11 Eco-friendly Escapes

Fancy an eco-friendly country escape? If solar power, no television and remoteness turn you on, read further…

1. Limpopo – Wild Ivory Eco Lodge, Waterberg

If you’re a responsible traveller, as I am, and value the eco-credentials of your destination, check out Wild Ivory Eco Lodge in the Welgevonden Reserve of the Waterberg Mountains. This low-impact lodge was built using eco-friendly products, and hardwoods were not used. It blends into the environment and operates off solar power, uses green products, has borehole water, and even the sewerage system is eco-friendly.

The elevated, luxury, tented camp offers amazing views from the deck and pool over to the wooded plains below, so we could expect to see any of the Big Five strolling to the waterhole while we were eating a delicious potjiie, never mind the golden opportunity of seeing rhino, cheetah and lion on game drives. For me, good birding is always a bonus and this quiet corner of the reserve with its sweet bushveld habitat is a bird lover’s paradise. – Lisa Martus

2. West Coast – Sea Shack, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve

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To be any closer to the ocean with four walls and a roof would probably mean you’re on a sinking houseboat. Located within the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, about 5km from Paternoster, Sea Shack is in a pristine setting and is the ultimate tread-lightly eco getaway. Sitting on the jetty in front of Sea Shack and gazing out to sea with our feet dangling in the Atlantic was natural meditation.

Opened in 2015, Sea Shack has 10 beach huts or sea shacks, which are comfortable, free-standing bedrooms, plus there are three tents. Four rustic and scrupulously clean, shared ablution facilities service the rooms, and feature waterless, augur-type toilets. There’s a dining/kitchen/hangout building that provides all the necessary self-catering requirements and is a natural gathering place. Lighting throughout is solar-powered and LPG. After walking the seashell labyrinth at sunset, we gathered around the central fire and watched the stars come out. Later we braaied and dined with fellow guests, telling fireside stories. – Keri Harvey

3. KwaZulu-Natal – Satori Farm, Dargle

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In the Southern Drakensberg overlooking the Inhlasane Mountain, Satori’s picturesque vistas that are rolled out before you simply take your breath away. The lodge, perched on the mountain top, was constructed by the owners with hay bales and thatch – an arduous but rewarding task, they admit. The grass was grown, harvested and baled on the farm. Spring water, sourced from the underground stream, feeds the lodge and the sun provides power – no televisions here.

Accommodation comprises four double bedrooms, a loft room and a communal, open-plan lounge and kitchen with a fireplace that was built to impress – and it does. Delicious, healthy, country-style meals are prepared by the hosts from homegrown ingredients. This destination, with a river running through it, provides a serene space for contemplation, as do the empowering retreats conducted here. An added bonus is that Satori is pet friendly. – Olivia Schaffer

4. Northern Cape – Kgalagadi Lodge, Kalahari

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‘Keeping it Kalahari’ is how Denise Koortzen and her husband, SJ, describe their lodge 5km south of the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park. Ideal for the South African traveller, the easily accessible lodge offers 31 reasonably-priced and well-equipped self-catering chalets with braai facilities, a campsite, a well-stocked shop and a small, stylish restaurant.

The four-year-old lodge is part of the owners’ vision to ‘green the Kalahari’, or at least their section of it. Being a fair distance from the nearest large town (Upington is 250km away), the couple realise the need to be as self-sufficient as possible and plan to get off the grid and start their own greenhouse for fresh produce.

After having sunk three boreholes, they built a large reverse-osmosis plant, ensuring a constant supply of quality water. Grey water from the laundry and showers is used to irrigate trees and compact the soft, red sand on their roads. Solar geysers, energy-efficient, inverter-type air-conditioners and compost heaps are additional features on their journey to developing a green facility in the Kalahari. A quiet base from which to explore the park, the lodge is a pleasure to return to after a day in the wild with its view of the gentle Kalahari hills and springbok wandering through the grounds. – Ron Swilling

5. Limpopo – Graceland Eco Retreat, Magoebaskloof

Graceland Eco Retreat - house

If you want to get off the grid and away from it all, I can think of nowhere better than Graceland Eco Retreat. Run by the environmentally aware owners Douglas Walker and Anders Ragnarsson, it’s powered by solar and gas with a back-up generator for emergencies. The two, renovated, thatched cottages are airy and chic and local sculptures and woodwork, sourced by Douglas, decorate the interiors and the extensive decks. Anders likes to knock up mouth-watering creations in the purpose-built outside kitchen, which has a braai and pizza oven next to the huge dining table in the vine-covered pergola. You can self-cater, but I would recommend letting Anders cook for you, as we did.

This sole-use property (with no under 16s allowed) is on a game farm and comprises two double rooms in the main house, an upstairs gentleman’s lounge with views down the valley and a telescope for stargazing. The Kudu Cottage is separated from the main building by the outdoor kitchen and dining area, and has a double bed and a futon. Graceland can accommodate up to eight guests, or you can book it for you and your partner. Open the sliding doors of the master bedroom, take in the 180-degree view and close the doors on the rest of the world. – Fiona McIntosh

6. Western Cape – Geoff’s Shacks, Piket-Bo-Berg

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You can’t get more eco-friendly than Kruistementvlei Farm. It practices sustainable agriculture and vermiculture, the compost heap generates hot water and organic matter is recycled. And you can’t get closer to nature (but in comfort) than in its two log shacks, Geoff’s Shacks, which sleep four each in bunk beds, and are tucked high up on the Piket-Bo-Berg with views across craggy mountains. The bathroom is open-air with a private and piping-hot shower under a rock overhang. The loo is a composting one and squeaky clean with no impact on the environment. A basic outdoor kitchen is also under a massive rock overhang and is equipped with a kettle and gas burner, cutlery and crockery.

