Also read: Guide to accommodation in Magoebaskloof
Public review sites such as TripAdvisor are useful in trip planning, but the lack of a comparative and specific voice – where each property is viewed according to criteria by the same individual, and options in the area can be compared and collated – is where they can fall short for the traveller needing to make the right choice. In the fifth of our series to find the best places to stay in Southern Africa, I scoured the accommodation in and around Sedgefield. Using TripAdvisor as a base, I inspected 27 of the top-ranked options in the Hotel, B&B/Inn and Speciality Lodging categories, as well as many unlisted options. The result? A tried-and-tested guide to the best places to stay in this underrated Garden Route destination.
Why choose Sedgefield?
Located between the better known Garden Route destinations of Knysna and Wilderness, most visitors tend to pass straight though the strip mall artery that feeds Sedgefield’s small retail heart, unaware that just beyond the busy N2 lies an area rich in natural bounty. Wedged between the Indian Ocean, Goukamma Nature Reserve’s Groenvlei lake and the Wilderness National Park’s Swartvlei lake, with a broad estuary that winds its way across town, Sedgefield is surrounded by salt- and freshwater, forested hills and long sandy beaches. That said, the town also has pockets of unremitting ugliness – lots of facebrick, and a few high-density cookie-cutter developments – so where you choose to stay is crucial.
- Sedgefield is the first accredited Cittaslow Slow Town in South Africa; the only town in Africa that is part of the Italian-based organization to actively promote quality of life above “fast-lane” lifestyle choices. The residents of Sedgefield – many of them crafters and artists, escapees from the big cities – are vocal proponents of celebrating the slow life.
- In a word (or two!): bargain prices. While they fall under the same municipality, there is a healthy sibling rivalry between Sedgefield and Knysna, which lies just 25km away, a 15-minute drive along the scenic lagoon. The main benefits of staying in Sedgefield are the lack of traffic, the friendly, small-town atmosphere, proximity to a beach, and good value – accommodation can be up to 50% less than counterparts in its more sophisticated big brother, Knysna.
- Sedgefield is home to one of the country’s best food markets, Wild Oats. It is also one of the best places on the Garden Route coast to learn how to kitesurf, offers fishermen a great choice (fresh and salt water lakes), and is giving Wilderness a run for its money as the region’s paragliding centre. Aside from this there are the usual Garden Route offerings: birdwatching, mountainbiking, sailing, canoeing, forest trails and long beach walks.
Best hotel with a lake view
1. Lakeside Lodge & Spa
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 1 of 1 (Hotel)
What a great position this boutique hotel enjoys, with its world-class view from groomed lawns that run directly into the western shores of Swartvlei Lake, largest of the string of lakes that run the length of Wilderness National Park. You could spend a whole day on one of Lakeside Lodge & Spa’s comfortable loungers, ordering the occasional glass of Benguela Cove (Penny Streeter, the proprietor, also owns this wine estate) and just gaze out at the undulating hills beyond the expanse of water – mirror-like in the morning, sparkling by midday, a dark infinity at night. It’s tiny and opened only recently, but runs as a full-service hotel, with restaurant, bar and spa, and well-trained staff to take care of a maximum of 18 guests – even at capacity, this is an exclusive experience. Architecturally rather characterless but decorated for comfort, this little hotel is likely to improve with age (when, hopefully, the huge Benguela Cove promotional posters will be replaced).
Room tip: Definitely room 9 – the most private and the only one designed so you can lie in bed and enjoy direct lake views. Rooms 8 and 9 work well as a semi-separate wing. Rooms 2 to 7 are identical; I’m not sure room 1, the honeymoon suite, is worth the extra R1000 per night. (If you’re looking for a luxury honeymoon suite, the master suite at Dover on Sea is it; see below).
Cost: From R2500 per room (sleeps two).
Contact: lakesidelodge.co.za where you’ll also find their latest special offers and events.
Best large family resort
2. Pine Lake Marina
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 4 of 11 (B&B/Inn)
Built on the edges of Swartvlei (near Lakeside Lodge), Pine Lake Marina is a densely populated resort with 185 self-catering cabins and apartments, many built in Kruger-like circles, but there are no tents or caravans. It’s huge and safe, with loads of family-friendly facilities (five pools, canoes, pedalos, Hobies, a games room, squash, tennis and putt-putt courses, trampolines), so children tend to disappear until mealtimes. It even has some dog-friendly units to cater for those with small canine children. An unfortunate number of very large buildings have been built right on the lakefront – as these are reserved only for functions (a popular wedding venue), it is frustrating to be stuck behind what are effectively dead public spaces, so I’d not book here unless I had a lake-view unit (see below). It’s very popular, so if the large resort-style holiday appeals, book now – the online site is user-friendly (you can pick your unit) and it’s open for 2017 bookings.
