7 Wilderness stays for seaside, lakeside & countryside living

Posted by Pippa de Bruyn on 23 April 2021

South Africa’s very own lake district offers peace, beauty and adventure in equal parts. There’s plenty of variety in terms of accommodation too – plus good value.

How does it work?
TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice – so how do we know Number 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 Wilderness, she created a long list of 29 to inspect. The following made the cut.

What we found in Wilderness
• Excellent quality stock in a very beautiful part of the world – the establishment of the Wilderness National Park in the 1980s ensured that this is one of the least developed parts of the Garden Route. The Serpentine, Island Lake, Langvlei and Rondevlei are a world-recognised Ramsar wetland site.
• Something for everyone – from a five-star hotel (Views) to excellent-value guesthouses, self-catering options in a variety of sizes and settings, and one of the best campsites in the country (SANParks’ Ebb & Flow North Camp).
• Most think of Wilderness as a village off the N2, but it’s an 18-kilometre stretch of coast from the mouth of the Touw River to the Swartvlei, encompassing beach, lakes, rivers, forest and farmlands. It offers a totally different holiday depending on where you stay.
• It’s a fabulous seaside destination because there is no road between properties and the beach (that said, be warned: the ocean is pretty wild here). Sands Road is my favourite; it has retained its old fashioned, low-key beach bungalow streetscape and is level with the beach.
• If you prefer canoeing and birdwatching, opt for a riverside base, preferably north-facing for the sun or somewhere along Bo -Langvlei Road.
• A lot of establishments here share similar names: Wilderness Dunes and Dolphin Dunes should not be confused with Dune Beach; Ocean View is not Views (or Oceans); Lodge on the Lake is not Lakeside Lodge, and Haus am Strand is not a translation of On the Beach.

Most stylish studio apartment

1. Pearl Moon No. 4

Listed on TripAdvisor but unrated
When Carmina Cloete’s children moved out, she decided to renovate the entire ground floor of her home – a thatched building on an elevated site above the Touw River – and create four studios with kitchenettes. Each has sliding doors that open onto a private furnished deck with lovely river views. Carmen’s attention to detail and taste is impeccable – from the choice of mug and kettle to fittings like basins and shutters, everything she has chosen is easy on the eye. Guests have their own (shared) main entrance, with units accessed from a corridor; all are visually private. Room 4 is definitely the top pick for its Zen-like garden deck with a water feature under a large milkwood canopy and the fact that it has a private bathroom behind the bedroom. (In the other suites, the bathroom is located within the room behind a glass screen; these have sandblast-patterning but don’t provide much visual privacy if you’re at all squeamish about these things.)
Room tip: No. 1, the Studio, is also a good choice and costs R200 less. The bed faces the river view, plus it has a loft area for
a teenager (no children allowed).
Cost: R1650 double per night.
Contact: pearlmoon.co.za

Best Riverside Guesthouse

2. Moontide Guest Lodge

Tripadvisor No. 5 OF 57 B&BS/Inns
In 2018, owner Maureen Mansfield flew to London to pick up a new trophy – it was the second year running that Moontide has been awarded ‘Best Luxury Hideaway’ by Luxury Travel Guide, but then Moontide is no stranger to awards. It’s partly to do with the setting: shaded by 400-year-old milkwood trees, the guesthouse is right on the banks of the inviting Touw River (great for swimming), with canoes and a pedalo available for guests, and a three-minute stroll to the beach. It’s a sprawling homestead comprising just eight en-suite rooms – some freestanding – all with their own garden entrance and private seating area. The breakfast setting on the terrace overlooking the river is as popular with birds as it is with guests – there is a birding checklist in your room. Note that six rooms are under thatch – if you’re allergic to grass this is not the place for you, but birders and bargain hunters alike flock to this riverside gem; occupancy during the last low season was anything but, so book early.
Room tip: Treetops, a timber cottage perched above the guesthouse, and Boathouse, right on the river, are most popular. Stone Cottage and Milkwood are my favourite family options.
Cost: From R2280 sharing per day B&B
Contact: moontide.co.za

