Tired of hotels, B&Bs and even tented-camps? These are the unusual places you should definitely look to stay in.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary Malkerns, Swaziland
Mlilwane (which means ‘little fire’ in siSwati) Wildlife Sanctuary is Swaziland’s trailblazing conservation area established back in 1961. In true dedication to the name, there’s a cosy fire each evening that even the warthogs can’t resist. You’ll find them huddling close to the coals along with the guests.
Although there are various budget options at the sprawling resort, I stayed in one of the traditional beehive villages at Mlilwane on my first night to celebrate the newly named Kingdom of eSwatini. I was shown to the laager of Swazi-style huts by my guide who reassures, “If you hear strange noises in the night, it’s just the impala fighting.” I had to duck to walk into the en suite grass hut, which is intricately woven together and surprisingly spacious within.
“How long does it take to build one of these?” I asked. “How fast are you at knitting?” he replied. The women have to first weave the ropes that form the walls and ceiling, while men go out to fetch the wooden poles for the structure. In the morning I woke to the stirring sound of a Fish Eagle calling, and the grassy lawns outside being home to tolerant wildlife grazing peacefully. – Melanie van Zyl www.biggameparks.org
Tree Top Forest Chalet
Harkerville, Western Cape
Dendrophile – that’s the official title for a person like me who absolutely adores trees. I seek out forest destinations whenever I can, and revel in the chance to live among the leaves for a night or two. But no place has really immersed me in the forest, up high, right beneath the canopy, as SANParks’ unusual stilted tree-top chalet did. More of a lavish, self-catering log home than a chalet, Tree Top conceals itself between the trunks of towering white pears adorned with lichen and draped in old man’s beard. In fact, driving up to the chalet along the private road that cuts through this protected piece of wilderness, we almost missed it.
Standing on the deck – built around the trees – and marvelling at its forest cocoon, I couldn’t help but think that Tree Top felt, in a way, as elusive as the secretive elephants that still haunt this famous forest. Up there, the magic of both trees and tuskers is palpable. Tree Top boasts two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an uber-comfortable lounge with roomy couches, all of which open onto the deck. A modern kitchen, aircon, filtered water on tap, DStv and open fireplace, complete what can ultimately be described as a luxury tree-house hideaway. Tree Top is the only treehouse in the Garden Route National Park, and is ideal accommodation when exploring the Knysna section of the park, particularly the Harkerville walking and mountain-biking trails. – Bronwyn Mulrooney
012 428 9111, [email protected], www.sanparks.org
Sycamore Avenue Treehouses
Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal
From the ground they certainly don’t seem like ‘real’ tree-houses, but once access is granted via a twirling staircase and I am enveloped in warm wooden interiors with views through branches. This creative, stilted home certainly deserves a tree-house tag.
There are six tree-house options, but Pegasus is my favourite, and a magical piece of woodwork with intricate windows, curved roof trellises and a sweet balcony that looks out from a small pine forest. It’s cleverly laid out and includes a big spa bath, and fireplace and heaters to keep the open-plan bedroom cosy. Little proverbs have been carved into the windows and walls such as ‘Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes’, in the mirror frame and (appropriate for a flying horse-themed dwelling) ‘Do not look the gift horse in the mouth’.
The accommodation runs as a dinner, bed and breakfast establishment with a central dining room and bar area, but tea, coffee and a kettle are available in the room, along with wine glasses. The fantastical decor may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly unusual and makes for a really fun stay in Mooi River with close access to the merry Midlands Meander nearby. My only gripe was that I could sometimes hear the N3 highway. – Melanie van Zyl
033 263 5009, www.treehouse-acc.co.za
The Quivertree Forest Rest Camp
Ever stayed in an igloo? But not the Eskimo kind (we are talking desert here), rather one made of fibreglass, apparently once used to accommodate railway workers. The Quivertree Forest Rest Camp on the farm Gariganus just 13 kilometres north-east of Keetmanshoop on road M29, offers tourists this unusual accommodation in the middle of a beautiful Namibian landscape, surrounded by a natural quiver-tree forest. Stepping into one of the five igloos, I was immediately aware of the pleasant and surprising coolness inside – a relief from the outside heat. Walking down tiled steps I found an elegantly decorated bedroom with three single beds and a fully equipped kitchen, as well as a bathroom and aircon.
Each igloo has its own patio and there is a communal braai area, boma and swimming pool. There are also two guest houses for larger groups. The quiver-tree forest provides endless photo opportunities, as well as the chance to capture the classic tree/star shot night, while the dolerite-rock formations at the Giants Playground on this working farm provide intriguing viewing. In the middle of nowhere, this comfortable igloo oasis was an unusual and pleasant surprise. – Ann Gadd
083 768 3421, [email protected] www.quivertreeforest.com
Ecabazini Traditional Zulu Village
Albert Falls, KwaZulu-Natal
Zulu heritage runs deep in KwaZulu-Natal and my interest in this fascinating culture led me to Ecabazini, a traditional Zulu village in the heart of the Midlands region. After a scenic drive into a picturesque fertile valley, there on the shores of Albert Falls Dam we found an unusual, authentic Zulu homestead. Traditional huts, paraffin lamps, fire-cooked meals and cattle in kraals created a credible ambience. We were allocated one of the five huts and were not surprised by the lack of en suite facilities.
However, we were grateful for the modern ablutions with piping-hot showers. Each hut could sleep four and all linen was provided. Instead of exploring the area, we focused on the rich, cultural experience offered here. We learnt the art of handling cattle and witnessed the daily chores performed in the homestead, enjoyed typical Zulu fare and vibrant Zulu dancing. The cry of the Fish Eagle and abundant birdlife enhanced the unique experience. For those who prefer a more genteel experience, there is a self-catering, more modern section. – Olivia Schaffer
084 746 9741, www.ecabazini.co.za