5 Eco-friendly getaways in South Africa

Posted on 6 November 2023 By Tsoku Maela

As responsible travellers, we are increasingly mindful of how we impact the environment and choose options that support conservation efforts in the places we visit.

Nature camps and safari lodges are prime examples of eco-friendly accommodations that play a crucial role in preserving Africa’s natural habitats and wildlife. Many of these establishments use temporary structures that can be dismantled and relocated to allow for habitat restoration. Even when permanent structures are used, they are often powered by solar energy to minimise their environmental footprint.

In addition to their environmental efforts, these lodges also prioritise social responsibility by supporting local businesses and investing in education and healthcare initiatives that benefit surrounding communities. By promoting conservation awareness, they play an crucial role in creating a sustainable and equitable future for all.

South Africa boasts incredible biodiversity, and we’ve selected some of our favourite lodges that embody the principles of luxury travel and eco-tourism.

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1. Mdumbi Backpackers

Looking for an authentic African getaway that offers an eco-friendly and community-centred experience? Look no further than Mdumbi Backpackers, located on the Wild Coast in South Africa, just a two-hour drive from Mthatha. With its prime location on the rugged coastline of the Transkei, Mdumbi Backpackers is the perfect destination for water activities such as surfing, whale and dolphin spotting, and immersing yourself in the traditional amaXhosa culture.

Picture: Mdumbi Backpackers/Facebook

Varied accommodation options at Mdumbi Backpackers include self-catering choices such as the Turtle House (sleeps four) and the Whale House (sleeps six), as well as double rooms (sleeps two), family rooms (sleeps four) and dorm rooms (sleeps up to eight). Most of the chalets at Mdumbi are traditional African dwellings known as ‘rondavels’, featuring a circular design and conical thatched roof.

What sets Mdumbi Backpackers apart is their commitment to sustainability and community involvement. The establishment is 50% owned by the surrounding community, and all activities are owned and operated by community members, from Mama Nowethu’s bread to Mama Nosekile’s laundry service. By staying at Mdumbi Backpackers, you can be sure your money goes towards supporting the local community and promoting eco-tourism.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit their website or view their booking calendar. You can also follow Mdumbi Backpackers on social media. For inquiries, email [email protected] or phone 0834611834.

2. Platbos Forest Reserve

Retreat into the ancient and indigenous Platbos Forest Reserve, located a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town towards the fishing town of Gansbaai. This South African spot is one of the largest remaining fragments of lowland Afromontane forest in the region. Choose from one of five off-grid, self-catering accommodations nestled under the dense canopy of the forest’s indigenous trees. From stinkwoods to pear trees and milkwoods, some of the trees in this endangered forest ecosystem are over 1 000 years old.

Picture: Platbos Forest Gallery

If you prefer traditional camping, The Owl Camp is the perfect option, accommodating up to four adults. Bring your own tents and camping gear, such as sleeping bags, flashlights, crockery and utensils. For a more luxurious camping experience, opt for The Forest Camp, which has two tented rooms with two single beds in each, or the Honey Bee Suite, which features a double bed for two guests and a wood-fired hot tub. Both sites have fully equipped kitchens with pots, pans, cutlery, crockery, and gas for cooking. For a cabin-style experience, the Old Olive Cabin, named after the approximately 800-year-old Wild Olive tree nearby, is a good option. It sleeps two and features a sitting room, a kitchenette with a mini-bar fridge and solar-powered lighting. If the Old Olive Cabin is booked, try the Bush Buck Suite, which also sleeps two and is the only accommodation with a flushing toilet. Perspex roofing allows guests to count the stars before they fall asleep at night.

Apart from at The Owl Camp, bedding, linen and towels are provided. Showers are open-air and use a wood-fired donkey boiler water-heating system, and four out of the five lodging offerings have waterless composting toilets that use sawdust to flush.

Platbos Forest Reserve requires a minimum of a three-night stay (a minimum of two nights for The Owl Camp) and a 50% deposit to reserve a booking (full payment to reserve The Owl Camp). To make a reservation, view Platbos Forest Reserve’s booking calendar here.

