11 off-the-grid campsites in South Africa that are eco-friendly

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Plan your next local nature escape now. Here are 11 off-the-grid campsites that are serious about reducing your carbon footprint and immersing you in nature.

1. Kokerboomkloof, Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Distance from Cape Town: 743km
Closest Town: Alexander Bay
Signal: No
Energy: None

Photo by Scott Ramsay.

You can feel the thrill of mountain desert wilderness at Kokerboomkloof in the Richtersveld’s dry interior. Take the 10-minute walk from camp to Die Toon, a massive rock formation, and you’ll get a grand view of your surroundings. You can also wander among boulders in Giant’s Playground, get up at dawn to catch the soft sunlight on the quiver trees, or just listen to the silence and enjoy a sky full of stars at night. There are eight sites and four basic ablution facilities (a flush toilet, basin and shower cubicle with no water, so bring your own – water is scarce out here). Pack solar and gas lights and a battery to run your fridge if you bring one, and bring rubbish bags to take your trash with you when you leave.
– Roxanne Reid
Do it: From R240 for two, extra adults R82 per person, extra kids R41 pp (maximum six people per site). Daily conservation fee R70 adults, R35 kids (under 12). Tel 0278311506, sanparks.org

 

2. Coral Tree Camp

Distance from Joburg: 390km
Closest town: Haenertsburg
Signal: Yes
Energy: Donkey boiler

Photo supplied.

So you need a road trip to somewhere far, far away … or at least somewhere that feels that way? The solitude in the mountains of Magoebaskloof, only four hours from Jozi, is a place where you can switch off. The road leads you past the avocado and macadamia trees and lush herb gardens of Tupelo Honey Farm and up to one of the loveliest campsites you could hope to find – you need a 4×4 to get there. Perched on the edge of soaring views, you simply set up your tent and, come early evening, move your camp chairs closer to the sunset spot overlooking the Magoebaskloof valley. There are walking trails along the river, the chatter of samango monkeys in the indigenous forest, a plunge pool for cooling off and a braai spot. Rubbish is recycled on the farm, exotic vegetation removed and indigenous trees planted.
– Lisa Martus
Do it: R195 per person (minimum two people, maximum six). Tel 0823356803, theherbcottage.co.za

 

 

3. Hermit’s Wood

Distance from Durban: 234km
Closest town: Underberg
Signal: Yes
Energy: Gas

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

There’s precious little written about this campsite online, so you can imagine my relief when we arrived to find an established 10-unit campsite set beside a grove of tall trees, with a backdrop of Rhino Peak and lookout onto Garden Castle. There are multiple hiking routes to caves and valleys, and about 100 metres in front of the campsite runs the pebbled Mlambonja River. If you walk to Mermaid’s Pool (roughly in line with number 10 campsite), the river becomes a narrow, fast-flowing torrent that carves between rocks to form cool gullies and swimming pools. After a sunset picnic here, we made our way back to our camp and lit a fire. The campsite is seldom full, and our night there was no exception. Swaying gums rumbled like the ocean above us and the escarpment sharpened to a silhouette against the full-mooned sky. There’s a communal gas freezer in the washing area, two toilets and two gas-powered showers.
– Teagan Cunniffe
Do it: From R80 per person for adults, from R40 per person for kids (3 – 12). Tel 0337011823

 

4. Zwakala River Retreat Campsite

Distance from Joburg: 370km
Closest town: Haenertsburg
Signal: Yes
Energy: Donkey boiler, gas, solar

Photo by Lisa Martus.

Zwakala is on a farm in Magoebaskloof where horses and sheep graze knee-deep in wildflowers and the owners are restoring the land to indigenous bush and grassland, encouraging biodiversity. The private campsite is tucked behind a bend in the Broederstroom River and there’s a little waterfall – ideal for a daily dip. It has a covered, solar-lit kitchen, flush loo and gas shower, and an outdoor donkey-boiler shower. Best of all, only one group of people (up to 16) can camp at a time.
– Lisa Martus
Do it: R200 per person adults. Tel 0839808433, zwakalaretreat.co.za

 

5. Safari, Lerako and Sentry Hill Bush camps, Botsalano Game Reserve

Distance from Joburg: 320km
Closest town: Mahikeng
Signal: No
Energy: Gas, solar

Photo by Melanie Van Zyl.