Room tip: For unobstructed lake views, book Khaki apartments K15 to K30 – preferably the uneven numbers, as they are on the top floor (note that any other Khaki units will have obstructed views); White W803 and W804 will suit those with small kids, as they can run straight onto the play park facing the lake. The best dog-friendly units (most private with views of a small forest) are Silver S03/688 and S04/687. I liked Aqua A03/674 because it’s the only unit that’s tucked away.
Cost: Prices vary depending on when you book and how many (two to 10 sleepers are available); until the end of September, a four-sleeper unit (with two children on the sleeper couch) is R550. My recommended lake-facing Khaki units are R2440 (two bedrooms, sleeps six).
Best small, self-catering, off-the-grid cottage
3. Kalanderkloof Cottage
New find, unlisted
Hennie and Helga rebuilt their old labourer’s cottage when they renovated their farmhouse a few years back. Breaking with the region’s traditional-style log cabin, Helga (an architect) designed a simple, affordable, contemporary cabin that made the most of the views and was completely off the grid. Now they’re back in the farmhouse and Kalanderkloof Cottage is available to anyone needing a secluded bolthole. It’s romantic (though there is a sleeper couch in the lounge for couples with kids under the age of 11 – the main bedroom is separate), eco-friendly (water is rain-harvested; energy is solar or from gas), peaceful, and private: you’re unlikely to encounter anyone else on the 108-hectare farm. There are huge views (from the shower, the braai – in fact, everywhere) of the forested hills, and plenty of pathways to explore the pine plantations, fynbos and natural forest, on foot or bike. The cool waters of the Karatara River are a 20-minute walk down; Sedgefield is 10 to 15 minutes’ drive away.
Cost: Another bargain at R950 per night (maximum two adults and two kids), including a starter breakfast pack (eggs, milk, coffee, tea, and so on) and as much wattle wood as you can burn.
Best budget glamping
4. Bushbuck Camp
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 5 of 14 (Speciality Lodging)
If you (or your kids) like the idea of camping lakeside but you can’t be bothered to set up a tent, hate the idea of being hunkered amid the hoi polloi and sharing ablution blocks that reek of disinfectant, then Bushbuck Camp is bliss. Just getting here is part of the adventure. Wind your way up the steep forested hill that flanks the N2, pause at the crest to admire spirit-expanding views over the river network, then descend down a narrow bumpy track to a secluded and solitary self-catering tent, permanently set up on a large elevated timber platform under milkwoods. There is one other dwelling to share the large lawns and jetty (inhabited by the owner’s fairly reclusive and friendly father), so privacy is not total, but near as dammit, and you’re right by the lake, with canoes and
a paddleboat at your disposal. It’s very rustic: two canvas rooms (with a double bed and a bunk bed); an equipped al fresco kitchen, dining and braai area with lovely lake views; and the outside covered bathroom (private) also has a lake view.
Cost: R450 for two, R550 for three, R650 for four. Peak season (10 December – 15 January and the Easter weekend) R550 for two, R700 for three, R850 for four.
Best large, self-catering house in Sedgefield
5. Sedgies on the Water
New find, unlisted
Name aside, this is hands down the best-dressed and perfectly located house, if you’re looking for a good-value, self-catering option within Sedgefield. Perched just below the swoop of Kingfisher Drive as Sedgies on the Water crests the ridge above the Swartvlei estuary, its key feature is the fabulous elevated view, and access to what is effectively a private beach and the warm, shallow, tranquil waters of the estuary – great for children. There are a few more options on Kingfisher Drive, but none so easy on the eye, with a large, double lounge area opening onto the deck that winds past two lagoon-facing rooms, both of them designed to make the most of the expansive views. Two more rooms, made up as king or twin-bedded rooms, have garden and partial lagoon views. The open-plan kitchen is well equipped; breakfast is served, if requested, by owner Gail who lives (unobtrusively) on the level above.
Cost: From R2000 to R2800 (sleeps one to four); R2800 to R3200 (sleeps eight), minimum two-night stay. Peak season R3400 per night, minimum seven nights. Guests are welcome to contact Gail about special offers (5% for three nights or more), or rates for smaller numbers.
Best B&B with sea view
6. Dover on Sea
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 1 of 11 (B&B/Inn)
Not only Sedgefield’s best ocean-view option, but one of the best-value sea views you’ll find on the Garden Route, with luxurious rooms offering completely unobstructed scenery of the limitless horizon. Dover on Sea is perched high above Cola Beach – close enough to smell the oxygenated air – but it’s not a quick stroll away (at least a 10-minute walk). The surrounding architecture in this newly developed hood isn’t great, but you won’t care once you’ve stepped inside. Its website doesn’t really do the boho Afro-chic decor justice – the lounge area with enormous fireplace and deck with pool is comfortable and inviting; you could easily spend the day just lounging about the house and forego exploring.
