Not me camping at Tsitsikamma National Park
Accommodations in South Africa are literally everywhere and in all price ranges. Camping is a popular activity for South Africans and the facilities are excellent. B&Bs and Guesthouses abound many with self-catering options. Hotels seem more prevalent in city/big urban areas. There’s also lots of luxury that I can’t talk about as it’s just not my style. I’m just one step above total budget travel with no problem staying within my self imposed budget range of $15-40/night with occasional splurge.
I’m going to get the worst place out of the way first because the rest were good to spectacular.
The worst (and no photo)
After a long day of driving across the rather barren looking Free State Joan and I approached Bloemfontein, the capital city of the Free State Province, and began searching for a place to camp for the night. We stopped and asked for suggestions and directions more than a couple of times. The first place looked like a park full of trailer trash—no offense to trailer dwellers as I live in an RV myself—and not inviting to set up a tent for the night.
Then we saw Hillside Village with a nice brick façade and under construction reception building. After waiting for what seemed like forever for the one person there to get off their cell phone we were given the tour. Our choices included a berth in a train car for $6/night which might sound fun and different but was very small and stuffy for two, or a broken down questionably bug infested caravan, which we opted for, at $15. Joan ended up sleeping in her truck and I barely slept at all. Warm temperatures meant open windows and we both slapped ourselves all night from the mosquitos. Pulled out by 5am. Should have stayed in the parking lot at the Strip Joint down the street.
The best was the rest
Being that was the only bad experience I consider myself lucky.
Lower Sabie camp Kruger National Park
I love to camp and with over 700 options between national parks, game reserves and private camps—called caravan parks—the choices are limitless. However reservations are often needed especially in popular parks and during holidays.
Outdoor Restaurant Addo Elephant National Park
South African National Park camps usually have swimming pools, cafes/restaurants, stores, clean bathrooms with showers and sometimes bathtubs (ablutions), communal kitchens, and each site has an electricity/power point and a braai/bbq. We usually drove through and picked our own space, some being more designated than others. The sites vary from open to shady and are usually within close proximity of each other. Yet being that campers are mostly out and about all day, bed time comes early so it’s not usually noisy. Except for teenagers and large groups which seems to be the case everywhere I’ve ever camped. And there was no sleeping in as the day starts early, especially at wildlife parks. Coffee and rusks at sunrise then out to search for animals. Parks with large predatory animals close the gates around sunset and you better be inside or could be fined. Prices were pretty consistent at around $20/night for two.
The privately owned camps we stayed at ran from basic to fancy. We only stayed at these for one night so didn’t take time to explore the surrounding area.
Green Cedars caravan park near Madadeni in the northwest corner of KwaZulu-Natal appeared in the middle of seemingly nowhere at just the right time. Looked like quite a few trailers were parked permanently and probably because of the large dam which offers trout fishing. This is a working ranch and the fenced area where we set up camp on lush green grass presumably manicured by the bunnies of which there were quite a few. A delightfully quiet haven for $7 each.
Boesmans Caravan Park in Bushmans River Mouth is within 5 minutes walk to the river and beach which we didn’t do as we’d already spent a windy day on the beach. We parked on a grassy area surrounded by cabin-like structures built off trailers. Some for rent and others looked like permanent residences. Adequate ablutions but rather dimly lit and the showers didn’t work well. Wasn’t a bad place to set up camp but nothing to write home about at $20 each.
Green Fountain Farm Resort near Port Alfred provides every camp site with a private bathroom. And there was a bathtub which felt luxurious. Also on the premises is a restaurant, swimming pool, communal area, laundry facilities, 22 self-catering villas and fenced wildlife. Wasn’t very busy and campers were spread over the grassy 48 sites. Very nice and I could see using this as a base to further explore the coast around Port Alfred for $20/night each.
So it seems cheaper to camp at the National Parks when possible rather than private camps. And there isn’t any free public land camping like in the USA that we found. But Joan & I proved we can both sleep in the bakkie (back of pickup truck) when needed, like strong wind with rain or waiting at a park gate, and still much better than the worst place.
Renting a room in a private home is very common and usually there are many choices. Sometimes meals are served on the premises, or nearby restaurants are available. Often a small fridge and microwave are furnished which I found convenient for leftovers. It’s so much more personal than hotels and frequently hosts can recommend activities around the community that only locals would know about. I was usually able to reserve the same day with a quick phone call and cash was the preferred, and sometimes only, way to pay.
