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9 Under Canvas Escapes

9 Under Canvas Escapes

Go rustic or escape to nostalgic opulence. These are 9 of our favourite under canvas experiences…

1. Limpopo – Hamiltons Tented Camp, Kruger National Park

DECK AREA 2

If you long for the bygone era of safaris and nights under canvas, the luxurious Hamiltons Tented Camp is it. And much more. Think Baroness Karen von Blixen and Out of Africa and you’ll be spot on. Hamiltons is tiny and secluded, with just six air-conditioned, tented suites on the banks of the Nwatswitsonto River, in a private concession within the park. Stepping into Hamiltons – named after Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Kruger and was its first warden – is like stepping across a timeline to when Africa was wilder and life was slower. Think slipper baths, outdoor showers with views over the surrounding bushveld, private decks where you can watch game, and a personal butler, always on call. Decor is nostalgic with touches like gramophones, brass binoculars, pith helmets and vintage leather suitcases. Raised walkways connect the suites to the lodge, since the camp is unfenced and open to the Kruger. This means wildlife moves freely through the camp just as it did before Hamiltons was there. Respect between wildlife and man is mutual here. – Keri Harvey

2. Botswana – Polentswa, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Country Escapes Tented camp Polentswa 3

One of two Ta Shebube camps on the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Polentswa only opened in 2014, so is still fairly unknown. As it’s far from the main rest camps, you avoid the crowds on game drives along the Nossob River. The camp is on top of a small hill with views over the Polentswa Pan and surrounding rugged yet beautiful landscape. The borehole (on the edge of the pan right in front of the camp) draws herds of game so you can indulge in some leisurely game viewing on your veranda from the comfort of an armchair, binos and a G&T in hand. The main communal area has a dining area, reading area, bar and a viewing deck complete with a powerful telescope to study the stars or zoom in on game or birds. There are only six tents offering good privacy and they each have a wonderful outdoor shower. – Shaen Adey

3. Western Cape – Dwyka Tented Lodge, Little Karoo

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve Dwyka Aerial View

On arrival at the secluded Dwyka Tented Lodge, surrounded by volcanic mountains, rock formations and endless vistas, I almost expected a Red Indian tribe to suddenly line the rim of the surrounding horseshoe canyon. It is one of three lodges within the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the heart of the Little Karoo. Sanbona covers 54 000 hectares and is one of the largest privately owned Big Five reserves in South Africa. Dwyka has nine luxury tents, each with a private plunge pool and deck. Activities include game drives, stargazing and bird watching (the reserve has more than 200 species), while at the lodge there’s a wine cellar, a gift boutique and two relaxation therapy rooms if you feel like a bit of pampering. After a game drive highlighted by white lion sightings, I indulged in the hot-water outdoor shower and then zipped my canvas tent and crossed over boardwalks to the boma, where the fire roared in the Karoo night. The food and chilled wine completed a day that cowboys can only dream of. – Elke Losskarn

4. Western Cape – Napier Ox Wagons, Overberg

Napier Ox-wagons

Mention Napier and country crafts and art galleries come to mind. But high on its hillside, on a farm at the foot of the Soetmuisberg, there’s a collection of restored ox wagons that offer unusual accommodation. From the smallest called Kakebeenwa to Blue Saloon and two long ox wagons that were used in the past for ferrying freight, each is fitted with beds, carpets and lamps. Watch shooting stars from your comfy mattress and wake to the call of Blue Cranes in canola fields. The camp is rustic with a shower and toilet, a fully kitted-out kitchen with a fridge, and a braai area. The furniture is eclectic and collectables include farm implements and British and Canadian wagons. The camp is an ideal base from which to explore the village, the nearby Napier Mountain Conservancy or to take a short trip across the Agulhas Plains to the tip of Africa. – Karen Watkins

5. KwaZulu-Natal – Kosi Forest Lodge, iSimangaliso Wetland Park

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Right on the edge of the Kosi Lake system, this private lodge is a prime ecotourist destination. The eight canvas and thatch rooms and the two family suites are perched on wooden decks so you really feel at one with the surrounding bush. They’re simple yet comfortable, with mosquito nets for windows, wooden furniture and open-air, en-suite bathrooms surrounded by reeds and lit by paraffin lamps – unbelievably romantic. If you can drag yourself away from your tranquil deck or the pool, there’s a host of activities including boat and canoe trips, raffia forest walks and beach excursions, which allow you to really appreciated the camp’s isolated location in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. There’s a generator for electricity (and limited, intermittent Wi-Fi) until 22h00, after which the place is candlelit. So this is somewhere to enjoy good country food and starry skies; a special place to recharge your batteries. – Fiona McIntosh

