Sustainable luxury is sometimes not an easy fusion, but a few inventive and creative eco establishments have set the benchmark for getaways at their finest


In their landmark 2013 book Africa’s Finest, documenting the journeys of the best eco-lodges on the continent, editors David Bristow and Colin Bell quote French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in a telling statement. ‘Air-conditioning systems cooling empty hotels in the desert and artificial light in the middle of the day all have something both demented and admirable about them.’

Baudrillard was spot on – there’s much to admire about bringing Netflix and foie gras to the deepest Kalahari, even as it is equally damfool. There is, of course, a middle path, one which many of the recent premium lodges have found. Rarity is now the ultimate luxury, underscored by space, exclusivity and silence. So it is that these lodges, green and exclusive, accent the rare, highlight the raw, and stress the untouched nature of their offerings, rather than trumpeting the seductions of modern trappings.

Tsala Treetop Lodge, Western Cape, SA
Tsala’s point of difference is its treetop community of 10 suites on offer, a collection of elegant log houses built in – and above – the Knysna forest that it is part of. The accent is on natural materials. There is much wood, leather and stone, and plant species are encouraged to grow through and up the platforms. Private decks and picture windows bring the canopy inside, so to speak. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Tsala is wildly popular with birders. The larger Tsala estate features a primarily organic restaurant and a spa set in extensive gardens.

Linyanti Bush Camp, Chobe, Botswana
In the north-western corner of the Okavango Delta, Linyati is one of Chobe’s champion green lodges. The camp, with just six tents, is solar powered. Greywater is treated and re-used, and all Bush Camp’s materials are sustainably sourced. Yet the sense of luxury remains all-pervasive – private decks and old-fashioned ball-and-claw baths outside and communal dining under the stars add a certain elan. The wider Linyanti is a world-renowned private reserve, meaning guides can go where they want, when they want. No cowboys here though; water-based safaris are the preferred method of exploration.

Bubble Lodge, Bois Chéri, Mauritius
Bubble Lodge’s quirky, delightfully different offering in the middle of Mauritius on a tea plantation has been so successful that the company has opened another on the nearby private island of Île aux Cerfs. Both are equally astonishing… On Île aux Cerfs sleep among the banyan trees or close to the beach; at Bois Chéri be among the black swans and Java monkeys. The ‘tents’ are translucent, sci-fi almost – Barbarella-esque bubbles, complete with contemporary furnishings, sitting rooms and outside showers. Both locations are good for hiking and exploring.

Grootbos, Western Cape, SA
Grootbos is a reserve that champions the preservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Situated outside Gansbaai with views across Walker Bay and the lighthouses of Danger Point, Hangklip and Cape Point, it has won a plethora of prestigious international conservation prizes, as well as hospitality awards. The 1 700 ha property showcases about 450 specimens of fynbos (and counting), making guided walks the backbone of any visit. The accommodation options all offer exceptional luxury in expansive suites with terraces and uninterrupted views of the vegetation and the Atlantic Ocean.

Tswalu, Northern Cape, SA
Famed for its remote Kalahari location, Tswalu was once a desert hideaway for the Oppenheimers. The ethos of the farm is to restore and manage the sensitive semi-desert biome. The reserve features two settlements: the Motse community has nine legae, each wholly private, with decks and lounge areas, while Tarkuni is the jewel – most memorable are the overstuffed stoep daybeds, ideal for sleeping outside under the Kalahari sky. Cuisine is a key feature – Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen designed the menu and curates the creative farm-to-table process.

Thonga Beach Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, SA
Twelve thatch, reed and wood chalets make up Thonga Beach, arguably the country’s greenest lodge, and certainly one of the best placed for a water-based holiday. The location in the iSimangaliso wetland park – on the sliver of land between Lake Sibaya and the Indian Ocean – makes it ideal for kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving and birding. Conservation is front and centre at Thonga, from the ethically sourced menu to the sustainable use of all consumables, including building materials, water and power. The lodge is also heavily involved in turtle tracking and research, and night turtle drives and walks are on offer.

