In our ongoing search for the best accommodation in South Africa, we sent our professional reviewer, Pippa de Bruyn, to find the best accommodation in the Lowveld, from White River to Hazyview. Using TripAdvisor as a base, Pippa inspected 39 of the top-ranked accommodation in White River and Hazyview and found some fabulous places to stay, 13 of which made her final list below. You won’t find a better tried-and-tested guide to the best places to stay in the Lowveld. Images by Teagan Cunniffe.
Also read: The top-rated accommodation in Magoebaskloof
Why visit the Lowveld
- For many, the Lowveld is synonymous with Kruger, but in your haste to push into the park you could be missing out on spectacular scenery, beautiful gardens and an array of great adventure activities in and around Hazyview, such as zip-lining, river rafting and mountain biking.
- Not that you have to forego safari. But if you prefer catered accommodation, a certain level of luxury and/or having a choice of good restaurants at night, then staying at a guest house 15 to 30 minutes from one of the Kruger gates is ideal – be sure to be at the gates when they open (5:30am until March; 6am from April). There are also plenty of companies offering seats on elevated open-air vehicles, led by experienced, qualified local guides.
- From one of the best villa-stay experiences in the country to thatched rondavels on riverbanks, the choice is vast, with plenty of value, all around three and a half hours from Joburg.
- The variety and majesty of the trees here are astonishing – purchase a good guide to Lowveld trees and have fun identifying leadwoods and jackalberries, tamboties and fever trees, umbrella-shaped pod mahogany and wild teak. No points but you’ll get plenty of satisfaction spotting coral trees in flaming bloom. And if you haven’t yet been, visit the Lowveld National Botanical Garden.
Best self-catering bargain in a garden
1. Lyttle Irving
TripAdvisor ranking No. 8 of 15, Specialty Lodging, White River
Located within a plant nursery on the outer limits of sprawling White River, this conversion of an old stable block into four comfortable self-catering units has been done in such a way as to afford remarkable privacy, but it’s the garden that really makes this a wonderful oasis. Belinda McLintock is clearly a very talented horticulturist, with a penchant for the French-Provençal style. Each of the four self-catering units opens onto the textured green courtyard with high aromatic borders to create a sense of privacy and pretty pathways, the most enchanting of which leads to a koi-filled dam frequented by white-faced and yellow-billed ducks, pied and giant kingfishers and Egyptian geese – the perfect spot for a sundowner. No pool is the only drawback.
Room tip: A choice of four: two family units (sleeping four), and a honeymoon and twin – all good, but I like Family Cottage Three most because of its little garden.
Cost: R320 per person; R120 per child
Best country-style guest lodge
2. Rissington Inn
TripAdvisor No. 2 of 42, Specialty Lodging, Hazyview
This gorgeous thatched farmhouse has long been a favourite Lowveld destination, and always a pleasure to revisit to see how the grande dame keeps evolving. The establishment now offers 16 very comfortable rooms, varying in size but each with its own entrance and outside seating area, many of them purpose-built thatched units in the gardens. Meals are wholesome and very good (breakfast is an enormous spread, even including Rissington’s legendary fillet steak), the atmosphere is laid-back and welcoming, the four-hectare garden gorgeous (yes, with plenty of Lowveld trees), the views fantastic and location convenient (a mere 10-minute drive to Kruger) – all at a very good price. If you’re in luck, owner Chris Harvie will be in residence and at the bar – a raconteur and writer of note, Chris has a fine sense of humour.
Room tip: All the rooms are great. Superior and deluxe rooms are large enough for a family of four to share, but for privacy choose two-bedroom Pumalanga, one of the two Hillside suites with a fantastic view and sharing a pool.
Cost: From R1000 double B&B. From R1230 for the two-bedroom Pumalanga Suite.
Most romantic splurge
3. Summerfields Rose Retreat & Spa
TripAdvisor No. 1 of 12, Hotel, Hazyview
When Andre and Ilse van Heerden started combing the Lowveld property pages they were looking for a farm – Andre wanted to plant macadamias, granadillas and litchis, while Ilse wanted to cultivate roses – but the natural beauty of the river flowing through their new 40-hectare property inspired a new passion. After planting trees and roses, the couple decided to build 12 riverside tents in the dappled shade of jackalberry and tambotie trees. They chose canvas to keep guests connected to their environment, with the burbling sound of the river a constant soothing soundtrack, but did not stint on luxury, space or mod cons such as air conditioning and Wi-Fi. The beauty of the setting is more than matched by the decor and design, and the abundance of fresh roses everywhere only adds to the decadent, romantic atmosphere that permeates Summerfields. Having worked in some of the country’s top restaurants (The Test Kitchen and Terroir) daughter Natia is now in charge of the two on-site restaurants, and much of what is on your plate is grown in her organic garden. It’s not cheap but if you are thinking of popping that all-important question, or wanting to reignite those romantic embers, this is the place, 12 kilometres from Phabeni Gate.