Seaview B&B at Kidds Beach was literally a stone’s throw from the ocean, even with my girly throwing. It’s really not beach so much as rocky tide pools filled with critter magic. The bathroom with toilet, sink, shower and tub was huge yet hidden in a closet. After so much camping this comfortable room with a view was a perfect treat at just over $40 for two in one large room. This tiny coastal town has one restaurant with great food and view but acknowledged very slow service. I could have hung out here for a couple of days absorbing the ocean energy.
But this is where Joan and I parted ways with a sad goodbye as she went to Johannesburg for a science presentation and I continued on with a rental car. Little did I know this would end my camping as we each drove away with separate parts of the tent.
I met blog friends Jo and Grant in Knysna and we all stayed at their friends Guinea Fowl Lodge with an amazing view over Knysna Lagoon and beyond. I enjoyed a large and lovely room with private bath off the flowery courtyard complete with cat. Breakfast included buffet choices and made to order eggs, bacon/sausage. When I return to explore more of Knysna this would make a convenient and comfortable base. At $50/night this was a little above budget but is located along the famous Garden Route.
The Old Mill Lodge north of Oudtshoorn started out as an ostrich farm and currently raises goats. They advertise ‘tame wildlife’ which I’m actually glad I didn’t see. However, during my delicious ostrich dinner on the deck I was shocked to see a reindeer and wondered if I’d been suddenly beamed to Alaska. Inside dining is in the old mill with the original grinding mill as part of the decor. A quiet place with walking and hiking opportunities surrounded by mountains on the way to Cango Cave for $50/night. Plus the owner recommended a mountain drive over Swartberg Pass that I’m glad not to have missed.
By far my favorite places to stay offer everything needed to just move right in. Not necessarily huge places but always comfortable.
Self-catering offers enough kitchen to do the trick including a small fridge, microwave, dishes and cutlery, toaster, hot-water maker, all coffee & tea fixings. En suite bathroom with shower/tub, toilet and sink. Comfortable beds, sometimes twin/double/queen usually with a duvet, often bottom sheet only, overkill amounts of pillows and several extra blankets. Plus many provided an in room safe.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Because half my tent went north, my first night on my own I stayed at Never Daunted in Hogsback for $20/night. Much more to be explored than my two days allowed. At Tsitsikamma National Park I splurged on ocean view chalets for two nights at $90/night. I’ll return to this park every visit and next time I’d like to camp as seen in the first image posted. I so enjoyed soaking in hot water at Warmwaterberg Spa in Barrydale that I stayed three nights in a little cabin at $50/night on weekends and only $22 for week nights. And just down the road is Ronnies Sex Shop if you want to have a few drinks. Then at Rhodene Farm in Ceres I stayed in a good sized cottage for only $34/night.
I already posted about staying at these great places so please follow the links to find out more.
After yet another day of driving mountain passes I ended up in Worcester at Jasmyn House Self Catering and Backpackers. I had a hard time finding the Distillery Road address even stopping several times for directions. Looks like an old school dormitory converted into nice rooms with shared bath facilities. I was very happy with $23/night. Worcester hosts the Karoo Botanical Gardens but it was too hot to walk around much and I’d like to return at a cooler time of the year.
Towards the end of my South African journey I attended the Getaway Outdoor and Travel Show in Somerset West so chose to stay in nearby Stellenbosch at Alvera Guest Lodge. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood but not far from the historic Dutch town which I wandered around in several times. I started out with reservations for two nights and ended up spending five at $23/night.
For even more budget travelers than myself backpacker lodges seem to be very convenient especially when traveling on the BAZ bus with many offering both private and dorm rooms at about $10-20/night. They offer communal kitchens and a chance to meet other travelers.
I only stayed at one, and Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge is at the top of my list of fine places to stay. They offer private rooms $30-40, dorm $10-12, family room $70-90, camping $6-8, and a tree house. Extra charge for breakfast & dinner with vegetarian option. The energy here was phenomenal as were the people, both hosts and guests. Guess I should consider staying at hostels more often.
I only stayed at one hotel, the Town Lodge in Port Elizabeth, and found it a bit expensive at $75/night for a tiny room and then make it even worse when I sent out my one load of laundry to the tune of $50. But it was all worth it because I got to tour with blogger friend Jonker, and my room did have a clear view of the beach. Plus I was within walking distance of the Boardwalk with several restaurant selections—I ate Greek food twice—and saw an impressive music/light show.
With all the choices it was easy to find a place to stay anywhere I traveled in South Africa. Many offered free WIFI and coverage was available almost everywhere with my Vodacom modem. I could have stayed at any of the best places for much longer, or just moved in forever.
All prices listed here are from February and March 2013 and are subject to change. The rate of exchange at that time was about US$1/R10 (Rand is South African currency.)
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