Ever wanted to get so far away that nobody can find you? We scoured the country for 16 gorgeous mountain cabins that guarantee ultimate solitude, serenity and sublime beauty. Plus, they’re all near great hiking trails too.
1. Stone Mountain Lodge
Kleinrivier Wilderness, Eastern Cape
GPS S33° 34.837’ E25° 15.288’
It’s not quiet in these mountains, not like you’d imagine mountains to be. Here, high-altitude plateaus rumble softly with hooves. Wildebeest, waterbuck and hartebeest graze in the cycad-studded valleys and at the end of a stone track that zigzags its way ever-upwards is Stone Mountain Lodge, miles – quite literally – from anywhere. It runs on solar, gas and fire and you can only get here with a 4×4 transfer or via five-hour hike.
The lodge is built into a rock face using natural stone and incorporates elements of the cliff-face beautifully (the shower, for example, is nested at the base of a cycad sprouting vegetation). There’s a deck with a small pool and braai area, and a large indoor fireplace. It’s the kind of place where you don’t just take off your boots – you kick ‘em off, pour a drink and watch the shadows creep up the mountainside until the sun dips below the peaks.
The hike to the cabin starts at the Kleinrivier reception and ascends quickly before undulating between valleys and ridges. Good fitness is required (though the lodge can transport your gear). There’s also a shorter walk, the Winterhoek Trail, which starts at the cabin and makes a loop around a nearby peak.
Kleinrivier Wilderness is 75 kilometres from Port Elizabeth along the R75 and then Cockscomb Road (gravel). The reception and camping ground are accessible by sedan but Stone Mountain Lodge is only accessible by hike or a 1,5-hour 4×4 track. It costs R2000 per night (sleeps seven) with a R500 service fee.
Contact: Tel 0413661811, kleinrivier.co.za
2. Wolwekrans Eco Lodge
GPS S25° 23.826’ E30° 34.145’
Situated on 120 hectares of bushveld on the dramatic Schoemanskloof escarpment, the two private self-catering cabins are perched high up for optimal isolation and views. The spacious two-bedroom accommodation is simple yet stylish, with crisp white linen and natural stone walls complementing the chalet’s off-the-grid profile. The landscape includes forest, with clear water springs for swimming, and sprawling acacia plains. Only high-clearance cars are recommended for the bumpy mountain road (or arrange a transfer) – pets are welcome too.
There are three main hiking trails: a one-kilometre family walk to a forest spring; a two-kilometre climb to the top of the mountain; and an easy two-kilometre hike to clear mountain pools.
It’s about three hours (310 kilometres) from Pretoria on the N4 and R539 to Mbombela. The lodge is from R2800 for two nights. It sleeps four in two bedrooms and you can pop two kids in the lounge.
Contact: Tel 0790370651, wolwekrans.com
3. Teniqua Treetops
￼Sedgefield, Western Cape
GPS S33° 56.817’ E22° 51.300’
It’s early morning at the foot of the Outeniquas and the air is filled with birdsong, distant donkey heehaws and a rooster’s crowing. You’ll quite likely see rain spiders taking shelter on your canvas walls – the eco-conscious couple who created these eight solar-powered tented ‘treehouses’ don’t fumigate, so creepy-crawlies are part of the package. Spread over 35 hectares in the Garden Route National Park, these simple cabins have kitchens, braais, electric blankets and heaters.
Hiking trails through the forest lead down to the pristine Karatara River. Alternatively, use this as a base to sample the Garden Route’s many hiking routes. Colin Wylie of Garden Route Walks offers a variety of guided day hikes, from R380 pp (minimum four people and excluding park fees).
It’s about 30 minutes (35 kilometres) from Knysna on the N2. From R1060 for two in a honeymoon treehouse, R1320 for the one-bedroom family treehouse (sleeps two adults and three children) or R1610 for the two-bedroom treehouse (sleeps four adults and one child).
Contact: Tel 0443562868, teniquatreetops.co.za
4. Ingwe Cabin
Northern Drakensburg, KwaZulu-Natal
GPS S28° 34.838’ E29° 0.304’
There’s no one around as I lie, swaying on the hammock and looking up at the pine trees. From an early age, George (the owner) used to camp here with friends and family, in the shadow of an immense boulder. Many years later, he built a log cabin on the exact spot so his family could follow in the tradition. It’s now an unpretentious hideaway – the kind of place where you play board games around the fire in the lounge. The front porch has an uninterrupted view of the mountain face, where Cape vultures roost and spiral on thermals. Just a short walk away is a trout dam for catch-and-release fly fishing and sundowners. Surprisingly, there’s also a small golf green so you can practise your swing, and at your back a vast valley bordered by the distant Amphitheatre.
