How it works:
TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice. So how do we know if Number 1 really is the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years for the likes of Frommer’s and the UK Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For Addo surrounds, she created a longlist of 32 to inspect.
What we found about accommodation in and around Addo
Extraordinary value. The focus is often on hospitality in the true sense of the word, with welcoming hosts sharing – at extremely generous prices – their good fortune to be living in this fertile, lush valley. PE, you are so lucky to have all of this on your doorstep!
There is a great deal of good stock (B&Bs, guest houses, self-catering) across a variety of price points. Whether you’re on a budget or like a bit of luxury, the choice is so good that I struggled to make my final cut.
Money is no indication of quality here. Something quite glorious is often half the price of a mediocre option just up the road. Finding these bargains made for a satisfying trip.
This area is difficult to research online. Typing in ‘Addo accommodation’ is not going to give you the full spread of options. In my opinion, all the best ones lie west of Addo Elephant National Park. Essentially, there are four main areas: Colchester, Addo, Sunland and Kirkwood. Of these, the best in terms of proximity to the gate are Addo and Sunland (though, just to confuse matters, quite a few properties located in Sunland are listed as Kirkwood).
Best budget option close to the park
1. Addo African Home
TripAdvisor No. 2 of 12 Speciality Lodgings
Charming Lolo Armand, who specialises in home-from-home properties (she has two in Cape Town), took transfer of this two-hectare estate in August 2016; four months later she had renovated and dressed the lodge in her inimitable style on a fairly restricted budget. It’s an interesting mix: on the one side is the Rest Camp (two large tents sleeping up to five people each; not en-suite but with private bathrooms) and the House, which has five en-suite bedrooms and a large open-plan communal kitchen and lounge-dining area that services all the self-catering guests. On the other side of the garden is the catered Lodge, with five dinky en-suite rondavels and the three bedroom main building. There is lots of shade, several private braai areas and a large communal firepit. Lolo also scores on ethics – she’s built an enormous plant-filtration swimming pool, and later this year opens an organic-food restaurant that she intends staffing with apprentices from a Khayelitsha community cooking school she supports.
Room tip: I thoroughly enjoyed staying in one of the rondavels (pictured). In the House, I liked Grysbok best because of its private garden entrance and little patio.
Cost: From R350 per tent for two. Rondavel from R400 per person sharing. House from R345 per person sharing self-catering. Lodge from R520 per person sharing B&B.
Distance from Addo Park: ‘Seven minutes exactly!’
Best luxury lodge
2. Elephant House and The Stables
TripAdvisor No. 7 of 22 B&Bs/Inns, No. 9 of 12 Speciality Lodgings
Elephant House feels like a grand old Lowveld lodge, a veritable maze of deep verandahs – artfully furnished by owner Ann Read with antiques, Persian rugs, comfortable armchairs in rich textured prints and pot plants – surrounding lush courtyards with tinkling fountains and two inviting pools. Only eight rooms, all tucked away and private, enjoying such a decadence of beautiful public spaces, is a real spoil. Dinner is a set menu – nothing fancy, the work of cooks rather than the haute cuisine at Woodall but very comforting; sitting in the romantically lit dining room, the smell of rain-soaked lawn wafting in, was a highlight of my research trip, as was the impromptu dance performance that preceded it. Across the road is The Stables – six free standing en-suite cottages, each with a furnished shaded veranda, and another pool adrift in a vast green lawn. Only caveat: there is a fairly busy road within earshot.
Room tip: Elephant House’s rooms are gorgeous but given the savings and privacy, I’d opt for a Stables cottage.
Cost: Stables Cottage from R725 per person sharing B&B. Elephant House from R1050 per person sharing B&B.
Distance from Addo Park: 10 minutes.
Contact: elephanthouse.co.za, stablecottages.co.za
Best B&B bargain
3. Halstead Farm
TripAdvisor No. 18 of 22 B&Bs/Inns
You feel most fortunate on entering the driveway that leads to the century-old family citrus farm now under the stewardship of Clyde Niven, great-grandson of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, and his elegant wife Marijke, a magpie collector of antiques. Guests are housed in a separate low-slung cottage set in its own semi-private garden, overlooked by the deep, comfortably furnished veranda shared by three en-suite rooms. The fourth room, located behind the central pool courtyard, can comfortably sleep a family of four. The bathrooms are generous albeit slightly old-fashioned, each with a tub and separate shower; every room has its own fridge, table and chairs. Marijke is adept at creating romantic spaces with her eye for interesting antiques and vintage rugs; given the standard of the decor, Halstead is remarkably good value. The closest restaurants are five minutes away.
