11 of our favourite places to stay in the Cradle of Humankind

Posted on 28 January 2019

This World Heritage Site offers wild encounters, outdoor fun, open spaces, lots of romance, and a real sense of perspective on our history. Here are the best boltholes to book.

How it works
TripAdvisor lists accommodations rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice – so how do we know ‘No. 1’ is really the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years for the likes of Frommer’s and The Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For Bainskloof, she created a long list of 24 spots to inspect. The following made the cut.

What we found about accommodation here

– Unbelievably close escapes from the city. Tranquillity and space in nature reserves and conservancies just 30 to 40 minutes from Gauteng’s dense urban centres.
– Privacy and peace of mind – places where you can be alone, knowing they lie behind manned and/or locked gates.
– Not an easy area to research online, as you’ll need to trawl using several different destination keywords: Cradle of Humankind, Muldersdrift, Lanseria, Hekpoort, even Krugersdorp and Magaliesburg/Magaliesberg.
– Throwing the net fairly wide, looking at properties that were 10 to 30 minutes’ drive from Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves, particularly to the east (but not Hekpoort, as this was covered in a previous Final Cut).
– The area is geared to servicing the wedding market, with a plethora of venues and large resort-style lodges also catering to corporate events. Focus rather on finding smaller, romantic spots in the bush or on rivers.
– The wedding market keeps the area busy on weekends, particularly in summer, so book accommodation well in advance. Weekdays are easier to book last minute, and most places drop their rates from Sunday to Thursday.

Best for braai lovers

1. Fish Eagle at Ibis River Retreat TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor No. 10 of 32 Speciality Lodgings, Magaliesburg

It’s a slow and very bumpy 20-minute drive on dirt to this dinky little riverside cottage deep in the heart of the Crocodile River Reserve, but well worth it. Fabulously romantic, the tiny A-frame stone and timber structure has a double bed in the loft reached via a steep ladder; downstairs, two wicker chairs sit in front of the fireplace and an open-plan kitchenette, and there is a small (shower only) bathroom. All cute, but the outdoor space is the real wow: aside from the covered porch with a table for two, there is a private terrace with a built-in braai right on the gushing river’s edge and a large outdoor spa bath. Affordable spa treatments (R400 per person for an hour’s full-body massage) can be pre-booked in the thatched lapa next to the swimming pool, and breakfast can be delivered to your cottage (from R120 per person). It’s popular, so best take the first weekend available.

Room Tip Fish Eagle is the most romantic choice, but two-bedroom Francolin is a great pick for families – also withh a fireplace, firepit and outdoor spa bath set among the trees. There are five cottages in total. No children under seven, except in Francolin (there is a lot of open water on the property).

Cost Two-sleeper cottages from R800 per person sharing. Francolin from R2,000 a night (sleeps four). There’s a small surcharge for single-night stays and public holidays.

Contact 0825730388, ibisriverretreat.co.za

Best luxury bush lodge

2. Cradle Boutique Hotel

No. 3 of 10 Speciality Lodgings, Lanseria

On an elevated site within the 7,000-hectare Cradle Nature Reserve in Kromdraai, rich in ongoing fossil finds and sweeping views across the bush to the distant Magaliesberg, the Cradle is my top lodge pick. It’s exclusive – just 16 thatched, timber bungalows and a honeymoon suite; stylish, with uncluttered, contemporary Afro-chic decor, big comfortable beds, quality linen, and equipped with private decks and all the mod cons; air con, minibar, TV, tea/coffee-making facilities, and free Wi-Fi. The natural pool – deep, chemical-free and crystal clear, filtered by lilies – is a great feature. The double-volume restaurant, with glass windows and doors that slide back to provide seamless flow to the outdoor deck, serves good grub along with 180-degree bush views. On offer (at an extra fee) are daily game drives and nature walks with guides, as well as an exclusive tour to two fossil digs, including Malapa Cave where Prof Lee Berger found Australopithecus sediba in 2008. Great service, good value; book now.

Room Tip The original, cheaper luxury category of rooms on ground level actually enjoy the better front-row location. Executive rooms on the second level are bigger – enough to take extra beds.

Cost From R1,420 per person sharing B&B. 

