This story was updated on 9 April 2019.
And now for something completely different. Step inside a lightkeeper’s cottage, tree house, hammock camp and something much like an igloo… These are our pick of unusual hideaways…
1. Rostock Ritz Desert Lodge, Khomas
Namibia has to be one of my favourite places to visit, mainly because it feels so different in some ways, so familiar in others. Rostock Ritz fits into the former category, perched as it is on the edge of a desert plain, the mountains in the distance and a beguiling canyon a short 4×4 drive away.
The lodge itself is a bit, um, peculiar in that it looks a bit like an arrangement of igloos, but it is comfortable and very unique. The swimming pool is spectacular, with incredible views over the desert – and swimming pools can be very useful in this part of the world.
About 240km from both Windhoek and Swakopmund in the direction of Solitaire, Rostock is a convenient stopover, or a destination in its own right. There are a number of walking trails and scenic drives, with rock art, birdlife and incredible scenery the major attractions. There is also a campsite if you’re on a tighter budget but still want to explore this fascinating area. And if driving seems too arduous, you could always land your plane on their private airstrip. –
+264 (0) 81 258 5722; [email protected]
Words Stephen Smith
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2. The Cobhouse, Alicedale
While driving from East London to Port Elizabeth we detour to Alicedale, a small settlement on the banks of the Bushman’s River. We’re intrigued to find The Cobhouse, on a farm a few kilometres out of town, in the remote Cacadu district.
Suitably charmed, we spend the night in the house – with a choice of three cosy en-suite bedrooms. It’s self-cater and electricity-free, an enchanting retreat for a party of up to ten to get back to nature. Guests can visit surrounding game reserves and golfers can enjoy a round on the Bushman Sands Golf Course.
The house is wonderfully cool in summer, and we’re assured that on a cold evening all we’d need do is light up a crackling log fire in one of the wood-filled fireplaces. This is a happy, restful place to spend a few days.
+27 (0) 84 511 1667
Words Olivia Schaffer
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3. Orange River Houseboat, Upington
The Orange River is the lifeblood of the arid Kalahari and Nama-Karoo landscapes of the Northern Cape, and the lush vegetation of this green belt provides the perfect setting for relaxation and contemplation of life, the universe and everything. We arrived in the heat of the day, in quite a mellow mood after a visit to the fabulous Bezalel Estates, where wine tasting progressed to a sampling of the single barrel, pot-stilled brandy Bezalel is famous for. We were met on the bank and taken out to our home for the evening – a secluded houseboat under canvas in the middle of the Orange River, with 360-degree views.
It’s fully kitted with a double bed, crisp white linen and a down duvet, an eco-toilet and hot showers. We soon made ourselves at home, firing up the braai and breaking out the bubbly from the well-stocked mini-fridge. As the sky turned colour, we thought about heading out in the canoe provided, but instead drank a toast to the evening, and to our day on the Kookerboom Food and Wine Route, from the divine deck. As we did so a pair of Fish Eagles serenaded us.
+27 (0) 72 184 9090; +27 (0) 83 257 4736; [email protected]
Words Lisa Martus
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4. Great Fish Point Lighthouse, Sunshine Coast
Since the lights of lighthouses became automated, a handful of former lighthouse keepers’ cottages have been turned into self-catering accommodation with a unique maritime theme. I chose to stay at the Great Fish Point lighthouse cottage because it’s the most remote.
The lighthouse is nicknamed Man with the Tuxedo for obvious reasons. You get there via a rutted road through nature reserves, to a highpoint that has views of long sandy beaches punctuated by rocky headlands. There’s a braai, pool and play area on the terrace of the spacious twin cottages, each sleeping six. Birdlife in the dune forest is abundant, and the beach is isolated.
Fishing is good here but sea swimming is best done at nearby Kleinemonde beach. Bird guide Anne Williams’ beach walks are fascinating, and beach rides with Three Sisters Horse Trails are invigorating. And come evening, the wink from Tuxedo signals sundowner time.