Room tip: All are lovely but I’d take either of the corner rooms. Better still, book all three with friends and enjoy the veranda exclusively.
Cost: From R400 per person sharing B&B.
Distance from Addo Park: 10 minutes.
Best for a large group
4. Aloe Tented Camp
This remote, rustic camp is within a mountainous game reserve that shares a five-kilometre border with Addo Park. It’s the perfect exclusive use bush escape for a couple of families or large group of good friends who love a camp atmosphere but prefer not to have to pitch tents or worry about the weather. There is an enormous kitchen-dining-bar lapa and indoor braai area with lots of seating to congregate in, or around the convivial firepit with lovely bush and mountain views – this is really the heart of the camp, under the stars. A short stroll from here is a pretty swimming pool with another braai and more tables. Sleeping arrangements are intimate: three large dorm-style tents with single beds sleeping a total of 20, and a small thatched chalet sleeping five in a bunk, single and double bed. All have wooden decks, the ablutions are in good nick and the outdoor shower is a treat. Bedding and towels are supplied; limited solar power (don’t take a hair dryer) and – hurrah! – no cell-phone reception. Firewood is available for purchase.
Room tip: The stone and thatch chalet has the only double bed.
Cost: R250 per person, ages six to 13 R125, under 5s free; R1500 minimum charge for the camp.
Distance from Addo Park: One hour.
Best value romantic break away
5. Umlambo River Cottages
TripAdvisor No. 1 of 2 Speciality Lodgings
Angela Taylor built her four self-catering cottages on the fifth-generation Davis farm with privacy and exclusivity in mind, locating each on a slight rise above the banks of the Sundays River, and planting wide, lush flowerbeds on either side of groomed lawns. This means each cottage effectively has its own private garden, and you enjoy an unobstructed view of the reed-fringed river from your private veranda. Each cottage also has its own kayak and floating jetty-deck, three of which are furnished. The cottages comprise a large room with a king-size bed and armchairs centred on the large picture windows, plus a separate bathroom, kitchenette and braai area. Given all this, the other word that leaps to mind is bargain – you’re getting so much for such an agreeable price, you’ll want to pinch yourself.
Room tip: I’d pick Pygmy or Malachite for their privacy and decks. Brownhooded and Pied make a great family unit when booked together (twin beds available).
Cost: From R300 per person sharing self-catering (R100 extra B&B).
Distance from Addo Park: 30 minutes.
Best for garden lovers & foodies
6. Woodall Country House
TripAdvisor No. 1 of 12 Speciality Lodgings
There are countless beautiful gardens in the Sundays River Valley but Woodall totally takes the prize. Owner Debbie Miller is a qualified horticulturist but has put together textures and colours at her guest house like a consummate artist. Equally delightful is the elevated, thatched lounge-deck overlooking a lake – I spotted 11 bird species in a single glance! – where the complimentary sundowner canapés are served. This is also where guests dine: according to reviews, a truly stellar haute cuisine experience (R425 pp), and her husband James’ wine collection has earned multiple Diners Club Platinum and Diamond awards over the past decade. The spa similarly enjoys a solid reputation, as does in-house game ranger Ruan de Jager. The 11 rooms, each with their own entrance and patio, are all large and luxurious. In winter Woodall represents excellent value.
Room tip: I much preferred the Luxury Rooms (which are spacious, well-proportioned) to the Suites (which are cavernous, and cost R400 to R650 more). Room 5 has the most private patio.
Cost: From R945 per person sharing including breakfast.
Distance from Addo Park: 10 minutes; half-day guided game drives cost R1000 per person.
Best for families
7. Avoca River Cabins
TripAdvisor No. 2 of 12 Speciality Lodgings
Dave and Judy Smith are super-industrious farmers who have built a veritable village of self-catering cottages and cabins on the edge of the Sundays River and terraced into the ridge above, most featuring marvellous views of the lushly treed riverbanks and fertile orchards that lie beyond. It’s a big operation – if every bed is taken, Avoca can sleep 82 – and understandably popular. Some of the kitchens are looking tired (although they are being redone), but the cabins and cottages are clean and comfortable, and the price is unbeatable. Aside from the wonderful location and views, facilities are good: a jetty with kayaks, two swimming pools, kiddies play area and a dining room serving breakfast (and dinner on request) if you don’t feel like self-catering all the time. And if you’re on a tight budget, the two rondavels with hot shower and toilet (but no self-catering or braai) are a great option.
