As part of my job as Getaway‘s Photo Editor, I travel around South Africa and have photographed (and occasionally written about) a lot of locations. To put that into perspective, about 150 throughout the course of the year at a minimum. There are a few that have stuck in my mind as having something special; a quality that I would love to return to and share with friends and family.
Here are my top picks of places that I have seen in 2016: ones that you should put onto your 2017 destination bucket-list. They’re spread out all over the country, and they run the full range from luxurious special-occasion lodges to simple cottages in the middle of nowhere.
My thanks to our thorough investigator, Pippa de Bruyn, who never fails to discover gems in her monthly On the Chart searches. (Click on her name to browse through some of the towns we’ve recently visited and thoroughly evaluated.)
Also read last year’s collection: 30 wonderful South African places you need to see in 2016.
Closest to Gauteng
Gauteng, I’d like you so much more if you didn’t shock me with static every time I visit. That aside, you really do have some scenic mountain and bush breaks in your vicinity.
1. Pezulu Tree House and Game Lodge
How could you not love watching wildlife from your tree house? This particular unit, Dream Tree House, has a bed which can be wheeled out onto the deck so you can sleep underneath the stars. What.
2. Buhala Lodge
I didn’t hear any South African accents amongst the guests during my stay here, but if you can afford to spend some time at this lodge I absolutely recommend it. It’s beautiful and luxuriant, and that dinner set up on the deck would be the perfect romantic splurge. I quickly nabbed it for myself, once this photo had been taken.
3. Buffalo Brooke
Location: Mjejane Game Reserve
A deck overlooking the Crocodile River, a pool, and a fireplace to lounge around, and herds of elephant who saunter down to the river to drink. This place is a large, comfortable base with fantastic access to the Kruger.
4. Ashbourne Lodge
With beautiful views and cool breezes, this tasteful spot sits high on a hill, overlooking indigenous bush filled with birdsong. A peaceful retreat with wonderful hosts.
Also read: Getaway’s top-rated accommodation in White River and Hazyview
5. Wooly Bugger Farm
Named after a fly-fishing lure, this fantastic farm is so far away from any real civilisation, 7kms outside of Tonteldoos. Here, you can walk with your dogs, fly-fish or 4×4 to view sites looking over expansive landscapes.
It gets HOT in Hoedspruit. Really, really hot. I once asked Google what the temperature was. Google said 37°. This was at night. So perhaps that’s why I loved this unexpected spot so much: if you have to be in Hoedspruit, then it’s an air-conned, spacious heaven with a braai and a pool that will leave you thankful down to your sweaty boots.
7. umVangati House
THIS VIEW. This view actually made me a little sad that I wasn’t sharing it with anyone. This is one of the most scenic spots I have been to in South Africa. I would love to go back.
8. Bushriver Lodge
The food here was so good, in an uncomplicated, just-off-the-fire way, that I even considered asking for the recipes. Bushriver Lodge overlooks the Olifants River. It has units close to the lodge as well as cottages set further away, which you can make into your own space with a group of friends.
Closest to Durban
My old hood! Fair warning, I am biased towards any place that lets me visit KZN for a while. That aside, I have been to incredible spots this year that I have visited again, with family, in my own capacity. That’s proof enough, right? I didn’t get to do much coastal travel in Durban this year but did manage to spend extensive time up in the Drakensberg, and discovered a new-found appreciation for the immense vistas found there.
Also read: the changing tides of Durban
9. Sungubala Eco Camp
Location: Northern Drakensberg
There are more pre-set camping sites than you anticipate on this property, so privacy isn’t the focus. What is the draw-card though are the incredible views right from your doorstep. I stayed in a thatched self-catering cottage, but next time I’d actually like to go back and camp.
10. Greenfire Lodge
Location: Northern Drakensberg
Wow wow wow. Wow wow. I visited Greenfire with my mother (pictured) and the views really are special: especially at dawn and dusk. You wind your way up a 4×4 track to get the the base of a mountain range, where you can choose between hiking or relaxing your day away.
Also read: the 12 best escapes in the Northern Drakensberg
11. Tugela River Lodge
That’s my dog, Tao! I had the most wonderful opportunity to travel with my folks and two dogs to Tugela River Lodge. You’re encouraged to bring your whole family, including hounds, and make use of the riverside and the bush walks.
12. Ingwe Cabin
Location: Northern Drakensberg/Olivieshoek Pass
Ah, what a lovely place. This little wooden cabin is so quaint, filled with family memories created by uber-friendly owners, George and Suzette. A 4×4 track takes you through to your private mountainside, with gorgeous walks and wheeling vultures and trout dam and mini-golf course. You can take pets, too! 10/10 would recommend for those wanting a down-to-earth escape.
Also read: 16 mountain cabins for getting far, far away
13. Indigo Fields
Location: Nottingham Road
After hearing decadent stories of the spa, meals and comfort, I finally got the chance to visit this ultimate spoil-me spot. Warm fireplaces fight the winter Midlands cold as you survey your dinner feast. It’s a family-run affair and the attention to each guest makes for a special visit.
14. Utshwayelo Lodge
Location: Kosi River mouth
This is about as close as you can be to Mozambique without crossing the border. Added bonuses: it’s part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, you can do extensive 4×4 driving to hidden beaches and the snorkeling is fantastic. Pack your passport: if you have the time, a quick hop over the border takes you to Ponto do Ouro (manic during the festive season.)