Contact 0873539599, cradlehotel.co.za

Best glamping

3. Sibani Lodge Tented Camp

No. 1 of 2 Speciality Lodgings, Cradle of Humankind

Sibani Lodge is one of only two operators within the 2,000-hectare Mt Savannah Game Reserve, aptly named for its rolling grasslands supporting giraffe, kudu, red hartebeest, impala, sable, and zebra. Main Lodge (comprising two deluxe rooms and a suite) and the two neighbouring Royal Cottages are well established, but the new Tented Camp venture had me most excited. Comprising four luxury tents, this is real-deal glamping à la East African safari – large enough to walk around in, furnished with a king-size bed, solar lanterns and couch, and with an en-suite plumbed shower, basin and loo. It’s a secluded location, and the tents share the large thatched ‘boma’: a romantic, candlelit open-plan lounge-dining area with a great fireplace, busy waterhole and views of the savannah. Wonderful to be in such a benign reserve – it’s tame enough to wander about and stargaze, and wild enough to hear the yipping of jackals at night.

Room Tip The two larger tents overlook the waterhole. The camp can be booked by one group, which then includes a bedroom in the boma to accommodate five couples.

Cost Tents from R1,200 per person sharing.
Rooms in Main Lodge from R1,300 per person sharing. Rates are full-board and include a game drive.

Contact 0870574520, sibanilodge.co.za

Best cottages

4. Random Harvest Country Cottages

TripAdvisor No. 3 of 19 B&Bs/Inns, Muldersdrift

Eight cute cottages, each sleeping two, are dotted around the lush, groomed gardens of this 21-hectare farm and indigenous plant nursery. Each cottage is different but most are open-plan, with white steel-frame cottage-pane windows and French doors that open onto verdant gardens filled with birdsong. Six are set up for self-catering; the other two have a microwave, small fridge, and tea/coffee-making facilities (these work well for one-nighters or additional friends or family of guests in the adjoining self-catering cottages). Well-managed by warm David Valoyi, the cottages come with generous special touches: complimentary charcoal (fires are even prepared on request) and daily top-ups of rusks, filter coffee and fresh farm milk, cream and butter from the resident dairy herd. There’s a tearoom serving great-value breakfasts and light meals if you don’t feel like cooking, and staff will help you set up a central gathering spot on the lawns if you decide to take over the entire farm.

Room Tip Lavender Tree and Lemon Thorn have a great feel, each with pretty private garden spaces. Bushwillow and adjoining Rock Fig are a great option for two couples or a family.

Cost From R480 per person sharing.

Contact 0725623396, randomharvest.co.za       

Best budget bush break

5. Bush Willow Tented Camp

No. 4 of 12 Speciality Lodgings, Muldersdrift 

What a contrast: a mere four-minute drive through the sprawling resort grounds of Glenburn Lodge, and you’re at the foot of the Zwartkops Mountains, surrounded by bush and next to the Blaauwbank River. Aside from the idyllic location (the river can be heard more than seen as there are so many trees), it’s peaceful and private, with a large central boma area and a pretty circular pool. There are 10 walk-in tents set up in two rows on permanent platforms, each sleeping six – ideal for a large group (no more than two tents per group if you’re not taking over the entire camp). Each is equipped with an indoor shower, toilet and wash basin; small kitchenette (kettle, two-plate stove, bar fridge, sink); and outdoor deck with table and built-in braai area. It’s a no-frills stay – plastic chairs, no cutlery or crockery, bring your own linen or pay extra (R85 per person, left folded at the foot of the army-style beds) – but the location is spot-on and the price unbeatable. Campers also have access to Glenburn’s facilities.

Room Tip If you want more privacy, book a partitioned tent with internal canvas walls. Number 1 and 9 are closest to the river; numbers 2 to 5 are nearest to the pool and boma. Catering can be arranged for exclusive-use bookings.

Cost Open-plan tent R710, partitioned tent R810 per night (sleep six); minimum two-night stay. Exclusive use of the camp from R5,454 a night for two or more nights.

Contact 0861148866, bushwillowtentedcamp.co.za

Best romantic escape

6. Lethabo Estate

No. 1 of 5 B&Bs/Inns, Lanseria

This 60-hectare wild farm straddles the Crocodile River as it wends its way past tree-lined banks, which see the occasional otter at play. Into several private riverside nooks, owner Lise Essberger has built hideaway cottages and picnic spots, ideal places to rekindle or ignite romance. She has grown it organically over 20 years, using local materials and talents, and offset the rough and rustic structures with sumptuous Persian rugs and pretty kelims, elegant lamps, original artworks, outdoor beds and double hammocks, baths big enough for two, loads of candles, and, always, a private deck with a view. It’s incredibly romantic, with the constant backing track of the fast-flowing river; and Lise and her team perfectly balance pampering with privacy. The restaurant has a great reputation but we highly recommend ordering one of the gourmet picnic baskets and locking down for a night in your candlelit cottage.

