Save some money on your next trip with Chris Troskie’s list of the best backpackers in KwaZulu-Natal.
It’s no secret that South Africa is home to an incredible backpacking culture with foreigners flocking to these establishments to enjoy the natural splendor we have on offer. To this end, South African backpackers have a certain set of characteristics. It is trite knowledge that hospitality varies from country to country. I have been told by the unfortunate foreigners who visit my house for free food (I do not know how I end up meeting them but I am done railing at the universe for it) that our hostels are of incredible standard and quality.
It is here I should point out that the quality of a hostel for a foreign backpacker varies from person to person. Broadly speaking, a hostel is good if it is what you want. If you wish to go to a hostel where you party the night away in a kaleidoscopic bar, we have many of those. If you want somewhere quiet and serene, we have those too. The fact is South African hostels are as diverse as the people who frequent them, making choosing a “good” one very difficult.
So with that in mind, here is my pick of the best backpackers in KwaZulu-Natal, just for very different reasons.
1. For the hikers: Amphitheatre Backpackers, Drakensberg
It is not a secret that Amphitheatre Backpackers is considered one of the best backpackers in the country. It is easy to see why. They have a large property which caters for every type of backpacker demographic. They have it all: from en-suite bungalows to campgrounds and excellent communal kitchens. Amphitheatre wears its commercial appeal on its sleeve proudly.
There is no doubt that if you need an appropriate springboard to explore the Drakensberg, this is the backpackers to do it from. Amphitheatre is located strategically in the middle of the Amphitheatre region, spitting distance from Bergville and en-route to the more commercial area occupied by Alpine Heath, Montusi and The Cavern to name a few.
It is for this reason that Amphitheatre has access to some of the best hiking trails one could ask for. The backpackers themselves offer daily excursions, including (but not limited to) hikes to Cathedral Peak and the source of the Tugela Falls on Mount Aux Sources. The charges for these include transportation and a guide, making your excursion safe and well informed.
Understandably, the trails on offer in the area are not uniformly challenging. Some require a bit of experience and an item of gear or two. The facilities that offer these trails are very well prepared, taking lengths to point out how difficult a trail may be and what would be needed.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on what great hiking is on offer in the area, so if you want to explore the Amphitheatre, then Amphitheatre Backpackers is definitely the place to do it.
+27 (0) 82 855 9767; [email protected]
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2. For the family: Khotso Lodge & Horse Trails, Underberg
Backpackers are not known as being kid friendly. True, the average backpacker is a poorly dressed twenty-something and establishments tend to cater for that. But what if there was a place that appealed to the family market without losing its intrinsic “hostel feeling”? Well Khotso is very proudly such a place.
Located a brief stint outside Underberg, Khotso is based on a family farm nestled among rolling green hills and happy little forests (Bob Ross would have a field day).
The principal vocation of the farm is horse riding. A popular pastime in the area, Khotso has marketed itself as a horse trail getaway, making it perfect for one- to two-night escapes from the big city. Excursions on horseback start from R220pp for an hour all the way to a full-day ride at R710pp. If you would rather not be hoofing around, the backpackers also offer scenic walks in and around the hills as well as rock pools and child friendly rivers for the little ones to explore. This is also not a place where parties occur into the small hours. My experience was that by 8pm the whole place was shrouded in a blissful state of slumber.
Accommodation is comfortable and clean, with the communal kitchen (always something worth commenting on) being well stocked and housing a perpetually warm Aga. Writing that sentence made a cup of tea and spaniel apparate in my study.
So if you want something small, intimate and filled with fun little diversions, Khotso is definitely for you.
+27 (0) 82 412 5540; [email protected]
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3. For the party: Mantis and Moon Backpackers Lodge, Umzumbe
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This is probably the more stereotypical backpackers on this list. The dream remains one of surfed kissed bodies spending their days rolling around in the waves, only to tumble back into the bar at two in the afternoon and order that first cold beer. The young and beautiful rubbing shoulders with each other as the communal area gets progressively louder.
I don’t blame people for believing this. I also wish to point out that it is (mostly) true for a lot of places (particularly hostels found on the coast for some reason… must be something in the salty air).
Mantis and Moon is affectionately held in the hearts of many travelers for being “the place where that crazy stuff happened”. It is an eclectic mix of bungalows, glass tree houses and teepees in the middle of the jungles of Umzumbe. The quaint wooden walkways and dense foliage give the accommodation a magic air. However, were one to ignore its status as a surfer’s paradise (the local blue flag beach is ten minutes away), you would still be left with the amazing site that is the bar.
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A hodgepodge of typical Rastafarian décor slaps your face as you walk in. The low wooden ceiling and beer laden fridges beckon the weary traveler. Ample seating tempts you into ordering “just one more drink” before you give in to the lascivious stare of the slide which runs from the deck of the bar straight into the pool. You will blink and wonder how it suddenly became night. You will laugh with the feisty German who has decided that for one evening the two of you are the closest of friends. You will hear the roar of the crowd as someone wrestles the playlist out of the bar keeper’s hands and Bohemian Rhapsody plays. Clinks of the pool table. The glistening of sweat and seawater. This is the place you go to for the best nights you will never remember.
+27 (0) 39 684 6256; +27 (0) 79 114 6609; [email protected]
4. For the view: The Spot Backpackers, Port Shepstone
Moving from one extreme to the other (but still keeping it on the coast) is Spot Backpackers. Located just outside of Port Shepstone, this hidden gem is just the right combination of things which ensure that whatever mood you arrive in, you will always leave relaxed.
The building itself is an old (read: very old) municipal station. The upshot of this is that the backpackers is located quite literally on the beach. As is always the case, accommodation varies from their en-suite double cabin to camping facilities and everything in between. This backpackers is therefore accessible to those with all budgets.
The communal area is located typically by the bar. An ancient fridge houses the spirits while a welcoming chalk board tells you the current price of beer. Your room will be cleaned every day and the kitchen remains a happily serviceable area which covers all the basics for when you are making meals.
However, you are not here to think about that are you? Heavens no. You are visiting so that you can sit on a shaded bench and look out over the lawn to the sea beyond. You are here to smoke a shisha (just ask the barman) and lean on the wooden fence peering over the beach below. You are here for the paddling up the river and the tanning on the beach. You are here for the quiet coastal nights. You are here because you don’t want to think too strenuously about anything. You don’t have to. Spot has it all covered. Just relax get your feet wet and have another drink. Tomorrow is another day.
+27 (0) 39 695 1318; [email protected]
Words Chris Troskie
A journalist by trade, features writer on occasion and now the digital editor of SA Country Life. The first chance she gets, Leigh will tell you about a podcast she was recently listening to and how you simply have to make the move from radio. In a previous life, she once taught English on Jeju which left her with an insatiable craving for kimchi.