Best farm cottage

3. Oakhurst

No. 1 of 37 Speciality lodgings
Having always enjoyed the Seven Passes Road to Knysna for the bucolic scenery, it was great to get off the road and explore this beautiful 640-hectare, sixth-generation dairy farm. Accommodation options include the historic Forge (currently being renovated, ready by December), five ‘farm cottages’ set along the edge of the forest and a separate cluster of four smaller ‘schoolyard cottages’ a short drive away. All are well maintained, and very tastefully decorated with lovely touches. There is much to do here, with 240 hectares of pristine fynbos and indigenous forest for guests’ use only: 16 kilometres of well-marked track for trail running or mountain biking, guided horse riding, hikes to a waterfall, fishing and canoeing on the farm dam, swimming in the natural spring-fed pools, clambering up the climbing wall to the ‘crows nest’ platform, visiting the dairy and feeding the calves.
Room tip: I liked that the farm cottages are freestanding and cosy, but the schoolyard cottages have more expansive views. Two of these are interleading.
Cost: Farm cottage from R1750 a night (sleeps six). From R1550 for a schoolyard cottage (sleeps four) or The Forge (sleeps six).
Contact: oakhurst.co.za

Greatest views

4. Wilderness Bushcamp

No. 7 of 37 Speciality lodgings
This is the family home of John Pfaff, the surfer-developer who helped shape much of Wilderness. It’s a nine-hectare property atop the hill, offering the best vantage point in the area. Over the years the Pfaffs built a number of timber cabins, and since John’s passing the family home is also available: three-bedroom Aloe House comes with a pool and 360-degree views, plus a studio and suite. All are self-catering and there is also a ‘lapa’ area with braai and pizza oven. The cabins are showing signs of age but are clean and neat, the collection is well managed, and for this price you’re getting an absolute bargain.
Room tip: Honeymoon is a most romantic choice, tucked away at the end of the boardwalk, with views of the beach and sea down below. Lagoon View is the highest cabin (pictured above).
Cost: Aloe studio from R800; cabins and Aloe suite from R850 a night (all sleep two). Aloe House from R3500 a night for two (sleeps six).
Contact: wildernessbushcamp.co.za

Best for birders

5. Beside Still Waters

No. 24 of 57 B&Bs/Inns
Bo-Langvlei Road is a dirt track that skirts the Langvlei lake – it’s undeveloped and peaceful and feels very far from the busy N2, with gentle hillocks covered in natural vegetation providing lovely water views. This is where Rod and Hydie McDade retired to, building their very pretty double-storey home and adjoining cottage in a way that sits just right in these surrounds. The whole Wilderness area is great for birders but the proximity of Beside Still Waters to Malachite bird hide (a lovely 20-minute walk) and its Langvlei views makes it a particularly good choice. Aside from this, Hydie is the most wonderful hostess – she has two en-suite B&B rooms in her home but she takes as much care of guests staying in the three self-catering units, picking fresh flowers and leaving a little treat on arrival and baking fresh muffins on the morning of departure. She will drop off a breakfast basket or whatever else is needed given prior notice.
Room tip: Of the three self-catering units, I loved Loft – a wonderful option for a couple, with a little balcony overlooking Langvlei – and the cute, compact, three-bedroom attic apartment, Upper Room.
Cost: B&B double room from R1200. Loft R1050.
Contact: besidestillwaters.info

Worth a look

6. Belle Forêt

The website doesn’t do justice to this gem. It has self-catering suites (each with a braai and sharing a small kitchen), B&B rooms and cottages; all with access to a wonderful braai-lounge-dining area and circular cocktail pool on a large deck that has the most astounding view. It’s a large property with nature trails.
Cost: From R1500 double B&B, cottages from R2800 (sleep four or six), self-catering suite from R550 per person sharing.
Contact: belleforet.co.za

7. Haus am Strand

A collection of seven brightly-hued self-catering suites on the beach. I particularly liked Ocean Suite.
Cost: From R1600 per room.
Contact: hausamstrand.com

Don’t miss this

• For local produce, the Friday night market at the Milkwood Village and Timberlake Organic Village any time.
• Kloofing, abseiling or canoeing with Eden Adventures or Fearless Adventures.
• Exploring the five SANParks forest trails (3.5km Giant Kingfisher leads to a waterfall and pool).
• Snorkelling in the Touw River to see salt- and fresh-water fish.

Pictures: Teagan Cunniffe

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