Ever wanted to get so far away that nobody can find you? We scoured the country for 12 gorgeous mountain cabins that guarantee ultimate solitude, serenity and sublime beauty. Plus, they’re all near great hiking trails too.
1. Stone Mountain Lodge
Kleinrivier Wilderness, Eastern Cape
GPS S33° 34.837’ E25° 15.288’
It’s not quiet in these mountains, not like you’d imagine mountains to be. Here, high-altitude plateaus rumble softly with hooves. Wildebeest, waterbuck and hartebeest graze in the cycad-studded valleys and at the end of a stone track that zigzags its way ever-upwards is Stone Mountain Lodge, miles – quite literally – from anywhere. It runs on solar, gas and fire and you can only get here with a 4×4 transfer or via a five-hour hike.
The lodge is built into a rock face using natural stone and incorporates elements of the cliff-face beautifully (the shower, for example, is nested at the base of a cycad sprouting vegetation). There’s a deck with a small pool and braai area and a large indoor fireplace. It’s the kind of place where you don’t just take off your boots – you kick ‘em off, pour a drink and watch the shadows creep up the mountainside until the sun dips below the peaks.
The hike to the cabin starts at the Kleinrivier reception and ascends quickly before undulating between valleys and ridges. Good fitness is required (though the lodge can transport your gear). There’s also a shorter walk, the Winterhoek Trail, which starts at the cabin and makes a loop around a nearby peak.
Kleinrivier Wilderness is 75 kilometres from Port Elizabeth along the R75 and then Cockscomb Road (gravel). The reception and camping ground is accessible by sedan but Stone Mountain Lodge is only accessible by hike or a 1.5-hour 4×4 track. It costs R200 each per night for a campsite visit of 10 guests at a time, R440 per person for a private cabin sleeping 2 people, R1 420 for a 6-sleeper cottage and R3 520 per night for an 8-sleeper luxury tented camp.
Contact: Tel 083 991 7021, kleinrivier.co.za
2. Wolwekrans Eco Lodge
GPS S25° 23.826’ E30° 34.145’
Situated on 120 hectares of bushveld on the dramatic Schoemanskloof escarpment, the two private self-catering cabins are perched high up for optimal isolation and views. The spacious two-bedroom accommodation is simple yet stylish, with crisp white linen and natural stone walls complementing the chalet’s off-the-grid profile. The landscape includes forest, with clear water springs for swimming, and sprawling acacia plains. Only high-clearance cars are recommended for the bumpy mountain road (or arrange a transfer) – pets are welcome too.
There are three main hiking trails: a one-kilometre family walk to a forest spring; a two-kilometre climb to the top of the mountain; and an easy two-kilometre hike to clear mountain pools.
It’s about three hours (310 kilometres) from Pretoria on the N4 and R539 to Mbombela. The lodge is from R3 800 for two nights. It sleeps four in two bedrooms and you can pop two kids in the lounge.
Contact: Tel 083 628 1993, wolwekrans.com
3. Teniqua Treetops
￼Sedgefield, Western Cape
GPS S33° 56.817’ E22° 51.300’
It’s early morning at the foot of the Outeniquas and the air is filled with birdsong, distant donkey heehaws and a rooster’s crowing. You’ll quite likely see rain spiders taking shelter on your canvas walls – the eco-conscious couple who created these eight solar-powered tented ‘treehouses’ don’t fumigate, so creepy crawlies are part of the package. Spread over 35 hectares in the Garden Route National Park, these simple cabins have kitchens, braais, electric blankets and heaters.
Hiking trails through the forest leading down to the pristine Karatara River. Alternatively, use this as a base to sample the Garden Route’s many hiking routes. Colin Wylie of Garden Route Walks offers a variety of guided day hikes, from R380 pp (minimum four people and excluding park fees).
It’s about 30 minutes (35 kilometres) from Knysna on the N2. From R3 168 for two in a honeymoon treehouse and R2 650 for a two-bedroom treehouse.
Contact: Tel 044 356 2868, teniquatreetops.co.za
GPS S28° 33.246’ E29° 09.021’
Just getting here is amazing: ascending the Oliviershoek and Retief passes, you snake through valleys until you crest the escarpment to one of the best views in the Northern Drakensberg. Only four cottages share the 1500-hectare property, so seclusion is guaranteed. The cottages are equipped for comfort, right down to the welcoming fire. They’re romantic too: the open-plan design with central fireplace could see you naked for the whole weekend, moving from Jacuzzi-bath to bed, kitchen to fireside.
