Tired of the same old, same old guest house, hotel or backpackers? Are you looking for a quirky weekend getaway? How about sleeping in a teepee, an old train coach in the mountains or high up in the branches of a wild fig tree? Get It discovers three alternative stays right here in the Lowveld.
The Fig Tree House
When reminiscing about tree houses, fond childhood memories usually come to mind. Hours spent playing house or dolls up high in the branches of a giant in a friend’s backyard.
The Fig Tree House is a playground for grown-ups; a proper escape from modern life’s daily grind, gadgets and busy surrounds. This doesn’t mean kids aren’t welcome, of course.
This getaway is a 40km drive outside Mbombela towards Malalane in the Crocodile Gorge Nature Conservancy, on the family farm Daarbo Boerdery.
Although this is a working farm (macadamias, limes and lemons grow here), The Fig Tree House is perfectly situated at the top of a valley, among rocky outcrops enveloped by indigenous plants.
The two-storey structure rests on rocks and stretches among the branches of a gargantuan wild fig, with comfy beds in nestlike sleeping platforms built at various levels.
The top level, completely open and in the branches, is the lounge and sleeping area (which can sleep six guests). There are comfy couches in the centre with binoculars, bird guides and tree books lying on the coffee table.
The sleeping platforms come with mosquito nets, but without bedding (you need to bring your own or pay extra to arrange some). The lower level is the kitchen and indoor braai area.
Although slightly more closed off, it has two open windows peering out over the treetops and the valley. The kitchen is stocked with a fridge, crockery, cutlery, cooking and braaiing utensils, as well as filtered drinking water.
Although there are a fridge and lights, these are the only appliances connected to electricity and gadgets like phones or tablets will have to be charged beforehand (or even better, switched off completely… There is limited reception anyway).
The bathroom is accessed through the kitchen area, via a wooden walkway which leads to a warm shower and toilet cordoned off with wooden slats among exposed rock.
A short stroll from the tree house, is a second braai area hidden in a rocky outcrop; a natural boma surrounded by boulders. There are comfortable wooden chairs and loads of firewood to burn into the starry night. A ladder leads up to the top of a boulder, which makes a perfect viewpoint for sundowners.
There are walking trails on the farm leading to Crocodile Gorge and there is a dam nearby where camping facilities are being developed. Be on the lookout for bushbuck, kudu, impala, warthogs, serval, caracal, vervet monkeys and baboons.
Rates: R1 200 a night for the entire tree house (sleeps six people).
Tipis Africa Guest Lodge
Take a step back into the American Old West. At Tipis Africa Guest Lodge, guests sleep in the teepee tent design of the Native American Cheyenne tribe. Six seven-metre-high teepees dot the rustic ranch property on The Rest, 8km outside Mbombela (1,5km from Bateleur Estate).
John Mos builds the structures himself, not only for his lodge but for people who want their very own teepees as well. He is in the furniture trade and since he can remember, has been interested in Native American traditions as well as pioneer culture and history.
The diameter of the teepees is about six metres and they are positioned on circular stone platforms. Each structure can sleep three guests, with either three singles, or a double and a single wooden bed inside.
Each tent has electricity, wooden chairs, a bar fridge and its own bathroom with a shower and toilet separate from the structure, but close nearby.
John says the teepees are wonderful for both cold and warm weather. “Hot air moves up and they have what we call smoke flaps, which is where the hot air moves out,” he points up to the opening at the top of the tent, which can be closed when it rains.
The tents also have two layers of canvas and a gap with air between which creates insulation and prevents condensation. They are also sturdy enough for the Lowveld’s stormy weather.
Guests have access to a coffee machine in the communal kitchen and the rate includes a continental breakfast, bedding, towels and use of amenities like the massive pool and cosy firepit.
“There is a spiritual meaning with the poles,” John explains as he looks up at one of his tents. “In Native American tradition, they believe the poles represented the different spiritual paths that connected people with their creator.
Somewhere along the line all these paths cross; we all have to go through the same door. Afterwards we might still go our separate ways, but like-minded people usually come together”.
Rates: R450pp bed and breakfast (R400 without breakfast).
Hidden in the Berlin Plantation outside the misty hamlet of Kaapsehoop are two red railway coaches dating from the 1950s. They have been converted into comfortable accommodation as part of the Kaapsehoop Hiking Trail.
The entire trail takes four days and roughly 60km of rambling, but don’t fret… You can walk a shorter option to stay over in the quirky Barrett’s Coaches.
The Battery Creek Two-Night Trail either starts at Barrett’s Coaches, or at the Kaapsehoop Hut in town (you can park your car at both options and start from either end). If you start in Kaapsehoop, you will walk 9,5km on your first day and 14km back from Barrett’s to town on day two.
Only one of the coaches is being used at the moment and offers 24 comfortable beds to sleep on (four per sleeping compartment). The carriages have a wooden interior with blue, padded pleather lining on the seats or beds (which provided a surprisingly comfortable night’s rest).
Some of the interior has been changed from the original train decor (like the folding tables), but remains functional and comfortable as hiking accommodation.
Barrett’s is the only overnight stop with electricity on the Kaapsehoop Hiking Trail. You can have a warm shower (without having to make a fire in a donkey boiler), you can charge appliances at the plug points in the outdoor kitchen and the coach compartments have lights.
The braai is stocked with plenty of firewood, but you need to bring your own cooking and eating utensils (as well as bedding). There is a stretch of grass between the trains and the braai area, ideal for kicking back and lazing around into the afternoon.
The view from the coaches warrants that little extra carrying load to enjoy a sundowner (or two) after the day’s trek through large quartzite rock formations, natural forest and plantations.
From the elevated position of Barrett’s, you can see distant mountains and the plantations stretching into the pink and purple hues of the sunset.
Be on the lookout for baboons and wild horses sharing the route – as well as the endangered blue swallow, which the four-day trail and The Blue Swallow Reserve are named after.
Rates: R150pp per day
013-764-2071, [email protected]
Text and photographer: MIA LOUW