This affordable thornveld escape has springbok, gemsbok, buffalo and giraffe with great open plains and lovely views too. Four rustic camps, each with basic ablutions (cold showers and open-air loos), are scattered around the reserve in the unfenced bush where blue and violet-eared waxbills busy themselves in the acacias. I preferred Lerako and Sentry Hill as they had a protective stone shelter with a picnic table and a tap with running water. However, Safari Bush Camp is close to a waterhole with a great hide on stilts overlooking it.
– Melanie Van Zyl
Do it: R250 per campsite (maximum eight people). Daily park fee R40 adults, R25 kids (2 – 12), R10 per car. Tel 0836527896, tourismnorthwest.co.za

 

6. Mara’s Camp, Matamba Bush Camp

Distance from Joburg: 278km
Closest town: Vaalwater
Signal: Yes
Energy: Gas

Photo by Melanie Van Zyl.

This off-the-grid spot proves that camping can still be sophisticated. Exclusive-use Mara’s Camp is a true bushveld retreat hidden in the middle of a 400-hectare Waterberg game farm. The two uniquely decorated outdoor ablution facilities envelop indigenous trees and are built only from natural materials, so they blend in perfectly with the woodland. There are flush loos and hot water is supplied by gas geysers. The small splash pool at Tau Camp is about a 30-minute walk away and there’s more than 60 kilometres of marked trails to hike and cycle, or watch game at the waterholes (sable, giraffe and eland visit regularly). Kibu hide, 150 metres away from camp, is built into a huge wild syringa tree overlooking zebra plains. I loved the fact that the rate includes a generous stash of firewood for braaiing beneath a bright star canopy. The wood is replenished and sites serviced daily.
– Melanie Van Zyl
Do it: R300 per person for adults, R150 per person for kids under 12 (minimum four adults and a two-night stay). Tel 0836531287, matambabushcamp.com

 

7. Kruistementvlei

Distance from Cape Town: 150km
Closest town: Piketberg
Signal: Yes
Energy: Gas, solar

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Earthworm farming and recycling are just some of the great environmental initiatives on this working farm. Surrounded by almond orchards, apple, pear, peach and persimmon farms, the cool mountain air at this camp leaves you feeling exhilarated. Affordable, it’s best booked exclusively as there are just two loos and one communal kitchen area. In order to preserve the natural watercourse and save water, the farm has a dry-toilet system using sawdust as cover in all its facilities (even the nearby cottages). A donkey boiler ensures a hot outdoor shower and there’s gas for cooking and solar lighting in the outdoor kitchen, which is equipped with most utensils. The standout feature at the camp has to be the naturally sheltered rock firepit. There are no demarcated stands and pets are welcome as long as they’re friendly – keep in mind the other farm animals. Draw cash in Piketberg for the farmers’ market if you’re there on the last Saturday of the month.
– Melanie Van Zyl
Do it: R65 per person. The whole site can be exclusively booked for R780 (12 people). Tel 0229145652, ksvfarm.co.za

 

8. Tsendze Rustic Camp, Kruger National Park

Distance from Joburg: 566km
Closest town: Phalaborwa
Signal: No
Energy: Gas, solar

Photo by Roxanne Reid.