+27 (0) 21 449 2400; [email protected]
Words Marion Whitehead
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5. Speekhout Tree House, Baviaanskloof
Hidden in a secluded Baviaanskloof valley is a cute hobbit-like tree house tucked into a dense thicket. The main building has been built into the boughs of an ancient sprawling wild peach while the outdoor picnic and braaing area below is enclosed by ferns, bromeliads and other verdant plants. The tree has been allowed to grow up through the floors, into the rooms and through the ceiling and, like the inside of a yacht, the house (which sleeps six comfortably) has been designed to conserve space yet be warm, cosy and functional.
There is a fully equipped kitchenette built onto the trunk, and an outdoor shower on an elevated deck. There is also a skylight above one of the beds which, when opened, affords you a view of the boughs and the stars. The floors are wooden and earthy coloured, the roof is canvas and bamboo and the beds are tucked around branches that flow through the indoor living area.
The house feels as alive as the tree is. If you had a tree house when you were a kid, you will fall in love with this place. Bilbo Baggins eat your heart out.
+27 (0) 87 7004 494; [email protected]
Words Dale Morris
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6. Thabela Thabeng, Venterskroon area near Parys
What could be more unusual than staying in a chalet perched on a cliff in the middle of one of the oldest meteorite impact craters in the world? We had come to the Vredefort Dome just outside Parys to get away from the city, and this was perfect.
We sipped our sundowners on the balcony of our self-catering chalet, Eagle’s Nest, and watched the cliffs turn the colours of the sunset as a lone eagle drifted by. Albie de Villiers, who manages this resort and is passionate about the place, took us on a walk past old gold mines, interesting plants and butterflies, and a cave scattered with Stone Age tools.
We had everything we could wish for – a comfortable bed with a view to die for, a well-equipped kitchen and complete privacy and silence. There is yellowfish flyfishing or canoeing down the Vaal River but, even better, some time to sit back in the silence and get away from it all.
+27 (0) 56 818 1116
Words Sue Adams
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7. The Santos Express, Mossel Bay
An authentic decommissioned passenger train sits permanently on the edge of the Blue Flag Santos Beach in Mossel Bay. It doesn’t go anywhere and the wheels are rusted tight, but when you stay at this very unusual budget-style hotel, you somehow feel like you’re about to go on a journey.
The train has five carriages with cabins, all decked out with beds and basic furnishings, and have views over the palm-studded beach, a mere 20 metres away. There’s also a dorm room for backpackers and a private honeymoon suite at the back of the train, which is the only room with its own ablutions, fridge and private deck overlooking the sea.
At the front of the train is a balconied bar and dining area that serves up reasonably priced fare such as seafood and burgers. During good weather, the restaurant deck is a great place for breakfast and watching ships criss-crossing the calm expanse of Mossel Bay. If you’re lucky, you might even spy sharks and dolphins.
+27 (0) 44 6911 995; [email protected]
Words Dale Morris
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8. Stargaze Hammock Camp, Morning Sun Nature Reserve, Soutpansberg
Tucked into the Soutpansberg mountains above Makhado in northern Limpopo, this reserve has lush vegetation, dramatic rockfaces with Verreaux Eagles nesting on the cliffs, and waterfalls cascading into rock pools. Here is a unique bush camp where you can really get in touch with the natural landscapes around you.
When I first saw the Stargaze Hammock Camp, I was already ticking off who I would invite to come and experience this with me. Ten colourful hammocks are strung up in a sociable circle just a stone’s throw from a waterfall and burbling river.
Paraffin lanterns set the scene for a night under the stars, with friends around the fire sharing stories of the day’s hike through a verdant valley. After a delicious potjie dinner brought to us at the camp from the main lodge, we listened to the night sounds and felt truly connected to nature and each other. When we slipped
into our hammocks, tucked in under mosquito nets, the call of the bush baby was our lullaby.
+27 (0) 79 427 6333, [email protected]
Words Lisa Martus
Looking for more unusual getaways? Here are 5 more.