As 2022 hurtles towards an end and the weather warms up, we’re dreaming of escaping the hustle and bustle of daily city life. And what better way than to switch off and recharge with time away in nature at a South African getaway spot?
For those looking to explore low-impact, low-budget travel alternatives, we have compiled a list of nine eco-conscious South African getaway destinations to consider.
Platbos Forest Reserve
Soak up the fresh, clean air amongst the trees that make up the ancient, indigenous Platbos Forest. A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town towards the fishing town of Gansbaai, the Platbos Forest is one of the largest remaining fragments of lowland Afromontane forest found between Grootvadersbosch and Table Mountain.
Platbos Forest Nature Reserve offers five different off-grid, self-catering accommodations all situated under the dense canopy of indigenous trees. From stinkwoods to pear trees and milkwoods, some of the trees of this endangered forest ecosystem are over 1000 years old.
Pitch a Tent
If you like traditional camping, consider The Owl Camp which accommodates up to four adults. Bring your own tent and accompanying camping gear like sleeping bags, flashlights, crockery, and utensils.
If you’re more of a glamper, consider The Forest Camp which comprises two tented rooms with two single beds in each. Or opt for the Honey Bee Suite which comprises a double bed for two guests and a wood-fired hot tub. Both sites boast a fully equipped kitchen with pots, pans, cutlery, crockery, and gas for cooking.
If a cabin is more your holiday lodging of choice, consider the Old Olive Cabin named after the approximately 800-year-old Wild Olive tree situated close by. The Old Olive cabin sleeps two and has a sitting room, a kitchenette with a mini-bar fridge, and solar-powered lighting. If the Old Olive Cabin is booked, try the Bush Buck Suite which also sleeps two. It is the only accommodation type that has a flush toilet. Perspex roofing allows you to count the stars before you fall asleep at night.
Except for The Owl Camp, all bedding, linen, and towels are provided. All showers are open-air and use a wood-fired donkey boiler water-heating system and four out of their five lodging offerings have waterless composting toilets which use sawdust to “flush”.
Platbos Forest Reserve requires a minimum of a three-night stay (a minimum of two nights for The Owl Camp) and a 50% deposit to reserve a booking (full payment to reserve The Owl Camp). For rates and reservations, view Platbos Forest Reserve’s booking calendar here.
All lodgers get to walk Platbos’ Forest Trail free of charge (normal fee: R50 per person).
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Underhill Eco Farm
Relax and refresh at Underhill Eco Farm – an inland eco-retreat located one and a half hours away from Cape Town in the Overberg.
Underhill Eco Farm offers four different private, rustic, JRR Tolkien-inspired cottages with the addition of a six-sleeper unit called the Earthship launching soon. The off-grid, self-catering units are situated on the lush, eco-friendly farm tucked between two streams in the Botrivier Valley and surrounded by vineyards and apple orchards.
Underhill provides a unique, eco-conscious South African getaway to escape the world of excessive consumption. Since the farm operates with a plastic-free, nature-first ethos, each cottage has been built from upcycled materials. Old wine bottles have been used to fashion windows, discarded planks have been turned into furniture, coffee bags make up ceilings, and recycled PET bottles become insulation. Solar energy powers the cottages and the retreat supplies guests with fruit and veg from their permaculture garden and surrounding farms.
As a guest house dedicated to sustainable living, you can take part in one of their many informative and practical eco-conscious activities. Explore recycling, upcycling, and self-sufficiency and how they’re implemented on the farm at Underhill’s learning centre, learn how to harness the sun’s energy for all your electricity needs without forgoing modern luxuries, or find out how to make your own Underhill Farmstyle Cider with just a few ingredients.
If you’re planning time away with a group of friends, choose Rivendell or Hobbit Hollow which sleeps four. For parties of two, opt for the Oak Cottage which sleeps up to three people, or the Willow Cottage which sleeps two. All cottages have basic cooking facilities and equipment, a braai, a fridge, and a perspective of the Botrivier and Franschoek mountains.
Underhill is pet-friendly so your furry companions don’t have to be left behind!
For rates and reservations, view Underhill Eco Farm’s booking calendar here.
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Sondagskloof is a slice of green heaven that started with the vision to share a gentler, more self-sufficient way of life with others. This eco-conscious South African getaway is located in Sandies Glen Valley in the expansive Overberg region just over two hours’ drive from Cape Town City Centre. It offers a retreat from cell reception amongst the resident cows, ducks, horses, and exquisite views of the fynbos-covered mountains.
