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11 On the Water Havens

11 On the Water Havens
These are just 11 of our favourite havens along the water’s edge.

Be lulled by a stream or serenaded by waterside creatures at these aquatic accommodation options.

1. Chobe Princesses, Chobe River


Our list of waterside escapes includes the Chobe Princess

It’s one of Africa’s great rivers, winding through superb game viewing and birding territory, and seeing the Chobe River and its wildlife from one of the three Chobe Princesses is an unforgettable experience. These luxury boats cruise the river, docking on the Namibian side. Each has a plunge pool, a lounge and bar on the upper deck. That’s also where chef-prepared meals are served. One Princess has five suites and the others have four each. The front of each suite is ceiling-to-floor glass for panoramic game viewing. It was a treat for us to lie on our kingsize bed and watch elephant swimming in the river, just beyond our feet. Wildlife isn’t threatened by these boats, and goes about its business as if you aren’t there. We spotted elephant, buffalo, lechwe, tiny puku, hyena, sable and lion and many birds. There are tender boats so you can enjoy private activities en route with a guide. For us it was a thrill catching a tenacious tiger fish that put up the fight of its life, only to be released back into the river. The sunsets over the Chobe are incredible, as is hearing the roar of lions across the water as you drift off to sleep. – Keri Harvey

2. Baynesfield Estate Lodge, Baynesfield

KwaZulu Natal

Baynesfield is on our list of waterside escapes

This self-catering lodge with five en-suite bedrooms, is set on the 8,2-hectare Mbangweni Dam. Each room with two single beds overlooks the dam, as does the communal area comprising the dining room, lounge, bar, kitchen and swimming pool. Or you may prefer to camp. Here time slows down allowing visitors to fish at leisure, take an easy stroll as we did along the farm’s walking trails or simply laze on lush lawns in the shade of old trees. The active can enjoy vigorous hikes and mountain-bike rides around the 23 000-hectare estate. Remember your binoculars because there’s an abundance of bird life on the farm, left by Joseph Baynes in trust for the benefit of the community, some 81 years ago. The Heritage Centre is worth a visit as are the annual fundraising country fairs. I experienced a moment of nostalgia when I saw a photograph of my Swiss-born grandfather in the dairy museum. As a young man he longed to visit South Africa and ended up working here. – Olivia Schaffer

3. Maliba River Lodge, Ts’ehlanyane



Up in the Mountain Kingdom, set on the banks of the Ts’ehlanyane River in the pristine wilderness of the park with the same name, is a restful spot of incredible natural beauty. Maliba River Lodge, not to be confused with the larney five-star Maliba Mountain Lodge just up the mountain, offers family holidays in among this grandeur. There’s self-catering accommodation in four chalets that each sleep up to eight people in four bedrooms. Each has a fully equipped kitchen, braai area and spacious living area. This part of the Maluti/Drakensberg mountains is rugged and remote, and perfect for 4×4 exploration, pony treks, fishing in the crystal-clear streams, mountain biking, hiking and birding – Bearded Vultures wing past regularly. Snow during winter is common in this part of the world, so come prepared with a good book, red wine and warm slippers. And don’t worry, the chalets are equipped with a fireplace and electric blankets. If you’re concerned that Maliba River Lodge sounds inaccessible, rest assured it’s on tar the whole way, and the trip only takes 4.5 hours from Jozi. – Stephen Smith

4. Knysna Houseboats, Garden Route

Western Cape


Knysna has long had a deep relationship with the sea and all things nautical. There are yachts and pleasure boats galore, as well as a paddle steamer, an endemic species of seahorse, and a fur seal called Simon… Well at least that’s what I named him the night he kept me awake. My family and I were staying aboard a houseboat on the Knysna Lagoon for a few nights. After a lesson from the Knysna Houseboats company on how not to strand the boat, how not to sink and how not to kill any dolphins, seahorses or people, we were let loose to putter around the lagoon to our heart’s content. The lagoon has various deep channels (marked with buoys) and there are mooring points where you can hook up, drop anchor, and spend the night in blissful peace. But that’s when Simon the seal came over to splash and belch and snuffle all night long. I think he was trying to get on board; after all, we did have a delicious hamper of oysters and olives prepared for us by the company’s kitchen. Hiring a houseboat is a lot of fun, and a damn sight more interesting than staying at a hotel. – Dale Morris

5. Merry Pebbles Resort, Sabie River


Merry Pebbles

Merry Pebbles is a little gem on the banks of the Sabie River 1km outside Sabie town in the Lowveld. If you are not a happy camper, there is wide choice of accommodation from a house to chalets to a tiny little cottage. I love the lush lawns, huge shady trees and the tranquil atmosphere at Merry Pebbles. Although it was hard to get myself out of a comfy chair there is so much to see in the area – just down the road there are beautiful waterfalls for picnicking and swimming, a great brewery in town and lots of history to discover. We borrowed tubes from the resort and cruised down the river, G&Ts in hand. The Sabie River is famous for its trout fishing so you might lose a husband or two. – Sue Adams

