restored, four-bedroom, historic cottage with a sublime, private location on the nearby rocky peninsula is perfect if you’re looking for something more exclusive. – Fiona McIntosh
11. KwaZulu-Natal – Crystal Waters, Underberg
At dawn, my attention is drawn to two little boats bobbing gently on the trout dam, each with a fisherman hoping to make a breakfast catch. I’m surrounded by mountains and the Lesotho border a stone’s throw away… well almost.
Crystal Waters, about 35km from Underberg, is a place where time slows down. At the end of a district road, it’s encircled by uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, with abundant plant life and a rich collection of San rock art that has seen it declared a World Heritage Site. Three log-and-sandstone cabins on the banks of a 30-hectare trout dam ensure tranquillity, and offer picturesque landscapes with uninterrupted views of the mountains surrounding the 712-hectare farm. Self-catering makes this an affordable getaway option. There’s game and great year-round birding – close to 100 species have been recorded here. – Olivia Schaffer
033 701 1751, www.crystalwatersunderberg.co.za
12. Namibia – Kaza Safari Lodge, Caprivi Strip
Imagine being woken up at night by hippos cavorting and snorting on the river bank beneath your chalet. The only other sounds are the rushing waters of the Mambova Rapids and the wind blowing through the 700-year-old baobab that towers over the lodge. This is the magic of Kaza Safari Lodge on Impalila Island, near the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers, and the meeting point of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A 45-minute boat ride past floodplains, reeds and bushveld gave us the perfect opportunity for bird spotting (Carmine Bee-eaters, African Darters, Fish Eagles) before arriving at the jetty of this remote, secluded place, surrounded by riverine forest. The lodge comprises eight, luxury, wooden chalets, each with their own deck overlooking the water. We dined alongside the infinity pool with the river in view and gathered around the fire pit for after-dinner drinks, listening to sounds of the island. The lodge offers spectacular river cruises, game viewing by boat, guided island walks, ox-cart tours and tiger fishing. – Linda Piegl