There are no marked hiking trails but plenty of jeep tracks you can explore. It’s about three hours (310 kilometres) from Johannesburg on the N3 via Harrismith and then the R74. No 4×4 is needed. From R610 pp (each cottage sleeps two).
Contact: Tel 082 779 0723, 082 821 0910, wheretostay.co.za
5. Cliffhanger Cottages
Knysna, Western Cape
GPS S33° 59.266’ E22° 58.988’
There are places in which you can imagine yourself spending a few days and there are places you could see yourself living in. Cliffhanger Cottage, overlooking an indigenous forested valley just outside Knysna, is the latter. Marvellous wood finishings and a range of mod cons (including a ceramic firepot) give the inside of this raised cabin a cosy glow. There’s a large, covered deck with a wide sofa, Weber and chairs and everything, inside and out, is designed around the view. Windows in the lounge, bathroom and bedroom all look out over the green valley and onto the ridge of the Outeniqua Mountains beyond. It’s only 15km outside of Knysna, but it feels a world away.
The Goudveld State Forest, a magical enclave of ferns, forest and streams, is just a 10-minute drive away and offers the easy hour-long Jubilee Creek Walk as well as the two-hour Millwood Mining Walk, which takes you past abandoned gold-mining tunnels and shafts. Entry is R20 for adults and R10 for children.
The cottages are 15 minutes (15 kilometres) outside Knysna along the N2 and then Rheenendal Road. From R2 050 for two.
Contact: Tel 044 388 4696, cliffhangercottages.co.za
6. Goatherds House
Matroosberg, Western Cape
GPS S33° 20.528’ E19° 37.174’
Matroosberg bills itself as the ‘Peak of Adventure’, and with activities from 4×4 trails to abseiling, it’s hard to argue. The reserve is also one of the best places in South Africa to see snow – the Ski Club of SA operates a ski lift for its members, servicing two slopes near the summit. A kilometre below, at 1195 metres, the thick stone walls of the 130-year-old Goatherds House don’t see as much snow as the slopes, but it does fall. The cottage is basic, but neat, with indoor and outdoor braais and a gas fridge, geyser and double hob. Well-behaved dogs are welcome by prior arrangements.
Trails start at the cottage and you’ll get a map at check-in. There’s a one-hour walk to beautiful rock pools or a more gruelling hike to the 2 249-metre summit (about five hours one way).
Matroosberg is just over two hours (185 kilometres) from Cape Town via the N1 and R43. There’s a double bed in the only bedroom, with more beds in the living area. R3 100 per weekend (sleeps six).
Contact: Tel 023 312 2282, matroosberg.com
7. Eagle Chalet
Cederberg, Western Cape
GPS S32° 22.560’ E19° 24.664’
What a pleasure, after a final hour and a half of rough track, to arrive at such a sweet spot. A wide stoep leads to a fully-kitted kitchen and two comfy bedrooms cap either end, and there’s a gas fridge and hot shower. Hikers can follow the track along the valley and up the surrounding ridges for views over the Tankwa Karoo.
It’s three hours (240 kilometres) from Cape Town to Mount Ceder to collect the keys, then another two hours (45 kilometres) to the chalet. The final 25 kilometres are rough – a 4×4 is recommended. R1 175 per night (sleeps four). Bedding is an extra R55 per person.
Contact: Tel 021 531 2956, cederbergchalets.co.za
8. Highlands Mountain Retreat
Golden Gate National Park, Free State
GPS S28° 29.296’ E28° 38.483’
Golden Gate is dedicated to preserving South Africa’s grassland biome (there are over 50 species of grass in the park) and Highlands Mountain Retreat is perched right at the top, 2200 metres above sea level. Comprising just eight units – four-family units sleeping four each and four units sleeping two each – these log cabins are tucked into the hills, providing seclusion and unbelievable vistas. All have a fireplace, oil heaters, and electric blankets, during my stay, zebra trotted up the hillside at dusk.
There are seven-day hikes in the park ranging from 45 minutes to four hours. Most depart from Glen Reenen Rest Camp and there is one that starts behind the Golden Gate Hotel. All wind around or up the orange sandstone cliffs, dip into forested ravines and windswept grasslands. You can also do an overnight hike along the Ribbok Trail and a guided hike to Cathedral Cave. The hiking permit is R40 per person.