Sibuya Forest Camp, Eastern Cape, SA
Sibuya’s appeal is its location, cradled by the meandering Kariega river, deep in the forest estuary, far removed from anything even remotely resembling civilisation. The lodge – eight luxury tents – is run on solar power with gas as a back-up. The spa is popular, as are river cruises, excellent skipjack-tuna and grunter fishing, and birding.

Camp Karoo, Eastern Cape, SA
Possibly SA’s best-kept secret, Camp Karoo is a purpose-built homestead in the mountain wilderness behind the Addo Elephant National Park. Visitors have to 4×4 from the gate (or be transferred by game vehicle). The drive itself is reason enough to go – a winding, at times vertiginous, trek through the Groot Winterhoek mountains. While the camp is self-catering, staff are on hand to clean and prepare (and make the world’s best roosterkoek).

Little Kulala, Sossusvlei, Namibia
Wilderness Safari’s much-celebrated, unusually designed eco-lodge outside Sossusvlei includes a 100% solar-energy system, 11 substantially improved desert suites, each with a private deck, sala, plunge pool and private rooftop area, which is ideal for star-gazing and sun-downers. Kulala’s positioning – at the gates of Sossusvlei – recommends it to many seasoned travellers keen on the legendary red behemoths. Its orientation is spectacular – facing the vast plains of the Kulala Wilderness Reserve. Watching the sun set over an endless, ochre-burnt vista, it feels like the very last place on Earth.

Eikehof Farm, Western Cape, SA
Eikehof Farm is a real find – an 18th-century farmstead that has been sensitively restored. The self-catering Manor House and two adjacent cottages are immaculately and beautifully furnished; goats run free; fragrant gardens abound; and the Olifantsberg in the backyard offers plenty of hiking, walks, wildlife and birding opportunities. The magnificent farm kitchen can seat 10, and verandas and outside stoeps encourage lazy afternoon sundowners.

Kruger Shalati, Mpumalanga, SA
This 1950s SA Railways train atop an historic bridge at Skukuza Camp, has been repurposed as a luxury hotel, featuring 24 suites, with superbly inventive public areas. The use of recycled materials is a nice touch and celebrates a past that dates back to the line’s heyday. The lounge carriage and pool deck are especially clever – both are stationed on the bridge, with the pool extended over the edge of the bridge, above the Sabie river.

The Hide, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The Hide is that rare place – a luxurious experience anchored in honesty and caring. Whether you stay at the Main Lodge or Tom’s Little Hide as a family, or at the Dove’s Nest as honeymooners, it’s all the same ethos. No plastics, organically grown produce, sustainable materials and 100% solar. The park is the best it has been for years; excellent summer rains have brought it to life and the birdlife particularly is astonishing.

Shipwreck Lodge, Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
This 10-unit property does everything it can to minimise its environmental impact, from timber nails to deep-planted poles (rather than traditional foundations). The interior design echoes the stark but intriguing landscape: colours are muted, textures appear rough and everything is environmentally sustainable. Solar power is necessary (and obvious) and water reticulation is sophisticated, as is the norm in dry Namibia. Dune, beach and desert walks and drives are offered, and striking ‘clay castle’ geological formations are close by.

Cederberg Ridge, Western Cape, SA
Cederberg Ridge is on the outskirts of Clanwilliam, before the Pakhuis Pass, which traditionalists consider the start of the Cederberg. No matter – the lodge, perched on the top of its namesake ridge, has beautiful views of the pass and towering peaks beyond. Suites are strung out from the strongly contemporary main building in the mountain fynbos and combine the best of international design and the archaic majesty of the views. Guided or solo cycling is popular, as is the spa. The fine-cuisine restaurant is open to the public.

By Peter Frost
Images courtesy of Michael Turek, Tswalu, Thonga Beach lodge, Tsala Treetop Lodge, Little Kulala