Winter getaways: a crackling fireplace, good red wine, and a cosy cabin. Doesn’t that sound perfect? Yes. That’s because it is. These cottages and cabins all over South Africa have been tried and tested by Getaway journos, and should have you on your way to the perfect winter holiday.
1. Buffalo Valley Bush Lodges, Sedgefield
Goukamma Nature Reserve near Sedgefield may measure only 2500 hectares, but it has some of the most stunning coastal scenery in the country. All three self-catering bush lodges are similar in design, made from pine, and feel light and airy inside despite not being very large. Lots of windows let in the light, and each has a deck overlooking a scenic section of the reserve. They all have an open-plan kitchen and living room, hot showers and two bedrooms. Forest Lodge sleeps four and is encased in a grove of milkwoods that grow up through the deck and drape over the roof; staying here, you’re truly hemmed in by nature. The five-sleeper Vlei Lodge sits on the edge of a picturesque pond, so it’s the best choice for birders. River Lodge (which sleeps six) is perched high on a dune overlooking the river. It may have a smaller deck than the other two, but definitely has the best views.
Rates: Self-catering from R975 for a four-sleeper cabin off-peak; from R1550 in peak season.
Contact: Tel 0214830190, capenature.co.za
2. Mtentu Lodge, Transkei
A 40-kilometre dirt road takes you to the river mouth from the R61, south of Port Edward – its location is one of the reasons we featured Mtentu Lodge in our 12 remote camps and cottages around South Africa. Sedans will make it to within two kilometres, but to get to the front door you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle or a pre-arranged pick-up. The lodge’s six thatched wooden cabins, each with a bunk bed and two singles, are perfect for families with kids. Driftwood towel hooks typify its simple aesthetic and commitment to using the natural resources available (responsibly, of course). Raised wooden boardwalks cross shallow rocky ravines between the furthest units and a central bar, kitchen, lounge and broad, sandy braai boma. Shared flushing loos and gas showers provide some of the comforts of home, while a solar-powered shower enjoys a view right down to the rolling swell of the sea. There is also a small fleet of river-worthy vessels at your disposal.
Rates: Rates start from R700 a cabin a night (sleeps four). Catering is an additional R280 per adult, kids aged 8 to 12 are R120 and kids under 8 are free. Keep an eye on their website for special offers which run throughout the year. Self-catering is no longer available. Payments via cash or EFT only.
Contact: Tel 0838053356, mtentulodge.co.za
3. Saamrus, Magaliesburg
The website does Saamrus no justice ‒ this 500-hectare farm offers by far the most private and romantic collection of self-catering cottages in the area, and the best views. Owners Chris and Annatjie Geldenhuys have designed and furnished them with great flair in a budget farm-house style; each has its own fenced garden (hurrah, another pet-friendly establishment!) with firepit and braai. Except for the rondavels, each cottage is 50 metres or more apart. The only drawback is the 4×4 required to reach hillside cottages, or you’ll have to brave it on foot: it’s a 200- to 400-metre trudge uphill, but two strong men are always on duty to help carry for a tip ‒ the staff is wonderful here. But it’s so worth booking one of the hillside cottages! Piet-my-vrou is the closest to base, and very romantic; Karee is the furthest and most private.
Rates: From R430 to R750 per person for the first two persons sharing per night. Extra guest/child sleeping in the lounge is R230 per night. R800 to R1200 per cottage on weekends for singles or two sharing.
4. Kurisa Moya, Magoebaskloof
Kurisa Moya featured in our best accommodation in the Magoebaskloof article: its location, ancient afromontane forest, prolific birdlife and authentic eco-credentials are very special. The cabins and cottages are remote – sans reception or electricity – and are perfect to soak up the serenity. Visitors can go for long rambles (with or without the award-winning resident birder David) or go fishing or cycling. The kitchens are well equipped, but for real luxury, order at least one delicious home-cooked meal (prepared by resident chef Grace), which is delivered hot to your table.
An ideal stay would include two nights at one of the two A-frame forest lodge cabins before moving up to Thora Boloka, a rustic stone cottage. Probably my top choice in the area, it’s perched atop a mountain with jaw-dropping views over Kudu’s River valley.
Rates: Forest lodge cabins (sleep two to four) and Thora Boloka (sleeps six) both from R750 per person R375 per child.