Tsendze Rustic Camp is about seven kilometres south of Mopani Rest Camp and my favourite in Kruger. It has 34 generous-sized sites carved out of natural bush so you still feel very much in the wild even though there’s a perimeter fence for security against lions, elephants and buffalo. Most sites are along the fence so you can watch the passing game. You get a view of the veld, shade from mopane and apple-leaf trees for at least part of the day, and the cleanest braais in Kruger. The ablutions (outdoor and indoor showers) and kitchen are run on solar and gas, and there are communal gas freezers. Listen for the call of the African fish eagle during the day and owls at night.
– Roxanne Reid
Do it: R305 for two, extra adult R82 per person, extra kids R41 per person (maximum six people per site). Tel 0137356535, sanparks.org

 

9. Bokmakierie

Distance from Port Elizabeth: 164km
Closest town: Kareedouw
Signal: No
Energy: Donkey boiler, gas, solar

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Bokmakierie on Ragels Rivier farm is a feat: owners Eric and Leigh-Ann Botha have created a well-set out camp in the middle of the bush. It sits under a white stinkwood tree in a clearing dripping with old man’s beard, with a fireplace that overlooks a rocky riverbed and onto a ring of mountains. The lapa is made with the neatest stonework I’ve seen in a while, complete with solar powered lights and a gas-powered fridge and stove. There is ample rain shelter here and the wide counters double as food-serving stations. A donkey boiler heats up the water for the shower, which has views out into the surrounding thicket – and the water pressure was excellent. Leigh- Ann arranges flowers from her garden and – get this – folds the end of the toilet paper into a point for your arrival! For a day out, you can head back along the road to Ragels Rivier’s picnic site, set adjacent to the deep waters of the Kouga River, or venture onto one of the view-filled 4×4 trails on the farm. With permission, you can also traverse the Baviaanksloof’s southern access via Formosa Nature Reserve.
– Teagan Cunniffe
Do it: R150 pp adults, R100 pp for kids (6 – 12), minimum six adults to book it exclusively. Tel 0420070151, ragelsrivier.co.za

 

10. Doornkraal, Ithala Game Reserve

Distance from Durban: 378km
Closest town: Louwsberg
Signal: No
Energy: Gas

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

‘I want to see a tortoise,’ said Nathan. I mentally dampened his spirits. Elephant, yes. But tortoise, on demand? Doubtful. It was my second time in Ithala and the reserve was no less picturesque – and peaceful (largely due to the lack of lions). It rests along the bottom of the Ngotshe Mountains and consists of waving, grass-filled plains, sloping mountains and deep valleys. Giraffe abound, as well as zebra and blue wildebeest. We made our way to Doornkraal, a raved-about unfenced campsite set among scraggly acacias overlooking the Mbizo River. There are thatched communal kitchen spaces and the ablutions are clean with gas-powered showers open to the sky. We took the 4×4 track back to the main camp, Ntshondwe. And you know what? We saw a leopard tortoise.
– Teagan Cunniffe
Do it: From R150 per person adults, R75 kids (maximum of 20). Tel 0338451000, kznwildlife.com

 

11. Greyton Eco Camp

Distance from Cape Town: 143km
Closest town: Greyton
Signal: Yes
Energy: Solar

Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

The Riviersonderend and Gobos rivers meet here, amid white, sandy beaches and reed pockets. Horses roam free, grazing on the nearby mountainside, and you can see the faint signs of the seven-kilometre Gifkloof Trail making its way to the top. For those who like being near ‘civilisation’, the quiet village of Greyton is close enough for a meal out or a visit to the Saturday morning market, and if you feel like working your legs there’s a riding school on site and multiple hiking trails in the area. Towering pines shade the level campsite (it’s wheelchair friendly) and the distant peaks of Abdolskop and Perdekop frame the scene. Ringed stone fireplaces are dotted about and campers can choose to pitch their tent overlooking the river or tucked away in thick bush. The campsite has solar power to heat the showers and there’s a grey-water system, so only bring biodegradable soaps. Well-behaved pets are welcome – so long as they don’t bother the family of otters living downriver. Bring lilos and canoes.
– Teagan Cunniffe
Do it: R70 per person, kids under five are free. Tel 0741868557, greytontourism.com

 

This story first appeared in November 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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