Sondagskloof’s three self-catering, wooden farm chalets provide a sustainable eco-cabin experience. Each cabin has been built with the surrounding environment top of mind. All units are raised off the vlei and forest floor to ensure minimal interference with the vegetation. All cabins are solar powered, and all grey water is filtered through gravel beds and absorbed by the poplar trees.
If you’re looking to escape the fast pace with your family, check out the Forest Chalet and the Poplar Chalet. If you’re travelling as a couple, choose the one-bedroom Vlei Chalet.
All three chalets are complete with fully-equipped kitchens, gas hobs, wood-fired hot tubs, and indoor fireplaces. Owners Cathy Marriot and Basil Stillwell invite guests to peruse the farm’s organic vegetable garden – which supplies OK Foods Gateway Lifestyle Centre and restaurants in the Overstrand – and select a few ingredients for daily meals.
For rates and reservations, view Sondagkloof’s booking calendar here.
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Posited as an authentic African experience, Mdumbi Backpackers is located on the Wild Coast, roughly a two-hour drive from Mthatha. Perched right on the rugged coastline of the Transkei, Mdumbi Backpackers is the ideal place for an array of water activities from surfing to whale and dolphin spotting, to steeping in the region’s rich, traditional amaXhosa culture.
Mdumbi Backpackers has a wide variety of accommodation options to suit your needs. They have two self-catering options, namely the Turtle House which sleeps four, and the Whale House which sleeps six. Alternatively, you can opt for a double room (sleeps two), a family room (sleeps four), or a dorm room (sleeps up to eight). Most of Mdumbi’s chalets are ‘rondavel’-style huts which are traditional, circular African dwellings with a conical thatched roof.
Apart from its incredible situation, Mdumbi Backpackers is special for another reason. Mdumbi operates with the surrounding community and the traditional amaXhosa culture at its core. To promote community involvement in sustainable eco-tourism, Mdumbi explains that 50% of the establishment belongs to the community, and all activities are owned and run by the community members. “From Mama Nowethu’s bread to Mama Nosekile’s laundry service, you can be sure that your money goes to the right place,” writes Mdumbi Backpackers.
For rates and reservations, view their booking calendar here.
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Two and a half hours down the Wild Coast from Mdumbi Backpackers you’ll find Bulungula Lodge. From hiking and fishing to amaXhosa culture tours, Bulungula Lodge is a good spot for those who want to spend most of their holiday exploring outdoors and in the water.
“We have systematically developed this lodge as an example of how one can live in harmony with our environment through reduced consumption, appropriate technologies, and creative thinking,” writes Bulungula Lodge.
Bulungula Lodge is Fairtrade Certified thanks to businesses like guided hikes and drumming lessons being 100% owned and run by members of the local amaXhosa community of the traditional Nqileni village located between the Bulungula and Xhora river mouth.
This South African getaway has a wide variety of accommodation options. Choose from 10 traditionally built, theme-painted huts which offer accommodation for up to five people, the dormitory which sleeps up to seven, the Forest Cabins which sleep two, or book one of their campsites and pitch your own tent.
Bulungula Lodge offers a full menu that largely comprises traditional cuisine for those who don’t fancy cooking on holiday. However, the lodge also caters to vegans. There is a basic guest kitchen with limited fridge and freezer space if you prefer to bring your own food along.
Serious about their environmental footprint, the lodge’s electricity is supplied by solar panels. These panels are used to run the lights, music, satellite phone, computers, water pumps, and various battery chargers. To conserve water, the lodge makes use of the compost toilet system and recycles all of its grey water through a three-pond filtration system where possible.
For rates and reservations, view their booking calendar here.
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Katrinasrust Country Estate
Just over a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Eswatini and just under a two-hour drive from Mbombela, Katrinasrust Country Estate is filled to the brim with things to do from birding to hiking, fishing, picnicking, mountain biking, and of course, relaxing. The Estate was originally started as a Trout Farm over 70 years ago by the Brewer family.
Katrinasrust’s efforts to be gentler on their surroundings include favouring gas over electricity, using food waste in compost heaps to fertilise their vegetable gardens, and clearing thirsty, exotic wattle trees from the property, repurposing their wood for fire and making pens. Alice says that Katrinasrust’s water consumption is very low. She explains that all the water on the farm is gravity-fed, and the water used in their trout farm is diverted from the river and flows through two natural filtration ponds comprising reeds, watercress and insects before joining the river again.
“We also try and produce as much of our own food as we can. We have cattle (they are used mostly for keeping the veld down so we don’t have to cut but we also harvest one or two a year for beef for ourselves and our staff), we also have chickens that provide us with the most delicious fresh eggs, and we try and grow as much of our own veg as possible,” adds Alice.