Golden Gate National Park is about 3,5 hours (320 kilometres) from Johannesburg via the N3 to Harrismith, the N5, R74 and then the R712. From R1 823 per two-sleeper unit and R2 929 per four-sleeper family unit.
Contact: Tel 058 255 0962, sanparks.co.za
9. Panorama Cabin at Protea Farm
Montagu, Western Cape
GPS S33° 42.468’ E19° 53.338’
At an altitude of 1100 metres on the slopes of the Langeberg Mountains, the aptly named Panorama Cottage was hand-built in local mountain stone by the father of current farmer-owner, Pierre Burger. It’s elevated above what is still a working fruit farm, and has a functional old-fashioned atmosphere, with dormitory-style sleeping arrangements that are ideal for an intimate getaway for two families or a group of good friends.
The cosy kitchen and lounge area warmed by a corner fireplace. There are two single beds in the living area, a double bed and three single beds in the downstairs bedroom, a double bed and single bed behind a divider, and a triple bunk bed in the passage. It’s the kind of place where you drink mulled wine while gazing at the breathtaking views of the Koo and Keisie valleys.
There are plenty of jeep tracks to explore on this 700-hectare farm. There is a path that leads directly from Panorama 200 metres up to ‘where you can see forever’, says Pierre – certainly as far as the Robertson-Bree River valley.
It’s about three hours (207 kilometres) from Cape Town along the N1 and then the R318. From R1 200 for five to R1 800 for 10. Minimum two-night stay over weekends. Bedding is provided for one double bed only; extra bedding is R90 pp.
Contact: Tel 023 614 3012, proteafarm.co.za
10. The Edge Mountain Retreat
Hogsback, Eastern Cape
GPS S32° 36.100’ E26° 55.050’
Checking in, you might think you’ve arrived at an ordinary country hotel, but then you’re escorted to your stone-and-thatch cottage poised on the lip of the escarpment and are left with nothing but ‘oh-my-gaaaawd’ views. There are two cliff-edge options I adore: ‘Heaven’s Above’, an open-plan cottage with amazing views – even from the bathtub – and ‘Over-the-edge’, furnished with vintage pieces.
Use this as a reward after tackling the Amatola Hiking Trail, a six-day hike through the Amathole Mountains, starting at Maden Dam near King Williams Town and ending near Hogsback. It’s possible to shorten the hike to three or two days. From R193 pppd, plus R110 admin fee.
It’s about three hours from Port Elizabeth (about 265 kilometres) via the N2 and R67. From R800 per unit per night (sleeps two).
Contact: Tel 082 603 5246, theedge-hogsback.co.za
11. Semonkong Lodge
GPS S29° 50.588’ E28° 2.607’
Bang in the centre of Lesotho, the rugged grasslands here could be the moors of the Scottish Highlands – except they are dotted with rondavels and crisscrossed by trails traversed by Basothos on horses. You meet these mountain people as you hike towards the 192-metre Maletsunyane Falls, one of the longest single-drop waterfalls in Africa. The lodge offers cosy cottages and rooms, good meals, and staff will arrange a host of activities, including overnight pony treks. Day treks (by pony or on foot) are from R300 per person, overnight trails from R450 per person per day plus R100 per night in village accommodation.
It’s three hours (110 kilometres) from Maseru along the Main South Road. From R860 per person sharing in a double room.
Contact: Tel +26627006037, placeofsmoke.co.ls
12. Kol Kol Mountain Lodge
Bot River, Western Cape
GPS S34° 10.472’ E19° 13.003’
It’s a marvellous disappearing act getting here – beyond Elgin, down the Houwhoek Pass, onto a gravel road, and into the Groenland Mountains where you need high-profile tyres to reach your cabin. Each of the six cabins have floor-to-ceiling glass doors that can slide away. They’re a gorgeous mix of elegant rusticity – stone and wood offset by luxurious linens and comforts such as iPod-connectable music players and wood-fired hot tubs.
There’s a three-kilometre trail on the property, or you can use your stay here to top off the four-day Green Mountain Trail, a slack-packing hike in the Elgin Valley (from R8795 per person sharing). Kol Kol is about 90 minutes (96 kilometres) from Cape Town on the N2. From R2 300 for two and from R3 200 for four.
Contact: Tel 0769136014, 0826545090, kolkol.co.za