With a cup of coffee in hand, we watched the moon rise over the mountain before lighting a fire for the evening braai. Perched on pallet seating it felt like we were a million miles from anything, yet the town of Piketberg is just at the foot of the mountain. After an invigorating shower, we turned in and read under solar lights. The following morning, we woke to farmers chatting as they set up their stalls for the monthly market below the shacks. And that’s where we had breakfast. – Keri Harvey

7. Garden Route – Forest Edge Nature-Lovers Retreat, Knysna

Forest Edge

So close to Knysna’s forests that we could smell the moss and hear the loeries, the aptly named Forest Edge Nature-Lover’s Retreat is almost as ‘green’ as the setting in which it finds itself. The five, fully equipped, self-catering cottages with fireplaces, braais and outdoor showers, run on rain water, as does the organic veggie garden on the property, where natural pesticides that the owners make themselves are used. Alien vegetation has been eradicated, honey is harvested from their own bees, they keep free-range chickens and we also spotted a few pet donkeys roaming around.

All water waste is treated by a natural soak-away system and grey water is filtered through reeds before being reused in the grounds. Organic waste is ‘recycled’ through the donkeys or else becomes compost for the gardens. They even have a worm farm to generate vermicompost. Forest Edge is right next door to SANParks’ Drup Kelders – a beautiful forest gorge resplendent with waterfalls and swimming holes. – Dale Morris

8. Western Cape – Embizweni Cottage, Karoo National Park

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On the Nuweveld Eco 4×4 Route in the heart of the Karoo National Park, the unfenced Embizweni Cottage offers visitors their own little piece of the Karoo. After a two to three hour drive from the park reception, we suddenly arrived at this remote gem, tucked away between the Nuweveld Mountains and overlooking the vast Karoo plains. It was the perfect time to light a fire, sit back and unwind. One room has a double bed and another has single bunk beds, so take your close friends or family to make memories.

It is compulsory to book a minimum of two nights. The unit is fully equipped and has solar-powered lights and gas-powered appliances (stove, fridge and geyser). Take note that there are no plug points to charge phones or other electronic equipment, so let nature dictate the course of your stay. For us the only distraction was the antelope and other wild residents at the waterhole not far from the veranda. Embizweni is also a great vantage point for exploring the park’s other off-road trails. – René de Klerk, www.sanparks.org

9. Northern Namibia – Dolomite Camp, Western Etosha

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If you like remote, Etosha’s newest eco desert camp in the previously restricted western side of the park offers you just that. Twenty units, on wooden decks and tucked singly into the high slopes of a rugged outcrop of dolomite boulders, are built purely of natural materials – wood, canvas walls, reed and thatch, while the decor focuses on locally crafted beading and handwoven baskets. Water is solar-heated. Retractable wooden doors fold back for sensational views of wildlife roaming on the plains below (the camp is unfenced and we had giraffe nibbling on tree tops just outside our unit, and elephants beyond them).

Dolomite has an infinity pool, bar and restaurant and, to minimise impact on the environment, vehicles are parked at the foot of the hill and guests ferried up to their chalets in a golf cart. We were able to explore 15 waterholes in the area on our own, or we could join a guided game drive. Some days we simply enjoyed the daily wildlife parade from our hilltop camp. – Mariëlle Renssen

10. Northern Namibia – Onkoshi Camp, Etosha Pan

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This low-impact, solar-powered camp of only 15 units is named after the lions that roamed the area during construction. Lions are still around, but in the shifting of their territorial range, they have graduated outward.

Onkoshi’s units, neat rondavels built on stilts, hug the edge of the Etosha Pan. Floors, folding doors and wraparound decks of gleaming wood, together with reed-screen interiors, canvas walls and woven leather decor, all give the units a wonderfully natural feel. Every unit is energy self-sufficient with water heating, lighting and power points for charging electronic equipment all powered by solar. Most dramatic of all are horizonless panoramas across the shimmering salt flats. We slept with doors thrown open to the glittering stars, curtains billowing in the desert breeze.

Exquisitely sculpted African daybeds, headrests and wood carvings fill the main reception area, floor-to-ceiling glass in the restaurant overlooks the pan, and the bar’s deck serves up awesome big-sky sunsets. Activities at Onkoshi are simple: game drives, photography and stargazing, but that’s all you’ll want to do. – Mariëlle Renssen

*The Dolomite and Onkoshi camps are on opposite sides of Etosha; one on the most extreme western side, which previously wasn’t open the public; the other on the extreme eastern side where no other lodges exist except the Onkoshi Camp (unique as it’s the only camp on the pan).

11. Western Cape – Soeterus Guest Farm, Calitzcorp

Soeterus

There can hardly be a more eco-friendly way to explore the spectacular passes and trails in the Klein Karoo than a cycling holiday. Hannelie and Jamesly Rutherford have set up enticing five-day cycling breaks based at their four-star guest house Soeterus, on the outskirts of one of my favourite destinations, Calitzdorp. There are gorgeous routes through countryside and scenic passes with a back-up vehicle, medic in attendance and a bike hotel. Ride outs and horse safaris are also an option.

Soeterus really does live up to its name – sweet rest. We were spoiled rotten. There are seven luxurious, twin, guest rooms at the 140-year-old farmhouse, a sparkling pool and delicious dinners on request, with entertainment by Johnny the pet sheep, Popeye the parrot and Shar-Pei dogs Mushka and Gizmo. – Marianne Heron

044 213 3049, [email protected] 

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