As a luxury travel writer, I’ve stayed at the world’s finest hotels but, with the right packed items, an affordable stay can also be a luxury.
The nature of luxury needs to be fully understood. It is typically associated with costliness and tremendous comfort, but luxury is also found in what is rare and especially in the bespoke. Once you know what qualifies as made-for-me luxury, it isn’t a great stretch to take these items with you.
For me, good coffee with pouring cream is an essential part of a luxury experience, so I routinely travel with a Nespresso machine and long-life cream. I have a small carry-on Samsonite case that perfectly holds the Nespresso machine, six sleeves of coffee and a bundle of long-life cream. There is also space for two Stanley thermo cups for hot coffee or cold drinks.
While a robe and slippers are provided at most deluxe hotels, nothing could be easier than packing your own. Great hotels offer a variety of pillow choices and, especially when travelling to a destination by car, bringing your own memory-foam neck support pillow is easy to do.
Top-tip in this regard is to use old pillowcases during travel and then slip on the 600-thread count linen you prefer to sleep on upon arrival. The old pillowcases make for wonderful laundry bags during your trip.
Top hotels will have smart TVs and a good sound system for your use, but these days many of us have a Bluetooth speaker and a laptop or tablet.
The Wilderness National Park on the Garden Route is about four hours from Cape Town by car and an hour from George Airport. The Ebb and Flow rest camp along the banks of the Touw River is a Sanparks gem. The luxury here is in the form of direct access to the river and proximity to the Kingfisher Trail leading to the waterfall, as well as the Serpentine River.
There are family-sized chalets, small rondavels, and camping sites, many with electricity. A favourite is the Forest Cabins (in South camp), which are timber structures raised above the ground in two- and four-bed configurations. Pristinely clean, these units offer the basics such as an en-suite bathroom, single beds, a built-in timber table, food prep area, and an outside deck with a fridge, freezer, two-seater table and braai area.
The luxury here comes in the form of location. The Knysna Turaco (Loerie) will fly past with the flash of its bright-red wing tips catching the light and you’ll see its green head with its TinTin “kuifie” hairdo through the branches. You will hear the rare Narina Trogon and may be lucky enough to see a pair of them on the forest walk.
An African Paradise Flycatcher with its long tail and bright colours may show itself to you. On the rivers, which you can easily access from just outside the cabins, you can explore in your own kayaks (a permit from Sanparks is required) or hire kayaks from the well-stocked Sanparks facility.
On the water you will spot Kingfishers, perhaps a Fish Eagle, and many bright-yellow Cape Weavers. The birdsong at dusk is sometimes so loud you will imagine it is artificially amplified.
Luxury On The Go
The two-bed units only have two stemware, cutlery and crockery, a small hob and a microwave. Space in the food-prep area is very limited but manageable, especially if you prepare well in advance. We take our Instant Pot along with us – it has sear, pressure-cook and slow-cook functions, and a digital timer so food is ready to eat when we return from a six-hour hike or paddle.
In anticipation of our visits, which typically last between one and two weeks, I make ahead and freeze a few staples: chicken curry and sliced beef brisket in a rich tomato sauce. Confectionery treats freeze well, and a few items taken out of the freezer each morning are ready to eat come sundown. Bring your own ice trays.
Although the Ebb and Flow Forest Cabins have a shower, it’s not very roomy. By contrast, the ablution blocks, a few paces across the lawn, have roomy, high-water pressure showers. Adjacent to the ablution building is a laundry with token-operated top-loader washers and large dryers. Tokens cost R20 each and remember to bring your own detergent.
And, as there is no kitchen sink in the cabins, sinks adjacent to the ablution block need to be utilised. We dedicate an hour or two a day to cook, eat, and do the laundry and dishes.
But, with Nespresso, pouring cream, robes, slippers, memory-foam pillows and the sounds of nature, it is pure luxury.
When To Go
The Garden Route is lovely all year round, but with higher than usual rainfall. Sanparks camps are busiest over school holiday periods.
Where To Stay
Book a Forest Cabin at Ebb and Flow Rest Camp in the Wilderness National Park.
The Saturday morning Wild Oats Community Market in Sedgefield, about 15 minutes away from Ebb and Flow by car, is an essential stop for anyone who cares about small-scale farmers and local artisans.
The farmers’ market side opens at 07h30 and closes at noon. The German Smokehouse Deli is a favourite stop and for the fresh-farm cream cappuccino, Fresh Bean can’t be beat.
The Timberlake Village (closed Mondays) is nearby. Eat at Zucchini. Their menu is not only affordable, but very delicious.
The Pause Coffee Roastery is a wonderful place to hang out, as is the German Deli selling traditional sausages, mustards and even sauerkraut.
Nearer still to Ebb and Flow is Joplins Restaurant, famous for its steak and rock music atmosphere and Selina’s an extremely popular restaurant overlooking the Wilderness Beach.
While accommodation for two at Ebb and Flow will cost R1 170 a night, and less still if you qualify for a pensioner’s discount and book midweek, access to pristine nature is a luxury indeed.
Need To Know
Bring everything you think you might need, but especially a multi-plug adaptor if you have many things to charge. Electric bug repellant is always helpful.
SAA flies to Cape Town daily, as well as to George with its code-sharing partner CemAir. If you choose the road trip option and drive from Cape Town, the Wilderness National Park is about four hours away. Make it count and build in enough time to stop enroute to the gorgeous Garden Route.
Words: Brian Berkman