Room tip: Don’t like canvas? Book the honeymoon cabin.
Cost: From R2690 per person B&B, and R2995 per person DBB. No under 12s.
Most luxurious villa & self-catering cottage
4. Umsisi House
TripAdvisor No. 1 of 15, Specialty Lodging, White River
This 62-hectare retreat, perched high within the Jock of the Bushveld Conservancy, comprises a beautiful Afro-chic, three-bedroom villa booked on a full-board or dinner-bed-and-breakfast basis, and a compact, stylishly outfitted two-bedroom cottage that can be booked separately as a self-catering option. Given the finishes (soft choir matting underfoot, grand double shower, aluminium shutters, quality linen) and a gorgeous valley view, the self-catering cottage offers incredible value. However, if money is no object, book the house where hosts Amanda and Paddy Bond Gunning spoil guests and prepare the most delectable meals. Aside from the many beautiful objets displayed, every window and deck at Umsisi House has a magnificent view – from Legogote Mountain to the magical back garden with a mountain stream spilling down black rocks. It’s an utterly private experience (after preparing meals, Amanda and Paddy retire to their own quarters, though they are such good company you’ll beg them to stay for another drink) and very luxurious – a wonderful place for a family or small group of friends to reconnect. If you are on the DBB deal you will be expected to spend the day exploring: a fount of knowledge, Amanda will make recommendations and arrange all bookings. Umsisi House is 15 to 20 minutes from Kruger’s Numbi Gate.
Cost: From R420 per person for the cottage (serviced daily). From R2200 per person DBB for the house, R1650 per person up to 15 years old (minimum four persons and two-night stay). Ask about the great discounted winter rates (from R1760 per person).
5. Ashbourne Country Escape
TripAdvisor No. 3 of 17, B&B/Inn, Hazyview
Walking into a special place gives me a certain kind of thrill, and Ashbourne gave me that in spades. First off is the location – high up on a lush hillside, surrounded by indigenous forest, with plant-fringed views of the tranquil Sabi River Valley. There are only five B&B rooms opening onto or overlooking the large courtyard, with shaded seating and a lovely pool, so it’s intimate. Decor style is uncluttered, understated elegance – white furniture, reed ceilings, cool oxide floors. Retired farmers and tree lovers Rob and Dawne Ashbourne (who live adjacent) are exemplary hosts – very warm, interested and interesting. There’s a local food-delivery service, so if you can’t tear yourself away you can order dinner in. Or book one of the two gorgeous self-catering units. Alternatively, Hazyview’s restaurants are less than a 10-minute drive away. Kruger’s Phabeni Gate is 20 minutes away.
Room tip: There’s not a dud room here, but perhaps the Balcony Room upstairs is best for its lovely views. The two self-catering cottages are equally fabulous, and you can still have excellent breakfast (R120 per person).
Cost: R1360 double B&B. R980 per night for a honeymoon cottage. R1500 per night for a two-bedroom family cottage (sleeps four adults and four children on sleeper couches – no meals).
Best value self-catering
6. Stonecrop Lodge
TripAdvisor No. 4 of 15, Specialty Lodging, White River
Stonecrop Lodge is another great self-catering option set among indigenous trees and shrubs, with lovely hosts. No children under 13, so the only sound here is birdsong – in the evening the raucous purple-crested turaco passes the baton to the galago (bushbaby) and spotted eagle-owl, while dawn is heralded by the white-browed robin-chat. Stonecrop Lodge is owner-managed by delightful hosts Leonora and Alan Williams (fellow tree and bird lovers), who keep their five self-catering flatlets, each with private entrance, in immaculate condition. Leonora, a floral designer, clearly enjoys playing with interiors, and has dressed each unit in a different style. Kitchenettes are very well equipped for self-catering and there are lots of generous touches (milk, juice, rusks, as well as coffee and tea). Guests have access to a pool and communal lounge area. There is also a small timber bungalow in the garden called Butterfly – this is the only unit that does not have a kitchenette, but is a romantic option for a couple on a budget.
Room tip: Here the choice really depends on what bed configuration you require, but I particularly liked the shweshwe touches in Jelly Beans, a twin-bed unit.