6. KwaZulu-Natal – Mabibi Beach Camp, Maputaland

Mabibi chalet

High in the dunes of the coastal forest at Mabibi Beach Camp, Hulley Point, three tented, self-catering chalets are a wonderfully affordable bush and beach option for families or those who just want to get away from it all. The canvas units sleep four but since the second bedroom is only accessible from the main bedroom it’s best for your kids or close friends. All are fully equipped with a kitchenette and braai area, and outdoor table and chairs so you can sit out on the spacious wooden deck tucking into your meals or watching the birds, the cute Samango monkeys, red duiker, mongoose and other local residents. It’s a short walk down a boardwalk to the long, empty beach where you can stroll to your heart’s content, stopping to swim, to explore the rock pools at the point, to snorkel or fish. Various tours are offered, including sundowner and birding trips, kayaking on Lake Sibaya, scuba diving and, between November and February, turtle tours can be booked at the office. And should you prefer to sleep under your own canvas there are eight rustic campsites. – Fiona McIntosh

7. Mozambique – Lugenda Wilderness Camp, Niassa Reserve

Lugenda tents3

There are few places left in Africa that are true wilderness. Imagine a place so remote, it’s a 90-minute flight from the nearest town, there’s no cellphone signal, and locals still barter and trade with each other. Vast herds of sable, elephant, lion, leopard and antelope roam in this protected reserve, while unusual small mammals and the critically endangered African wild dog can also be found. At the heart of it is Lugenda Wilderness Camp, tented under giant sycamore fig trees and surrounded by granite inselbergs with the Lugenda River flowing past. This is a place for discerning wilderness lovers and is unfenced so wildlife is free to roam. The camp is largely self-sustaining, with solar lamps and torches, hot-water donkeys, and a huge, fresh vegetable garden to supply greens to the lodge. Tented suites in old Africa-style are appointed with mosquito nets and crisp, layered linen. Daily game drives and night drives happen when you’d like them to, there are guided game walks, or you can kayak, enjoy sundowners on a towering inselberg, sleep out in comfort under the stars, or clamber up into a cave to see rare pygmy rock art. It’s all there, along with friendly staff passionate about wildlife and conservation. – Keri Harvey

8. Eastern Cape – HillsNek Safari Camp, Between PE & Grahamstown

HillsNek Safari Tents with Views.jpg

The HillsNeck lodge on the 7 200-hectacre Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape is situated high on the banks of the Bushmans River. Our spacious, luxury tent had an en-suite bathroom and romantic outside shower. After an exciting day of game drives we rolled up the canvas windows to a glorious sunset view from the bedroom and took a bubble bath. Later, a warm fire and delicious meal at the long table in the lodge led to a lively discussion about the day’s sightings. The reserve features five of the country’s seven biomes, while lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, cheetah and white and black rhino can all be seen. A habitat for more than 60 mammal species and 250 listed birds, the reserve with its winding river is a unique safari adventure, while privacy and personalised attention made for a memorable experience at HillsNeck. – Mark Lewis

9. Eastern Cape – Gorah Elephant Camp, Addo National Park

Gorah Elephant Camp Tent with elephants

Gorah is a 5 000-hectare, five-star, private concession that lies deep in the heart of the Addo Elephant National Park and is known for the densest population of elephants in the world. The camp offers luxury tented accommodation and an authentic safari experience. The restored and period-furnished Gorah Manor House, built in 1856 and now a national monument, looks onto the plains and a waterhole 50m from the veranda, where herds of elephant and game stream past in a dazzling show. At night, illuminated only by lamplight and candles, delicious dinners are topped by unforgettable elephant walk-bys. What a privilege to experience Africa at its finest. Escorted by a ranger, we retired to our solar-powered, tented suite under a thatched canopy (one of 11 at the camp), with its king-size bed, en-suite bathroom and private terrace looking out over the panoramic landscape. And around midnight, we heard the nearby grunt and roar of a lion at a kill… – Mark Lewis

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