6. Mkomazana Mountain Cottages, Southern Drakensberg


Country Escapes On the Water Coot Cottage at Mkomazana

Serendipity led us to Mkomazana Mountain Cottages at the foot of Sani Pass. We’d fled the establishment we’d booked into when we found conditions to be, let’s just say ‘irregular’ (but that’s another story). Someone mentioned Mkomazana. It was pitch dark when we arrived but we received a warm welcome. And when we opened the door to our ‘cottage’ – the spacious, gracious, three-bedroom Stone House – we knew we’d found Nirvana. Originally a buzzing trading station dating back to the late 1800s and on the banks of the Mkomazana River that tumbles down the Pass, Mkomazana is now one of the most tranquil places you can hope to find. Two of the six beautifully appointed self-catering houses and cottages overlook lakes where aquatic bird life abounds and catch-and-release trout fishing is permitted. If that’s not enough to make you relax completely, there’s the grand mountain scenery of the World Heritage Site you’re in. Completely silent nights are the cherry on the top. No wonder then that Mkomazana recently won a Gold Medal Award as Best Establishment in Sani Pass. (Mkomazana is about 18km from Himeville). – Andrea Abbott

7. The River House, Velddrif

West Coast

River House4 copy

At The River House we were right on the water, in this case the Berg River, watching boats big and small on their way to fish, as well as yachts, kayaks and paddleskis. All day kingfishers were diving for food. As evening fell, streams of cormorants made their way upriver to roost. The River House is a great family holiday spot and the classic West Coast-style house has white walls hung with paintings by local artists. It’s superbly equipped for self-catering and outdoor living – we just brought food and needed nothing more. The house has three spacious bedrooms with the main en suite and doors opening onto the riverfront. The upstairs loft – with a bathroom – is ideal for kids of all ages and has futons, a TV, games and more. Activities include swimming, fishing, picnicking or simply walking along the riverbank, as we did, admiring the flamingos and the sunsets. – Keri Harvey

8. Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, Garden Route National Park

Western Cape


Situated on the banks of the Groot River but tucked into the forest, the huts in Nature’s Valley Rest Camp offer visitors true serenity. I far prefer it to the busier Storms River Mouth Rest Camp. The bird life here is astounding with a large number of species found in the surrounding canopies. The forest huts are very basic but they have electricity, two single beds, cutlery and some appliances such as a microwave and kettle. There is no running water inside, but there is a communal kitchen area and ablution facilities nearby. With the river a few steps away, you can go canoeing or opt for some of the hiking trails. For me there is no better way to experience your surroundings. When I’m there I also like to head to the beach for a change of scenery or I explore the beauty of the Groot River estuary. There are no shops in the camp, but a small restaurant and shop in the village will cater for your basic needs. – René de Klerk

9. Whiskey Creek Cabin, Near Plettenberg Bay

Western Cape

creek 1

Whiskey Creek is a beautiful little place in the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve that incorporates the tea-coloured Keurbooms River and surrounding forested hills. The river is ideal for a bit of calm water paddling, but if you don’t have your own boat, you can always rent one of CapeNature’s two-person canoes for the day. Better still, do what we did, and stay at the Whiskey Creek overnight cabin which is 7km upriver. It’s about three hours’ easy paddling from the Keurbooms River mouth. Providing you set out early enough, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the birds, take a dip, explore the riverside beaches and have a picnic while making your way to the cabin. We were really lucky to spot an otter as it swam through the shallows in search of fish and crabs. The wooden cabin, although quite basic, has a gas hob for cooking, a fridge-freezer, crockery and cutlery, a solar-powered shower and an enormous deck with braai facilities. It sleeps 10 people. It was a lekker escape for us from the busy seaside vibe of tourist-packed Plett. – Dale Morris

10. Xaro Lodge, Okavango Delta



This luxury tented camp in the western panhandle of the Okavango Delta belongs to the famous Drotsky’s Cabins family. Xaro, referring to a papyrus species, can only be reached by boat transfer, ensuring remoteness, privacy and complete immersion in nature. Eight luxury tents, perched on leadwood decks and fronted by a glass sliding door, are cleverly angled into dense leafy trees so close to the Okavango River, you can hear the currents twirling and splashing against the banks. In the early morning and evenings, the chittering of White-fronted Bee-eaters and Giant- and Pied Kingfishers nesting there is deafening. In the main area there are several, open, thatched lounges, an extensive library, and in the dining/bar area, hospitality is attentive. Daily fishing boat-trips (17 fish species, tigerfish and bream in particular) are arranged, as well as excursions into the swamps to view the awe-inspiring array of birds, including the Pel’s Fishing Owl and the rare sitatunga (a swamp-dwelling antelope). – Mariëlle Renssen

11. Ndhovu’s Houseboat, Okavango River

Caprivi Strip


Imagine waking to burbling hippos and the high-pitched call of the Fish Eagle. Add to this the splish of buffalo wading across the shallows of the Okavango River, elephants jostling for a drink and crocs giving you the evil eye from the banks and you’ve got yourself a magical few days. Home is an ingenious double-storey houseboat; on the lower level there’s a spacious living area with a dining table and chairs, stool-lined bar, sink and gas hob. This is partitioned off at night from a shower, sink and toilet by a heavy steel sliding door. On the upper floor, there are two guest bedrooms, each with twin beds. Owner Horst Kock was our personal guide and chef, and as we glided across wind-ruffled waters, the days were marked by wildlife-spotting, stupendous bird life and spectacular sunsets, all from the boat deck. Horst followed our rhythm — fishing, bird watching, cruising. An added bonus was a game drive in the neighbouring Bwabwata National Park. – Mariëlle Renssen

Here are 12 more waterside country escapes we love…

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