Room tip: Families should book one of the four freestanding Riverside Chalets, each with their own mini lapa – a large firepit surrounded by seating. The best option for couples is the privately located Gymnogene chalet. Bushcamp, with two log cabins, is a good rustic option for a group of six to eight people.
Cost: Riverside Chalets cost R700 (five-sleeper) and R850 (six-sleeper). Gymnogene R700 for two. Bushcamp R750 per cabin (sleep four each). Mud Huts R350 (sleep two each).
Distance from Addo Park: 20 minutes.
Best all-around destination
8. Camp Figtree
TripAdvisor No. 3 of 12 Speciality Lodgings
Creeping up the winding forested pass into the Zuurberg mountains was exhilarating enough; once peaked, I never wanted to leave. Deciding how to crown it was the next challenging task. Most fabulous view? Best for romance? Most peaceful? Best-value luxury? In a room cantilevered high above the forested valley, I watched the early morning mists drift below before rising suddenly, cocooning the camp in clouds; 30 minutes later it had all but burnt away, revealing an enormity of blue in which an eagle soared. Utter bliss. Created by Marijke and Clyde Niven (see Halstead Farm, page 39), this has their trademark class-act decor style, with a central veranda that is too inviting – furnished with antiques, horns, books, Persian rugs and comfortable armchairs. The new owners, since 2016, have installed solar power throughout and added three en-suite luxury tents.
Room tip: The two boardwalk suites offer the same gobsmacking views as the luxury suites for slightly less. The three-room suite with its own pool is a great family choice (sleeps six, children below 12 are half price).
Cost: From R1250 per person sharing B&B (tents R1000 pp more). Dinner R300 per person.
Distance from Addo Park: 20 minutes; a half-day guided trip in an open-sided vehicle is R1050 per person.
Worth A Look
9. Happy Lands
I wish there was more space to feature this B&B visually. Nita Tayler-Smith is the epitome of hospitality, each with its own patio and entrance from the pretty garden. An absolute bargain.
Cost: From R350 to R450 per person (breakfast included) for well-equipped cottages.
10. Addo Dung Beetle
My favourite at this popular guest farm were the three rustic Bush Cabins. Here, you can pretend you’re in the middle of nowhere, or join the lodge guests for meals and cool off in the pool.
Cost: R350 per person sharing.
A farmhouse in Kirkwood amid gorgeous gardens, and a serious contender for best B&B. Of the five en-suite rooms, Lily Cottage, set slightly apart, is the most private and worth paying a little extra.
Cost: From R600 per person sharing B&B.
12. Rosedale B&B
Low-key, ethical, authentic organic farm with pleasant staff and a very restful atmosphere. The two new rooms (7 or 8) cost the same but are larger and better furnished.
From: R460 per person sharing.
13. Chrislin African Lodge
Another sprawling property in Addo with a variety of mostly thatched adobe-style cottages dotted throughout the garden.
Cost: From R610 per person sharing B&B.
Gorgeous views from attractive thatched chalets with decks, this eco-reserve guest house has loads of facilities (including two pools and a wine cellar) and is very professionally run, but is relatively pricey given what else is available around here.
Cost: From R1246 per person sharing B&B.
Three things to do close to Addo
1. A cruise on the Sundays River, which departs from Colchester, spotting birds and small wildlife, even otters and leguaans. Sandboarding or sledding down some of the highest dunes in SA is often included. Choose from a double-decker ferry or a houseboat. addocruises.co.za, sundaysriveradventures.com
2. The fastest, highest and longest double zipline in Africa at Adrenalin Addo. 0789111619
3. Local produce and R30 breakfasts at the Addo Market on the first Saturday of the month. Plus Karoo Craft Meat for biltong and braai supplies. 0846563006
This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
From our ultimate guide to Addo, free things to do in your city, a photographic getaway to South Luangwa and getting the best of Nepal; our May issue is guaranteed to inspire.