What is an Eco Stay ?
It could be a vacation where your carbon footprint is zero and you try to emulate Bear Grylls, but obviously this is not many people’s idea of fun. Luckily eco stays are more about the attitude towards the environment and the respectful use of resources. Many eco stays look like regular holidays, you just need to ask the right questions to find the environmentally friendly establishments.
These are four of my top eco friendly places .
The Simonskloof Mountain Retreat is the real deal.
Location: A 250km drive from Cape Town on the R62 to Montagu, then take the R328 into the mountains above the town.
Accommodation: Three self -catering cottages and eight private camp sites in a remote mountain setting.
Activities: Simonskloof is 2000 hectares of nature’s playground. Explore the fynbos where two biodiverse regions meet, Succulent Karoo/Renosterveld and Mountain Fynbos, as you follow the hiking trails keeping an eye out for Rhebok, Klipspringer, Leopards, Mountain tortoises, Porcupine, Caracals and Black Eagles. Bring your bike and cycle along the 40km of MTB Trails, get adventurous and do the overnight Gecko Trail, or test yourself with abseiling, boulder hopping and bush whacking through the wilderness. Cool off in the farm dam or find some rock pools for a skinny dip. Meditate or do yoga in the forest and enjoy the freedom from all connectivity.
Image courtesy of Jurgen Wolfharter
Eco factors: Simonskloof is proudly off the grid. The cottages use solar powered geysers to provide hot water, with gas as a back- up, and to meet refrigeration needs. Wood fired Dover stoves or gas are used for cooking and light is provided by candles, lanterns or the moon and stars.
Donkey showers and composting toilets service the camp sites, and each site has a tap for water.
They grow their own vegetables and herbs and if the porcupines and tortoise have not snuck in to snack, guests can buy any surplus. Free range eggs are available subject to the mood of the mongoose who absolutely loves them. A farm shop about 10km away provides anything else needed.
Jurgen the owner is always happy to chat about sustainable practices and his 17 year journey of what he calls getting down to earth.
Stonehill River Lodge is where four star comfort meets nature on a farm, with a river thrown in for extra pleasure. It is a luxury escape that is serious about making a positive impact on the environment.
Location: The resort is situated on the Breede River about 20km past Swellendam, and easy 3 hour drive from Cape Town.
Accommodation: Eight self- catering luxury villaseach with their own jacuzzi.
Activities: Swim in the pool, relax in the jacuzzi or play in the river where you an paddle, kayak, go rafting over the rapids, jump off the high rocks or do a bit of fishing. Walk the paths, cycle the MTB Trails, go bird watching or take a drive or a walk to look for the zebra, bontebok and other antelope on the farm. Boats, fishing gear and bikes are available for hire if required. Swings, a giant chess set and a trampoline on a grassy open area make it a very child friendly venue.
Eco factors: All grey water is re-used and a mini sewage plant cleans water which is returned to the river. Storage tanks and guttering catch rain water reducing the amount of water they take from the river.
Light bulbs are energy savers, and outdoor lighting is set to only come on once it is dark. There are no tumble driers, and other appliances are only used during off peak times. All geysers and heat pumps are fitted with timers. Electricity usage is closely monitored and adjustments are made to ensure they are being as energy efficient as possible. Solar panels are on the cards in the foreseeable future.
Cleaning and other products are fully biodegradable. The removal of alien vegetation is an on-going project and the wood is used to fuel the barbeques and fireplaces of all the units.
The creation of the hiking and mountain bike trails has been done in a way that does not negatively impact on any fauna or flora. Regular controlled burns are carried out to regenerate the fynbos. The animal population are monitored, and numbers are controlled by buying and selling to maintain a healthy balance. No interactions between animals and humans are permitted.
Owl boxes have recently been installed as owls play an important role in the control of small rodents, and it is a thrill to see and hear one in a natural environment.
There is almost no refuse generated here as all organic waste is chopped up and taken to the worm farm on the property. Everything else is sorted and recycled.
Saxon Lodge guest house is perfect for beach lovers and it is situated in Gansbaai, a coastal town that is the epitome of responsible tourism, winning the top award as the world’s best responsible tourism destination in 2015.
Location: Saxon Lodge is in the town of Gansbaai, overlooking the harbour and close to all amenities. Gansbaai is a two hour drive from Cape Town on the N2 and then via the R43 through Hermanus and Stanford.
Accommodation: A honeymoon suite, 2 family units, 2 split level suites, a 2 bedroomed apartment, a twin room and 2 double rooms, cater to all family sizes. The public areas include a deck for sundowners, a restaurant, pub, lounge and a splash pool overlooking the harbor.
Activities: The owners are Dave and Caron and they are rooted in the community. Dave is a qualified tour guide and Caron is the Chairperson of the tourism office, so they can advise you on the huge responsible tourism offerings of this magic little town. Eco boat cruises, hikes, walks, visits to ancient caves, wine farms, local breweries, art, crafts, the list is endless, chat to them.
Eco factors: Everything for the lodge is bought within a 50km radius from Gansbaai to distribute the tourism spend to our local communities. The Pub where Dave presides most evenings, stocks local produced wines and craft beers. The complimentary toiletries are organic and locally produced.
No single use plastic is permitted at the lodge and everything that can’t be composted is recycled.
Many of the herbs and veggies are grown by Caron and all her outstanding meals use only seasonal and local produce.
It goes without saying that energy efficient light bulbs and showerheads are used and solar panels will be installed next year.
The motto is “San Spirit Shared”
The !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre is a hub of San culture and heritage that provides leisure activites and information to the public and tailor-made training for young San women and men of Southern Africa.
Location: iKhwaTtu is situated on the West Coast, 75km from Cape Town on the R27.
Accommodation: 2 luxury en-suite guest houses, the 2 en-suite bedroomed bush house and 5 large, modern freestanding tents in the middle of nature.
Activities: Go for the food, the restaurant at iKhwaTtu is outstanding. Immerse yourself in the San culture with a guided walk where you will learn about the medicinal properties of the indigenous plants, brew herbal tea on an open fire and attempt to master all 7 of the click sounds of the San language.
Hike through the fynbos and wild flowers all the way to the town of Darling,
have a drink at Darling Brew, the first SA carbon neutral brewery, explore the hills on the mountain bike routes and trail runs or explore the farm on a tractor pulled trailer ending at the top of the hill for sundowners at the boma with views of the ocean and Table Mountain in the distance.
Visit the San art and craft shop, discover the history at the outdoor museum and wander through the photography and art exhibition. Bring the kids for the special programs during the school holidays where learning is fun and it’s all done outside.
Animals that roamed here naturally are being reintroduced so you might see Eland, Steenbok, Zebra and Bontebok and the smaller Honey badgers, Mongoose and Bat Eared Foxes. Looking down you might spot a porcupine, tortoise or rock hyrax. Bird lovers will enjoy the bird hides and vulture platform.
The accommodation was repurposed from the original farm cottages which were altered to be west facing, so along with the thick walls works with the weather regarding staying cool and keeping warm, reducing the need for air conditioning and heaters. Solar power and borehole water is used where ever possible.
The removal of alien Black Wattle and Port Jackson trees has resulted in the return of natural water fountains and wetlands , bringing birds and other indigenous creatures back to the area.
Grey water from the kitchens and bathrooms is directed into the reeds and cleaned naturally.
iKhwaTtu aims to be completely off the grid in the next three years. Everything used or needed is procured from the area, and finding better ways to produce power and conserve resources is an on-going project.
This post was first published on Traveller 24.