There are numerous hikes of varying lengths, from a 20-minute circuit that takes you passed tree ferns, waterfalls and rock art, to a full-day hike to the Cape vultures.
Ingwe Cabin is about four hours (320 kilometres) from Johannesburg on the N3 via Harrismith and then the R74. It’s accessible by 4×4 only. From R350 pp sharing for up to four people or a flat rate of R1500 for the cabin for more than four (sleeps six). Minimum two-night stay.
Contact: Tel 0824066271, ingwecabin.co.za
GPS S28° 33.246’ E29° 09.021’
Just getting here is amazing: ascending the Oliviershoek and Retief passes, you snake through valleys until you crest the escarpment to one of the best views in the Northern Drakensberg. Only four cottages share the 1500-hectare property, so seclusion is guaranteed. The cottages are equipped for comfort, right down to the welcoming fire. They’re romantic too: the open-plan design with central fireplace could see you naked for the whole weekend, moving from Jacuzzi-bath to bed, kitchen to fireside.
There are no marked hiking trails but plenty of jeep tracks you can explore. It’s about three hours (310 kilometres) from Johannesburg on the N3 via Harrismith and then the R74. No 4×4 is needed. From R420 pp (each cottage sleeps two).
Contact: Tel 0827790723, 0828210910, wheretostay.co.za
Also read: Your top 12 off-the-grid destinations
6. Thora Boloka
GPS S23° 48.338’ E29° 56.192’
High on a hilltop overlooking the Kudu’s River Valley, Thora Boloka (roughly translated as ‘dream house’ in Sepedi) is a private mountain retreat, sleeping up to six. Part of Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, it’s off the grid and isolated. Built of local stone, wood and clay, it seems to rise from the earth on which it stands. The spacious design and wrap-around windows mean it’s airy and cool in summer, while the central fireplace creates a cosy space in winter. There are views from every window, the patio and even from the outdoor shower, which looks out towards the Soutpansberg mountains, while gas appliances ensure there is no compromise on comfort.
There’s a four-hour, moderately difficult Koppie With a View trail that starts at Thora Boloka and links into the other trails at Kurisa Moya. Guided walks or outings can be arranged with South Africa’s top local bird guide, David Letsoalo. Cost varies, depending on the number of people in the group.
Kurisa Moya is less than an hour (55 kilometres) from Polokwane on the R71. Thora Boloka is from R750 pp sharing. Getaway readers pay a winter discount of R650 pp sharing (subject to availability and not valid over long weekends). When booking, simply mention you saw the offer in Getaway.
Contact: Tel 0716586980, 0822004596, krm.co.za
7. Cliffhanger Cottages
Knysna, Western Cape
GPS S33° 59.266’ E22° 58.988’
There are places in which you can imagine yourself spending a few days and there are places you could see yourself living in. Cliffhanger Cottage, overlooking an indigenous forested valley just outside Knysna, is the latter. Marvellous wood finishings and a range of mod cons (including a ceramic firepot) give the inside of this raised cabin a cosy glow. There’s a large, covered deck with a wide sofa, Weber and chairs and everything, inside and out, is designed around the view. Windows in the lounge, bathroom and bedroom all look out over the green valley and onto the ridge of the Outeniqua Mountains beyond. It’s only 15km outside of Knysna, but it feels a world away.
The Goudveld State Forest, a magical enclave of ferns, forest and streams, is just a 10-minute drive away and offers the easy hour-long Jubilee Creek Walk as well as the two-hour Millwood Mining Walk, which takes you past abandoned gold-mining tunnels and shafts. Entry is R20 for adults and R10 for children.
The cottages are 15 minutes (15 kilometres) outside Knysna along the N2 and then Rheenendal Road. From R1180 for two.
Contact: Tel 0443884696, cliffhangercottages.co.za
8. Goatherds House
Matroosberg, Western Cape
GPS S33° 20.528’ E19° 37.174’
Matroosberg bills itself as the ‘Peak of Adventure’, and with activities from 4×4 trails to abseiling, it’s hard to argue. The reserve is also one of the best places in South Africa to see snow – the Ski Club of SA operates a ski lift for its members, servicing two slopes near the summit. A kilometre below, at 1195 metres, the thick stone walls of the 130-year-old Goatherds House don’t see as much snow as the slopes, but it does fall. The cottage is basic, but neat, with indoor and outdoor braais and a gas fridge, geyser and double hob. Well-behaved dogs are welcome by prior arrangement.