5. The Edge Mountain Retreat, Hogsback
The Edge Mountain Retreat delivers on its name with self-catering chalets perched on the precipice of the Hogsback plateau with breathtaking views of the valley below. Some chalets only have garden views so specify the cliff-facing ones when you book – Thunderstone ronadavel definitely takes the cake for privacy and panoramas. If you’re not up to cooking, the restaurant has great variety and is very good value for money.
Rates: From R950 for the best-view units (sleep two).
6. Highlands Mountain Retreat, Golden Gate National Park, Free State
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 pp.
Rates: From R1390 per two-sleeper unit and R2300 per four-sleeper family unit.
7. Bordeaux River Cottages, Bonnievale
The Breede River travels about 300 kilometres on its journey from the Hex River Mountains to the Indian Ocean, through Worcester, Robertson, Swellendam and past Bordeaux River Cottages in Bonnievale. While the river may not lap right up against the log cabins, it is close enough for you to hear it in the still of the night. Each of the three cabins is similar, with a simple set-up that sleeps six people. There are plenty of wine and cheese farms in the area, so stock up on both and have a cheese and wine evening around the fire.
Rates: R275 a person a night for two people; R65 a person thereafter.
8. Harkerville Treetop Chalet, Knysna
Built on a platform overlooking the forest, this is a fully equipped, self-catering log cabin that sleeps four. A spacious deck and braai complements a romantic outdoor Jacuzzi and the private location deep in the SANParks reserve makes for a wonderful escape into nature. Stay here if you want the freedom to wander the paths whenever it suits you.
Rates: From R713 a person a night for two people; R380 a person and R190 a child thereafter.
9. Bakkrans Nature Reserve, Cederberg
Looking for something rustic and remote, but also comfortable and well-equipped? You’ll struggle to do better than the stone cottages at Bakkrans Nature Reserve in the northeasterly ranges of the Cederberg (it also made the cut for our 12 remote camps and cottages around South Africa). Low, untrimmed thatch roofs with untreated poplar frames, doorways that you may have to stoop a little to get through, bare concrete floors, and specially sought-out, unrestored furniture give an authentic feel of what the dwelling of an early inhabitant would have been like. The only exception are the turquoise swimming towels, bright white linen and comfortable cots. Four cottages sleep eight in total, with two others designated as kitchen (with a fridge, hot water basin and store brimming with pots, pans and cutlery) and cooking/dining area (with two huge stone fireplaces, gas hobs and a long dining table). No matter how many people you are, your group will have exclusive use of the reserve, so you won’t have to share facilities. There’s no cellphone reception or electricity, but you won’t mind about that when you see the views.
Rates: From R875 for the cottage that accommodates two people for a night (minimum two-night stay).
Contact: Tel 0832611934, redcederberg.co.za
10. Makakatana Bay Lodge, St Lucia
There’s only one privately owned lodge on the banks of Lake St Lucia, and there isn’t ever likely to be another – one of the reasons this is one of our six luxury lodges that are the experience of a lifetime. There are just six luxury wooden cabins, each with large sliding doors opening onto verandas concealed by indigenous dune forest. Three suites (including the honeymoon unit) have views through bush thickets onto the lake, while the others look into the forest – room one has been known as the leopard room ever since a guest woke up to find a leopard gazing in, just metres from her porch.
Rates: From R3950 per person sharing for a three night stay, including all meals and a wetland game drive per day.
Contact: Tel 0355504189, makakatana.co.za
11. Kameeldoorn Tree House, Mokala National Park
There is only one treehouse in all of South Africa’s diverse national parks. In the middle of Mokala, off the beaten track and far from the two main camps, lies a small wooden cabin with a double bed and tiny bathroom, perched halfway up a copse of camelthorn trees. Don’t get a fright if a giraffe pokes its nose into the window while you’re snoozing. It’s basic and modestly equipped, but at sunset a waterhole in front of the treehouse lures thirsty gemsbok, buffalo, kudu and the occasional rhino. At night, it’s just you, your partner, the stars, the flicker of flames and the howl of hyenas.
Rates: Self-catering from R550 per person sharing a night.
Contact: Tel 0532040158, sanparks.org
12. Elephant Leisure Resort, Citrusdal
Elephant Leisure Resort, a picturesque mountain sanctuary set behind a citrus orchard, provides a self-catering holiday fit for families that enjoy canoeing, hikes and braaiing. There are 10 cottages set apart from each other, but units one to four are the most private, set higher up in the hills. Ask for unit four as it’s the only one renovated, but all feature luxury extras such as a coffee grinder with beans and a private steam bath.
Rates: From R1150 per unit (sleeps four).