All lodgers get to walk the Platbos Forest Trail for free (usual fee: R50 per person).

Stay in touch with Platbos Forest Reserve through their social media accounts and visit their website for more information. For enquiries, email [email protected] or phone 0769233349.

3. Katrinasrust Country Estate

Nestled in South Africa, just over a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Eswatini and under two hours from Mbombela, this estate offers a range of activities, including birding, hiking, fishing, picnicking, mountain biking and, of course, relaxing. The Brewer family started the estate as a trout farm over 70 years ago, and they’re committed to preserving the area’s natural beauty.

Picture: Katrinasrust gallery

Katrinasrust is committed to being environmentally friendly. They favour gas over electricity and use food waste to fertilise their vegetable gardens. They have also cleared exotic wattle trees from the property, repurposing wood for fire and making pens. The estate’s water consumption is very low; all the water on the farm is gravity-fed, and the water used in their trout farm flows through two natural filtration ponds before rejoining the river. They also produce much of their own food, from rearing cattle and chickens to growing vegetables.

Katrinasrust Country Estate offers three self-catering South African getaway options. The Oaks can sleep up to 10 people and has three double rooms and one bunk room, a fully-equipped kitchen, a braai, a pizza oven and a fire pit. Wisteria Cottage is ideal for large families or groups of friends, with four bathrooms, five bedrooms, a classic farm-style kitchen, a braai area, and a pizza hut to comfortably accommodate up to 12 people. The Nightjar, the estate’s latest and most popular addition, is a unique retreat for two, tucked away in the bush, complete with a kitchen, fireplace, gas braai and wood-fired hot tub.

The estate allows pets in its units except for the Nightjar, which has a strict no-pet and no-children policy. A minimum two-night stay is required to reserve a booking, and a 50% deposit is required. For rates and reservations, visit their booking calendar.

To learn more about Katrinasrust Country Estate, visit their website or follow them on social media. For inquiries, email [email protected], [email protected], or send a WhatsApp message to 0741527527.

4. Tswalu Kalahari

Located in the heart of the Northern Cape, Tswalu Kalahari is the largest privately owned game reserve in South Africa, spanning over 100 000ha. It offers an unforgettable game viewing experience, allowing visitors to witness desert-adapted species such as black-maned Kalahari lions, desert black rhinos, and friendly meerkats. Tswalu Kalahari is the perfect place to explore the wilderness on guided walks, in private vehicles, on horse-back safaris and in a hot air balloon. Visitors can also experience sleeping under Africa’s vast, starry skies.

Picture: Tswalu Kalahari gallery

Tswalu Kalahari is not only a luxurious destination but also a conservation project. It was created to rehabilitate and restore the natural environment from previously farmed land. The reserve supports research projects such as studying the impact of climate change on endangered species and various community initiatives, including the Tswalu Healthcare Centre, small-scale horticulture and a school project.

Tswalu Kalahari offers two exclusive, intimate, eco-friendly lodges built from organic materials. These lodges provide employment opportunities for the local community and educate their guests about environmental conservation. Tswalu is an example of excellent eco-tourism, and with various game species on the reserve, it is an ideal destination for anyone seeking an immersive and unforgettable safari experience.

For more information, visit the Tswalu Kalahari website, or contact them via email at [email protected] or call +27 537819331.

5. Leadwood Safari

Leadwood Safari Company is an eco-friendly glamping safari experience situated an hour-and-a-half drive north of Johannesburg. Founded by husband and wife duo, Jonathan and Anna Klynhans, in 2020, the camp’s mission is to encourage guests to reconnect with nature and emphasize the importance of preserving the environment and its wildlife. Their accommodation includes the Main Camp, consisting of three self-catering bell tents that can accommodate two adults and two children, and the Camplet, a tented kitchenette specifically designed for couples. The camp utilizes solar-powered lights and wood-fired geysers to minimize their impact on the environment.

Picture: Leadwood Safari gallery

For more information, you can visit their website at Leadwood Safari Company. To inquire, you may contact them via email at [email protected] or phone at 072 511 6233. Don’t forget to follow them on their social media accounts for updates and news.

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