Trails start at the cottage and you’ll get a map at check-in. There’s a one-hour walk to beautiful rock pools, or a more gruelling hike to the 2 249-metre summit (about five hours one way).
Matroosberg is just over two hours (185 kilometres) from Cape Town via the N1 and R43. There’s a double bed in the only bedroom, with more beds in the living area. R1950 per weekend (sleeps six).
Contact: Tel 0233122282, matroosberg.com
9. Eagle Chalet
Cederberg, Western Cape
GPS S32° 22.560’ E19° 24.664’
What a pleasure, after a final hour and a half of rough track, to arrive at such a sweet spot. A wide stoep leads to a fully-kitted kitchen and two comfy bedrooms cap either end, and there’s a gas fridge and hot shower. Hikers can follow the track along the valley and up the surrounding ridges for views over the Tankwa Karoo.
It’s three hours (240 kilometres) from Cape Town to Mount Ceder to collect the keys, then another two hours (45 kilometres) to the chalet. The final 25 kilometres is rough – a 4×4 is recommended. R975 per night (sleeps four). Bedding is an extra R35 per person.
Contact: Tel 0215312956, cederbergchalets.co.za
10. Highlands Mountain Retreat
Golden Gate National Park, Free State
GPS S28° 29.296’ E28° 38.483’
Golden Gate is dedicated to preserving South Africa’s grassland biome (there are over 50 species of grass in the park) and Highlands Mountain Retreat is perched right at the top, 2200 metres above sea level. Comprising just eight units – four family units sleeping four each and four units sleeping two each – these log cabins are tucked into the hills, providing seclusion and unbelievable vistas. All have a fireplace, oil heaters, electric blankets and, during my stay, zebra trotted up the hillside at dusk.
There are seven day hikes in the park ranging from 45 minutes to four hours. Most depart from Glen Reenen Rest Camp and there is one that starts behind the Golden Gate Hotel. All wind around or up the orange sandstone cliffs, dip into forested ravines and windswept grasslands. You can also do an overnight hike along the Ribbok Trail and a guided hike to Cathedral Cave. Hiking permit R40 per person.
Golden Gate National Park is about 3,5 hours (320 kilometres) from Johannesburg via the N3 to Harrismith, the N5, R74 and then the R712. From R1390 per two-sleeper unit and R2300 per four-sleeper family unit.
Contact: Tel 0582550962, sanparks.co.za
11. The Cederberg House
Cederberg, Western Cape
GPS S32° 28.436’ E19° 18.644’
Tucked in a narrow valley with a trickling stream nearby, The Cederberg House is the perfect spot for a large gathering. Two main bedrooms provide the more private sleeping quarters, with five double bunks in another large room. There’s no mains electricity and limited solar lighting, so bring your torches. Gas powers the stove, oven, fridges and geyser. Well-behaved dogs are welcome.
You can hike along the path that runs along the stream into the gorge, but for a longer hike, the 4×4 track to Wupperthal runs past the property and twists northwards through a vast wilderness.
It’s three and a half hours (260 kilometres) from Cape Town via the N7 and Algeria. The last 60 kilometres is dirt, but a 4×4 is not required. R750 per night for two, R200 per person thereafter (sleeps 15). Bring your own bedding, including pillows.
Contact: Tel 0844776420, cederberghouse.co.za
12. Panorama Cabin at Protea Farm
Montagu, Western Cape
GPS S33° 42.468’ E19° 53.338’
At an altitude of 1100 metres on the slopes of the Langeberg Mountains, the aptly named Panorama Cottage was hand-built in local mountain stone by the father of current farmer-owner, Pierre Burger. It’s elevated above what is still a working fruit farm, and has a functional old-fashioned atmosphere, with dormitory-style sleeping arrangements that are ideal for an intimate getaway for two families or a group of good friends.
The cosy kitchen and lounge are warmed by a corner fireplace. There are two single beds in the living area, a double bed and three single beds in the downstairs bedroom, a double bed and single bed behind a divider, and a triple bunk bed in the passage. It’s the kind of place where you drink mulled wine while gazing at the breathtaking views of the Koo and Keisie valleys.
There are plenty of jeep tracks to explore on this 700-hectare farm. There is a path that leads directly from Panorama 200 metres up to ‘where you can see forever’, says Pierre – certainly as far as the Robertson-Bree River valley.
