Connect to earth and yourself at one of these luxury nature reserves in South Africa.
By Lauren Manuel
Amidst life’s chaos, I sought out spaces where I could set my feet on solid ground and connect with myself and the earth. Here’s a collection of luxurious stays where nature is celebrated and protected.
HIDE| MONTAGU, Klein Karoo
Now more than ever, we crave a full immersion with nature; more connection with the sounds of birds and wildlife and less with those from our screens. HIDE | MONTAGU is a self-catering, luxury hideaway that is built to facilitate that human-nature connection in style.
The 2.5 hour drive to the Klein Karoo will lead you to the little town of Montagu, through a working farm and onto the private Le Domaine Eco (Nature) Reserve where you’ll have nothing but a tranquil dam, hills and trees to rest your eyes on.
From this chic minimalist space with stone, wood and raw cement details, large stacking doors in the bedroom and lounge area allow for full integration with the outdoors. Read beside the indoor fireplace, make pizzas in the outdoor oven or dip in the splash pool in summer. And best of all, indulge in the complete serenity of a private outdoor bath.
With exclusive access to the Montagu Dam and with a kayak and life jackets for use, paddle out onto the dam first thing in the morning before the wind picks up or spend the entire day fishing or bird watching (you may even spot an African Fish Eagle) from the reeded hide with binoculars. There isn’t much that compares to sipping your coffee from bed as morning sunlight and fresh air pour in past the stacking doors, or sipping wine beside the boma-style fireplace on the deck at sunset.
FARMHOUSE58, Cradle of Humankind
Arriving at FARMHOUSE58 in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind feels like an invitation for your entire being to slow down and exhale. Here, in a converted dairy and working farm, you’ll find a culmination of beauty and balance in the imperfect with minimalist spaces paying homage to wabi-sabi principles and natural African design (wabi-sabi refers to the kind of beauty found in asymmetrical, uneven or unbalanced things).
Each walk, encounter or moment of stillness encourages regeneration, restoration and reconnection to yourself and nature. Explore the edible gardens while chatting to the farmers, bump into artists and writers, or stroll past the lake to the waterfall.
Enquire about joining a meditation or yoga class in the newly constructed shala amid the trees, book a sound bath (for bigger groups) or breathwork session, and head up the mountain at sunset with Epic Hikes on a mindfulness walk.
Much attention is paid to serving wholesome and sustainably farmed food at The Shed restaurant so once you’ve sampled all on offer, hop across the road to Nirox Sculpture Park for an art walk and a lunch at And Then There Was Fire restaurant.
Montusi Mountain Lodge, Northern Drakensberg
Midway between Johannesburg and Durban in the Northern Drakensberg, lies Montusi Mountain Lodge where the art of doing nothing is highly sought after, the Amphitheatre escarpment can be viewed from your window and distractions like a telephone are nowhere to be seen.
With wild spaces to roam and fresh mountain air to breathe in, you can move as slowly or get as active as you wish. Join a daily morning walk with coffee, tea and cookies to Montusi Mountain, Bushman’s Cave (with bushman paintings) or Waterfall Cave. And if you happen to visit during the Full Moon, meander over to the dam with us for a bonfire and Amarula coffee.
Because Montusi believes that preservation is an integral part of conservation in this region once inhabited by Bushmen, the last 10 years has seen invasive wattle trees eradicated and the area rehabilitated by planting indigenous trees (welcoming indigenous bird life).
The region subsequently saw the return of Mountain Reedbuck, Vaal Rhebuck, Bushbuck and the elusive Eland. Swim or fly fish in the dam, join evening sunset trail runs or take to the 100km network of Northern Drakensberg Mountain Bike Trails.
Gondwana Game Reserve, Mossel Bay
When it comes to wild luxury for families and friends, there is simply nothing more indulgent than Ulubisi House tucked away in Gondwana Game Reserve’s 1 000-hectare protected walking area.
With your own dedicated team of field guides (a firm favourite with children for spoor walks and bow-and-arrow creating) along with a private chef and butler, you have the gift of time and space to enjoy gourmet meals within the comfort of the villa and game viewing of various antelope and zebra visiting your pool and jacuzzi deck area.
When you’re ready to leave the luxury nest, head out on a game drive into the greater game reserve area where the Big Five roam freely and your ranger will guide you towards the hills and watering holes to spot elephants, rhinos, lions, buffalos and more.
Get active and involved in conservation on the reserve by volunteering an hour of your time to help remove invasive Black Wattle or join a guided fynbos walking experience where you’ll be introduced to the fascinating plants and their life cycles within the fynbos biome.
Tintswalo Lapala, Waterberg
Once you’ve been introduced to your luxury tent or suite on the edge of an open plain with a private plunge pool, outdoor baths for warm days and indoor fireplaces for those icy Waterberg days, you may find it challenging to step back out to join any other activities on offer.
Here, on the 50 000-hectare Lapalala Wilderness Reserve that forms part of the UNESCO-declared Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, you can embark on guided walks through the bush with a ranger or an intrepid game drive bringing your closer to the Big Five, or head to pools and rapids riverside for bass and fly-fishing.
This is a reserve well known for its research and breeding programmes of rare and endangered species as well as the environmental education programme it delivers to school communities from around South Africa.
Sustainability is at the heart of everything and aside from being solar-powered, gas stoves and geysers are used to alleviate grid load, private vehicles are prohibited on the reserve to reduce the carbon footprint, a vegetable garden is cultivated for use in the kitchen, and guests are invited to plant spekboom to help offset the carbon footprint of their stay. Sunset calls for G&Ts in the middle of the bush or around the boma fire, or drinks on the barge with fellow guests.
Zuluwater Game Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal
I don’t imagine anyone truly knows the meaning of ‘luscious green’ until you’ve encountered the summer Drakensberg mountains within Zulu Waters Game Reserve. From the pool deck on this malaria-free 3 000-hectare private game reserve, you can marvel at furry green hills blanketed with bush and trees, play tennis on the court, and enjoy breakfast while herds of wildebeest, buffalo and rhino graze in view.
The accommodation preserves much of the land’s rich history with the Nandi House (named after the Zulu King Shaka’s mother) built on an old reservoir dating back to early 1900s and refurbished opulent stone-faced garden suites that were once used as an old British officer’s mess and barracks.
Enjoy guided horse trails or walks on the reserve, go fly fishing with a ranger in Lake Murray or in the Bushman’s River (home to famous for its trophy-sized Loch Levern wild brown trout, rainbows and indigenous Natal Yellow) or have a wilderness picnic featuring local dishes, including organic meat and plant-based food creations.
Birders and photographers can get close to the rare and threatened bearded vulture from the vulture hide. By joining the rhino experience, your contribution will enable the reserve to continually provide these white rhinos the 24/7 surveillance and armed protection needed and you’ll get to interact with the anti-poaching staff, picnic, and learn more about them.