15. Berghouse and Cottages
Location: Northern Drakensberg
Vaughn and Chantal have created a wonderful atmosphere high up on the hill with uninhibited views across to the Amphitheatre mountain range. My favourite unit is popular Phezulu, but each has its own drawcards. Mini-horses (falabellas) run around in paddocks charming your socks off with each little canter.
Location: Northern Drakensberg/Oliviershoek Pass
If you want romance, this is it. Views and privacy that know no limits. I can’t quite describe just how vast these views are: you’re going to have to see for yourself.
17. Virginia Farm
My aunt is an avid mountain biker, and she introduced me to this spot (out in the Dec 2016 issue). It’s set on a sugarcane farm on the side of a mountain and it’s beautiful. if you are a hiker, biker or birder, then I encourage you to visit (even if it’s just for the day.)
Closest to Cape Town
Cape Town is so spoilt with easy weekend access to the West Coast, the Cederberg and the Overberg. It’s like that glamorous older cousin who just has it all.
18. Strandloper Boutique Hotel
The best of everything important is at your disposal at the Strandloper: luxurious five-star accommodation, fynbos and wide, white beaches.
When visiting Paternoster, you wouldn’t necessarily think of staying anywhere but at the beach. This spot may change your mind: it certainly did for me. The wide outside swing bed was a huge hit.
20. Oystercatcher’s Haven
Okay, so this outside rooftop section is on my wish-list of romantic evenings. The rooftop has a fireplace, numerous candles and fairylights, and overlooks the ocean. It’s just divine. Down below, this pool holds one of my favourite memories: awaking to the sounds of splashing, I opened the curtain of my ground-floor room to see three otters having the time of their lives, happily running and diving in the moonlight. This went on for at least half an hour and is apparently a common occurrence.
Also read: 22 lovely spots in Paternoster for a summer break
21. The Old Kapteinskloof Guesthouse
Writer Helen Walne recommended this cottage for a feature we put together on women traveling solo. It’s set in an orange grove with a small pool, and the old farm cottage itself makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. The best part? Squeezing oranges in the morning for fresh juice.
22. Gifberg Holiday Farm
Location: Van Rhynsdorp
The ideal place to go for walks and explore rivers and pools in a craggy mountainous landscape. The accommodation is basic, but has everything you need.
23. Porcupine Hills
I hardly got the chance to explore this lovely farm, set in a private nature reserve. What I saw was enough to convince me that it should be on the cards for next year.
24: Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa
The conservancy-type dinner settings at this hotel really captured my imagination. The gardens are plentiful and sprawling, trees and flowers filling the courtyards and walkways between hotel units.
Also read: the best self-catering cottages in Franschhoek
25. Stanford Valley
What a lovely place to unwind. The restaurant is nearby and serves good food, the cottages are cosy and comfortable, and the walk up to the small dam is just the right amount of stroll with mountain views.
26. Elephant Hills
This large house is great for groups: it has direct access to the Klein River and a long verandah for you to swing your hammock on.
27. Bodhi Khaya
Baboons and horses line the road on the way to Bhodi Khaya, a sustainable yoga, art and spiritual retreat. Surrounded by fynbos and mountains, you’ll soon forget about society in favour of being in the present.
Also read: 12 lovely places to stay in Stanford
28. The Beach Shack at Koenrust
Okay, so this place is sort-of like a beach shack. It won’t win any design awards – it’s a functional space – but the location is breathtaking. You have to walk down a steep mountain to get to this spot, and your reward is an entire section of coastline all to yourself.
29. Thorn and Feather
Vermaaklikheid really surprised me. I didn’t expect this area to be so rich in natural beauty, from flora to fauna. Thorn and Feather is a bohemian retreat made for a group, an artsy, shabby-chic find overlooking the river below.
30. The Boathouse at Oshoek River Farm
Ramshackled and relaxed, this converted boat shed is incredible as a rustic hideaway for two, where you can wake up to views of the river and cook or read to candlelight.
Closest to Port Elizabeth
Eastern Cape, you have some truly wondrous landscapes. I particularly love the Baviaanskloof and Camdeboo area, both of which we will feature in 2017.
31. Coniston House
Rob, the owner, took me for an early-morning walk along the coastline of Kenton-on-Sea. That really solidified the beauty of this area in my mind, and their self-catering flats, overlooking thick bush, are good options to explore this town from.
32: Sibuya Game reserve
You drive to Sibuya by boat, up the Kariega estuary to arrive at either the Bush Camp or Forest Camp. Both are immersive stays, making the nearby town of Kenton-on-Sea feel hours away. The reserve itself is filled with rolling green hills and views, with the long, winding river making for great birding and sundowner cruises.
33. The Edge Mountain Retreat
Literally, on the edge. If you can bag these gorge-facing units, the steep drop-off is a few metres away. There is a walkway along the edge of the ravine with lookout points to stop at and take in the scene.
34. Hogrock Falls
Silver Birch Cottage couldn’t be more dreamlike: a small, double-story wooden cottage with a tiny upstairs loft, an outside stoep with a braai overlooking the thick forest and short walks to nearby waterfalls. Magic.
Also read: Getaway’s guide to chasing waterfalls in Hogsback
35. Just for Two
Such a cute cottage set in a wide valley fringed by tall mountains. The hike to the waterfall is one of the highlights of staying here: it’s one of my best hidden swimming locations in South Africa.