Room tip: The enormous master suite is uber five-star luxurious and romantic – a steal at R750 pp sharing this winter. Suites 2 and 3 offer superb value: both located on the top floor, with unobstructed sea views and private balconies for only R650 pp this winter. (Suites 4 & 5 cost the same for lesser views and 5 overlooks the pool.)
Cost: From R480 per person sharing in winter (suites 6 and 7); R950 per person sharing (master suite) in peak season.
Best budget self-catering
7. Laguna Cabanas
New find, unlisted
Laguna Cabanas isn’t going to win any design awards, but it’s spotlessly clean, the lawn’s immaculately groomed (anyone for boules?) and, most importantly, located on Sedgefield’s most idyllic street: Charles Te Water, the thin lane that hugs the narrowest part of the estuary and overlooks a protected dune. Despite the pretty view and easy water access (a natural playground for kids), development along here has been low key, so it feels most like the old-fashioned holiday village Sedgefield once was. Aside from the adobe-style house (a small open-plan kitchen/lounge with sleeper couch and a narrow stoep; en-suite bedroom upstairs opening onto a bar area), there is a separate en-suite flatlet (one room but equipped for self-catering) in the garden.
Cost: From R550 for the main house (sleeps up to four); from R350 for the garden flatlet (sleeps two).
Best indigenous forest lodge
8. Teniqua Treetops
TripAdvisor ranking: No. 1 of 14 (Speciality Lodging)
There is a special energy in these ancient Afromontane forests and these Teniqua ‘tree house tents’, suspended above the textured canopy, offer the best opportunity to commune with it. Just eight tree houses share 38 hectares of dense indigenous forest, each erected on a platform in locales selected for their views and privacy. Built organically around the existing trees, the tree houses feel like part of the forest – taking a bath on the deck under the stars and waking to the sounds of the forest is very special. Every tent has an indoor and outdoor seating area, the latter on a private deck (with views and a Weber); a tented bedroom (or two); a well-equipped kitchen, and a bathroom that makes the most of the views. Tree house tents that are highest in the canopy have composting toilets, which may not suit everyone, so do check this when booking. There are forest walks to swimming holes in the Karatara River, as well as a central entertainment area with a dam-style pool and games room, so there’s no reason to leave other than the occasional foray into Sedgefield (23km away) or Knysna.
Room tip: I loved Loerie’s Nest, a honeymoon tree house, with an al fresco bathroom on the deck, and a flushing loo. There are four family tents; two are two-bedroomed while the other two have a bunk bed in the bedroom (suitable for youngsters who find the forest sounds challenging). Greenbeard is disabled-friendly.
Cost: From R1400 for a honeymoon tree house. R1730 for one-bedroomed tree houses (sleeps four). R2090 for two bedrooms (sleeps four). Winter specials: 30% discount, but not during school holidays.
Also worth considering
Afrovibe Adventure Lodge (No. 2 of 14 Speciality Lodging) is one of the best backpackers in the country – the kind of place to take over for a big 21st bash. Located just behind the high dune that runs the length of Myoli Beach, you sit with your feet in the sand at their PiliPili beach bar. The guys who run it are super-friendly and there’s a variety of activities on offer (this is the local kitesurfing centre). There are two dorms (R140 per person) and plenty of en-suite private rooms with double beds (R500 for a double). Be sure to book one without a bunk bed.
Beach you to it is a classic Sedgefield A-frame, recently refurbished by a local estate agent. It has four compact bedrooms and it’s two blocks from the estuary with a pool and garden. From R1200 (sleeps eight).
Lake Pleasant Chalets & Lodges is a well-maintained, owner-managed holiday resort just beyond Sedgefield, on the shores of Groenvlei. It can’t compete with Pine Lake Marina when it comes to facilities, but the cabins offer more space and privacy (though less so when the camp site is full). The gardens are prettier (there are two pools, one has an enchanting setting) and you can stroll to neighbouring Lake Pleasant Living for meals and spa treatments. I prefer the three-bedroomed timber chalets to the garden lodges. These range from R700 to R2450.
Lake Pleasant Living is a contender for Sedgefield’s best luxury hotel, offering great value. To ensure you have the best lake views, book two-bedroomed units 1, 4, 5, 6 or 10, from R2885 (sleeps four); or one-bedroomed units 2, 3, 8 or 9, from R1695 (sleeps two).
Mvubu Bush Lodge is the most private two-bedroomed option in the Goukamma Nature Reserve. It’s highly recommended and is usually booked months in advance. From R1210 (sleeps four). If you require three bedrooms, book the duplex Fish Eagle Loft, from R705 (sleeps two) and Otter’s Rest Lodge, from R1150 (sleeps four) together.
This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.
All prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before travelling.