The Katrinasrust Country Estate offers three different, self-catering South African getaway options. The Oaks, which sleeps up to 10 people, comprises three double rooms and one bunk room. Ideal for big families, this original fishing cottage is complete with a fully-equipped kitchen, a braai, pizza oven, and fire pit.
If you have a big family and want to bring friends along then Wisteria Cottage might be the choice for you. The original farmhouse on Katrinasrust this cottage includes four bathrooms, five bedrooms, a classic farm-style kitchen, braai area, and pizza hut, to comfortably accommodate up to 12 people.
The latest and arguably most popular addition to their accommodation collection is the Nightjar tucked away in the bush. This unique setup is a unique retreat for two with a kitchen, fireplace, gas braai, and wood-fired hot tub.
The Estate allows pets in its units except for the Nightjar which has a strict no pet and no children policy.
The Katrinasrust Country Estate requires a minimum of a two-night and a 50% deposit to reserve a booking. For rates and reservations, view their booking calendar here.
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Leadwood Safari Company
An hour-and-a-half drive north of Johannesburg is a relatively new and exciting glamping safari experience.
Leadwood Safari Company was started by husband and wife team, Jonathan and Anna Klynhans in 2020 with the vision to use the camp as a platform to reconnect guests to nature and “remind them about the importance of conserving and protecting our environment and its wildlife.”
Driven by a conservation ethos, Leadwood Safari Company is a South African getaway spot that uses solar-powered lights and wood-fired geysers.
For rates and reservations, view their booking calendar here.
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Umlani Bush Camp
Just over an hour’s drive from Hoedspruit in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Umlani Bushcamp is for anyone who enjoys a safari-style South African getaway.
Started by Marco and Marie-Louise Schiess over 33 years ago with a vision to create a retreat to complement instead of compromising the surrounding natural environment, the entire bush camp is built from natural materials in a traditional African style.
Umlani Bushcamp offers three different accommodation options with open-air showers. The Double Huts sleep two, the Family Huts sleep four, and the Eco Huts also sleep two but differ from the Double Huts in that they have been built to improve thermal storage.
Umlani Bushcamp has held a Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) certification for nine years demonstrating its commitment to responsible tourism. To consciously and actively minimise the camp’s impact on the surroundings, Umlani Bushcamp has a few environmental and socio-economic initiatives in place. For electricity, the camp operates on 100% alternative energy sources which comprise mostly solar power and a standby generator.
To conserve water, the camp maintains an indigenous, water-wise garden, uses low-flow showerheads and toilets, and towel and linen reuse programmes. 80% of Umlani Bushcamp staff are employed from the local community and enter training and apprenticeship programmes for upskilling.
For rates and reservations, view Umlani Bushcamp booking calendar here.
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Cape Vulture Lodge and Conservancy
The Cape Vulture Lodge and Conservancy was founded with a vision rooted in three ideas: conservation, education, and employment. The lodge’s conservancy is home to one of the biggest breeding colonies of Cape Vultures in the world. As of 2021, there were 650 vulture pairs.
Powered by renewable energy, their environmental focus lies at the core of this eco-destination. Waste reduction is key with all waste being managed on the property alongside recycling systems. They even provide natural and non-toxic cosmetics for the guests to use during their stay.
Their Permaculture Centre is the bridge between conservation and self-sustainability. The permaculture centre houses food gardens that feed the patrons and staff, medicinal plants to treat a range of ailments, and permaculture techniques that allow for the rehabilitation of soil ecosystems.
As a non-profit lodge, their earnings are funnelled back into the livelihoods of the staff allowing for further education, skill development, and healthcare. Living wages are a firm commitment at the lodge too.
The accommodation is nothing short of sustainable, nature-inspired, luxury South African getaway. There are a total of nine tents, seven of which sleep two adults and the remaining two having been joined to create a family unit. One of the tents has a ramp for guests with mobility limitations. Each of the tents comes equipped with a king-sized bed, an en-suite indoor bathroom, an outdoor shower with solar-heated water, and a growing deck. The tents are all private, with mountain views, and surrounded by the bush.
The rates include three meals a day, but alcoholic drinks are at your own cost. For rates and reservations, view Cape Vulture Lodge and Conservancy’s booking calendar here.
Cape Vulture Lodge and Conservancy: Text and photos by Bekah Vogel
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- Images supplied by accommodation owners. Cover image: Honey Bee Suite at Platbos Forest Reserve
- Cape Vulture Lodge and Conservancy: Text and photos by Bekah Vogel