Room Tip Loved Otter’s Hide huge, with a fireplace, and a bath and shower built for two, both with views. Rock Pool Lodge, which has an impressively large fish tank and gorgeous rock pool, can be booked with the adjoining Stables Cottage for a bigger group.

Cost From R1,695 per person sharing B&B.

Contact 0871511817, lethaboestate.com 

Best guest house
7. Cradle Valley

No. 1 of 19 B&Bs/Inns, Muldersdrift

We saw a number of wedding specialists to check out their accommodation; most felt pretty cookie-cutter corporate, but Cradle Valley Guest Lodge is a class act. Owner Wilmé van Niekerk has a great eye, mixing vintage with contemporary pieces, and her gardens are as immaculate as her rooms (the venue room is remarkable).
The guest lodge is deceptively large – 21 units discreetly scattered throughout the property, every one of them different, including a marvellous bridal suite with several mirror and make-up stations for the bridesmaids. Every room has a seating area and patio, and is entered from the garden; 100% percale linen, coffee/tea-making facilities, homemade biscuits, a bar fridge that you’re welcome to stock with your own drinks. This is a great choice for a weekend getaway, with a pool and walks on the property, but as it’s a popular wedding venue you may be hard-pressed to get a weekend booking. Well worth trying, though.

Room Tip There are two cottages – these are bigger, more private and allow for self-catering. Cottage 1 sleeps up to six in three bedrooms, and has spectacular mountain views from a well-furnished deck. Cottage 2 (aka the Groom’s Suite) has one bedroom but is big enough to add two single beds, and has an outdoor area with great lighting and ideally set up for al fresco entertaining.

Cost From R750 per person sharing B&B.

Contact 0796973039, cradlevalley.co.za

Worth a Look

8. Pine Valley A large property with 11 functional self-catering options, all with their own gardens, and two central braai lapas with pools. Popular for one-nighters (I’d book a newly renovated Rooster Chalet, which sleeps four), family gatherings (Tawny Eagle sleeps 10) or big stag or hen nights. Lovely owner Geoff Maud and manager Mike Kekana, and an absolute bargain at R400 per person sharing. pinevalley.co.za

9. Kloofzicht Of all the resorts in the area, this five-star option was my favourite, with a beautiful location overlooking large, still dams that reflect the surrounding Zwartkops mountains. Hot-air ballooning and fly fishing are great add- ons; children under 12 pay only for meals. Serene but a tad corporate. From R1,370 per person sharing B&B. kloofzicht.co.za

10. Avianto Several sources agreed that this lifestyle estate pulls off the most professional weddings. Comfortably luxurious en-suite hotel rooms in a faux Tuscan village, with neat lanes lined with roses and cypresses. From R1,200 per person sharing B&B (wedding guests pay R950 per person). avianto.co.za

11. Honeymoon Suite at Hakunamatata This cosy room with a private deck and four-poster opposite a fireplace is a bargain at R510 per person sharing B&B. It’s the best room in this small resort (just eight thatched two-sleeper units, all at the same price) with lush gardens, good spa, friendly staff and a peaceful setting. hakunamatata.co.za


Don’t Miss This

– Maropeng, the visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind. Also check out the new park here – a stone circle with giant granite ‘tools’.
– Stargazing evenings (telescopes supplied, plus dinner) at The Maropeng Hotel. Dates on Webtickets.co.za.
– The Sterkfontein Caves and the Wonder Cave at Kromdraai.
– Cycling the new 31km Cradle Loop (suitable for all bikes). Avianto and Cradle Moon also have MTB trails.
– Fun in the sun at GOG Lifestyle Park (15m-high slip-and-slide, obstacle course, zipline, pedal karts, highest climbing wall in Africa…)
– Gilroy ne of the oldest craft brewers in the country, and The Lazy Lizard, the new kid on the block.
– The country market at Ngwenya Glass Village on the first Sunday of the month.

Photos: Jotham van Tonder

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