6 secret lodges that are worth a stopover on your next SA road trip
From the Drakensberg to Lesotho to Graaff-Reinet, Janine Avery lists some out-of-the-way lodges that are worth putting on the map
A recent road trip off the beaten track took us from Cape Town to Lesotho, around the epic Drakensberg and down to the coast again.
Along the way we discovered some hidden lodges, out-of-the-way destinations and must-see accommodation spots that just blew us away. In fact we loved them so much we simply couldn't keep them to ourselves.
Here is our list of six South African places you simply have to add to your bucket list:
1. BAHATI TREE LODGE, DRAKENSBERG
Bahati Tree Lodge owners Chris and Magda Hearne, are passionate about the Central Drakensberg - an area they call home.
They run the local information centre, are helping to establish a tourism route in the area and own their own company, Treks, Trips and Trails, that enables adventurous visitors to see the country on gravel.
It should come as no surprise, then, that this intrepid duo built their very own treehouse, off the beaten track in the Drakensberg.
Offering every creature comfort you could hope for in a hotel room, a whole lot of added charm and panoramic views of the Central Drakensberg, their tree lodge truly is one-of-a-kind.
Perfect for honeymooners and even families (there's an extra room downstairs), it even features a tree that grows right through the centre of the wooden abode.
2. DRAGONS LANDING, SOUTHERN DRAKENSBERG
Sonja Swanepoel of Dragons Landing horse trails has recently opened up her property to offer accommodation with a difference in the Southern Drakensberg. Sonja has a special love of horses, something she shares with her customers on her outrides through the farms of the Underberg.
For those looking for a homely stay, where a love of the outdoors collides in the most heavenly way with good food and great wine, all while enjoying comfortable accommodation at an off-the-grid homestead with panoramic views of the 'Berg, look no further than Dragons Landing.
3. MOUNT CAMDEBOO, GRAAFF-REINET
Surrounded by majestic mountains, Mount Camdeboo offers a safari experience with a difference. Here, every sighting is backdropped by incredible vistas, and game drives are a thrill as you rise to the top of jagged cliffs dotted with eland and giraffe.
The accommodation is unlike anything you will encounter at other game reserves, set as it is within a restored Cape Dutch manor house. The decor and furnishings are plush and inviting, and with those green gardens, you would even be forgiven for thinking you were in a vineyard in Constantia, rather than in the heart of the Great Karoo.
But when you do leave your comfortable abode, you will discover a beautiful area rich in history with a wealth of fauna and flora to see.
The safari experience is a delightfully personal one with rangers preferring to keep game vehicles specific to family groups if possible - meaning you get a one-on-one experience for the duration of your stay.
4. WASCHBANK RIVER LODGE, GARIEP DAM
Waschbank River Lodge is just outside the town of Gariep. Located on the Orange River, rather than on the dam, this lodge offers the ultimate in peace and quiet and the perfect place to kick back and relax with a good book.
There is a restaurant and bar on site if you don't feel like cooking and the lone safari tent found here is a great place to spend summer evenings.
But if you want a family getaway, I recommend one of the self-catering units on site. With multiple bedrooms, they can accommodate large groups and have spacious kitchens and lounge areas for lazy days spent with those closest to you.
5. UMZIMKULU RIVER LODGE, UNDERBERG
Just outside Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal, Umzimkulu River Lodge offers a fantastic weekend break.
On the banks of a beautiful river, this farm is home to a number of unique accommodation units.
The owners have poured their heart and soul into the property, lovingly restoring old farm buildings and redecorating them with an eclectic appeal.
The river is a fisherman's and kayaker's delight and there are boats for guests to use. The owners also offer tubing excursions when the river is full, the ideal way to take in the beauty of the location.
6. AFRISKI MOUNTAIN RESORT, LESOTHO
Okay, technically it's in Lesotho, but I still count Afriski as a South African gem since its own country is enveloped by ours.
Nestled in the highest peaks in Lesotho, Afriski offers a unique retreat in winter and summer. When the sun is out, the surrounding mountains offer epic mountain-bike trails, while in winter you can learn to ski.
The resort resembles a quaint Alpine village and offers a different take on the ski experience with a few groomed slopes on offer as well as a tubing and bum-boarding playground.
If you can, go during their Winterfest, which opens and closes the season and combines fun in the snow with a variety of musical acts. This year's is August 23 - 26.