It’s about three hours (207 kilometres) from Cape Town along the N1 and then the R318. From R1050 for five to R1930 for 13. Minimum two-night stay over weekends. Bedding is provided for one double bed only; extra bedding R90 pp.
Contact: Tel 0236143012, proteafarm.co.za
13. The Edge Mountain Retreat
Hogsback, Eastern Cape
GPS S32° 36.100’ E26° 55.050’
Checking in, you might think you’ve arrived at an ordinary country hotel, but then you’re escorted to your stone-and-thatch cottage poised on the lip of the escarpment, and are left with nothing but ‘oh-my-gaaaawd’ views. There are two cliff-edge options I adore: ‘Heaven’s Above’, an open-plan cottage with amazing views – even from the bath tub – and ‘Over-the-edge’, furnished with vintage pieces.
Use this as a reward after tackling the Amatola Hiking Trail, a six-day hike through the Amathole Mountains, starting at Maden Dam near King Williams Town and ending near Hogsback. It’s possible to shorten the hike to three or two days. From R193 pppd, plus R110 admin fee.
It’s about three hours from Port Elizabeth (about 265 kilometres) via the N2 and R67. From R950 per unit per night (sleeps two).
Contact: Tel 0459621159, theedge-hogsback.co.za
Also read: What to do and where to stay in Hogsback
14. Omega Luxury Mountain Retreat
Clarens, Free State
GPS S28° 38.363’ E28° 22.362’
There aren’t many places where you can sit in a Jacuzzi and overlook another country. Just 18kilometres outside Clarens, four gorgeous cabins perch in mountain pasture, with views of Lesotho. Simple log exteriors hide impressive, quirky interiors, each styled to a different colour. I slept in the yellow cabin and walked in to scented candles burning, freshly picked cosmos, Champagne on ice and a hot Jacuzzi tub.
A heater, furnace-style fireplace, full DStv bouquet and king-size beds with electric blankets typify all these self-catering units. There are various hiking trails, which begin right at the door – anything from a 30-minute walk to a six-kilometre hike to an overhang on the Lesotho border. Nothing is signposted yet, but owners Jonathan and Natalie van der Westhuizen are happy to offer advice. Nearby you can also climb Mushroom Rock at St Fort for R30 per person.
Also read: Hiking in Clarens at St Fort Country House
Omega is about three hours (318 kilometres) from Johannesburg via the N3 to Villiers, the R103, R26 and N5 before turning right on the R712 to Clarens and then the R711 towards Fouriesburg. From R495 pp and can sleep four (there’s a sleeper couch), but keep in mind it is open plan.
Contact: Tel 0828248825, omegaclarens.co.za
15. Semonkong Lodge
GPS S29° 50.588’ E28° 2.607’
Bang in the centre of Lesotho, the rugged grasslands here could be the moors of the Scottish Highlands – except they are dotted with rondavels and criss-crossed by trails traversed by Basothos on horses. You meet these mountain people as you hike towards the 192-metre Maletsunyane Falls, one of the longest single-drop waterfalls in Africa. The lodge offers cosy cottages and rooms, good meals, and staff will arrange a host of activities, including overnight pony treks. Day treks (by pony or on foot) are from R300 per person, overnight trails from R450 per person per day plus R100 per night in village accommodation.
It’s three hours (110 kilometres) from Maseru along the Main South Road. From R860 for two.
Contact: Tel +26627006037, placeofsmoke.co.ls
16. Kol Kol Mountain Lodge
Bot River, Western Cape
GPS S34° 10.472’ E19° 13.003’
It’s a marvellous disappearing act getting here – beyond Elgin, down the Houwhoek Pass, onto a gravel road, and into the Groenland Mountains where you need high-profile tyres to reach your cabin. Each of the six cabins have floor-to-ceiling glass doors that can slide away. They’re a gorgeous mix of elegant rusticity – stone and wood offset by luxurious linens and comforts such as iPod-connectable music players and wood-fired hot tubs.
There’s a three-kilometre trail on the property, or you can use your stay here to top off the four-day Green Mountain Trail, a slack-packing hike in the Elgin Valley (from R8795 per person sharing). Kol Kol is about 90 minutes (96 kilometres) from Cape Town on the N2. From R1350 for two and from R2 050 for four.
Contact: Tel 0769136014, 0826545090, kolkol.co.za
Read the full story in the June 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our June issue is packed full of great winter holiday ideas. On shelves from 23 May.