Cost: R550 for two sharing Butterfly. From R600 for two sharing a self-catering unit (R400 single). No children under 13.
Best base for shopping and restaurants
7. Casterbridge Hollow
TripAdvisor No. 3 of 9, Hotel, White River
Casterbridge Hollow is part of sophisticated Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, home to some of the best shops in the Lowveld (I emptied my wallet at Africa Joy, Rottcher Wineries and Courtyard Framing), and in walking distance from the Bagdad Centre. It’s 15 minutes from Kruger Mpumalanga Airport, making it a popular choice for business travellers, or anyone looking for a comfortable semi-urban Lowveld base with lots of restaurant and shopping options. The two-storey hotel is built around an inviting pool and courtyard. Meals are taken at Magnolia Restaurant or any of the plethora of options that are in walking distance. For drinks, head to Gum Treez Pub in the Lifestyle Centre, or The Fez in Bagdad. Casterbridge Hollow has two sister hotels in Hazyview – Perry’s Bridge Hollow and Hippo Hollow – also both highly recommended.
Room tip: Rooms 23 to 30 and 15 to 21 (downstairs is slightly more private) overlooking the pool.
Cost: R2260 double B&B (R4220 for four in a family room). Perry’s Bridge Hollow from R1570 double B&B. Hippo Hollow’s river chalets from R3400 double B&B.
Best safari base
8. Seringa Lodge
Tripadvisor No. 5 of 33, B&B/Inn, White River
This classic thatched Lowveld farmhouse, set in a two-hectare garden in White River, was transformed into an eight-bedroom lodge by Cecilia and Roger Briggs in 2004. Since then they have earned a solid reputation for the quality of the dining (Swedish-born Cecilia has trained and worked in the US and Europe as a chef for many years), as well as being a great base for those wanting day trips into Kruger thanks to SA-born Roger, a qualified guide and avid birder who worked for many years in the Okavango Delta before locating to Kruger. Roger has his own open-air game vehicle with elevated seats to take his guests on private tours. The nearest gate is 30 minutes from his front door. He is also a keen golfer, and can discuss the merits of the various courses in the area. Regardless of how you spend your day, it’s a real highlight returning in the evening to the large thatched outdoor terrace overlooking the garden and pool – very romantic as the sun sets, with flickering paraffin lanterns on the coffee tables.
Room tip: I really liked rooms 7 and 8, located in a free-standing bungalow in the garden, each with their own entrance and interleading door, so ideal for a family.
Cost: R1120 double B&B; R190 per person for under 17s; two and under stay free.
More accommodation near White River and Hazyview
9. Hulala Lakeside Lodge
Hulala Lakeside Lodge is an old-fashioned low-key country-style four-star lodge overlooking the Da Gama Dam (I like the rooms with fireplaces), a good spa, cosy characterful public spaces (I love the bar with a large boulder protruding into it) and a perfectly dreadful website. The Lodge has been spruced up, and at R1700 for two DBB, it’s one of the best-value DBB options in the area.
10. Gecko Lodge
Gecko Lodge is a young, fun family-run lodge on a 35-hectare farm (there’s also a great backpackers on the same grounds) that is definitely worth looking at. Rooms are spacious and excellent value at R1100 for double B&B, and kids sharing from R395 per person.
11. Nut Grove Manor
Nut Grove Manor is my runner up for best B&B (particularly the new-look Hazel and Almond rooms) and also offers two good self-catering options (Macadamia is the one to book) and sprawling peaceful gardens with a pool and lots of lovely places in which to hang out. From R1250 for double B&B; or R1595 for a self catering unit (sleeps up to four); R250 per person for under 13s.
12. Sabi River Sun
Sabi River Sun resort is the best and busiest resort in the area, with an 18-hole golf course, bowling green, tennis and squash courts, mountain biking, swimming pools, a spa and a hippo and crocodile dam. The grounds are in mint condition, hotel rooms refurbished and the atmosphere welcoming. R2085 double DBB.
13. Oliver’s Restaurant & Lodge
Oliver’s Restaurant & Lodge is an owner-managed luxury inn that overlooks the first hole of the White River golf course. Guests here also have access to the much-vaunted Leopard Creek golf course. As such, Oliver’s is ideal for golfers, those wanting a certain level of comfort, great dining, and if you are a stickler for details – rooms and grounds are in tip-top condition. If you don’t mind stairs, Room 9 is best. From R2580 double B&B.
This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.
All prices correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before travelling.