When the bush calls, five-star lodges are not the only way go. We know that sometimes a wallet-friendly option is just as wonderful an experience. We’ve narrowed down 8 budget bush breaks we know you’ll love…
1. KwaZulu-Natal – Rockwood Lodges, near Karkloof
This self-catering lodge on the banks of the Godwini stream and set in the Karkloof Nature Reserve forest is special for the total privacy it offers. It’s 1½ hours from Durban and only accessible by 4×4. However, if you don’t have one, you’ll be ferried from the office. We were seduced by the sun-dappled deck of the double-storey log lodge in its leafy, riverside glade. It sleeps six (eight at a pinch) in three bedrooms, each with a bathroom. Large windows bring nature closer while the babbling water is a constant soundtrack for relaxation. Best of all, there’s no cellphone reception, although there is DStv. The kitchen is fully equipped, there’s a fireplace (firewood provided) and heaters in the rooms.
This is an ideal meditation retreat, a friends’ rendezvous, a lovers’ delight. Explore the marked walks to the waterfall, or ask staff and they will open the 4×4 track to the highly recommended Karkloof Canopy Tour. The eco-friendly Mountain Lodge is even more remote, but if you’d rather be a bit closer to civilisation, there’s the farm cottage or farmhouse. – Adrian Rorvik
2. Northern Cape – Mosu Lodge, Mokala National Park
This park on the outskirts of Kimberley is one of my favourites, not only because of the beautiful scenery, but it’s the only national park where you have a very good chance of seeing scarce animal species. Mosu Lodge is a fantastic place to stay and you don’t have to go very far for game viewing.
A nearby waterhole attracts plenty of game, so we just sat back and relaxed on our patio while ticking off the sightings. Accommodation is in 15 units or bungalows; our unit was stylishly furnished. On hot days, the sparkling swimming pool offers welcome relief, while other facilities include a restaurant with a bar, a lapa, lounge and entertainment area with a fireplace to beat the winter chill, and a conference venue. If you go for a drive, look out for tsessebe, roan, sable, black wildebeest, buffalo, gemsbuck and giraffe.
The park’s name is Setswana for camel thorn and these trees area bundant across the landscape. Price depends on the type of accommodation and the season. – René de Klerk
3. Eastern Cape – Lakeview Tented Camp, Camdeboo National Park
Situated near Graaff-Reinet, Lakeview Tented Camp in Camdeboo National Park offers an ideal budget bush break. The tents are equipped with two single beds, a small bar fridge, kettle braai and chairs. I found the accommodation a little cold in winter, but nothing beats waking up to natural surroundings. You share communal ablutions and a kitchen that is very well equipped. Each tent has its own locker with cutlery and other necessities. The rest camp gates stay open until 22h00, so you can go to town for dinner.
Nqweba Dam in the game-viewing area is great for bird watching and, on a game drive, expect to see springbok, Cape mountain zebra, black wildebeest and kudu, with buffalo more challenging to find. The magnificent Valley of Desolation, famous for its giant dolerite pillars should be on your must-see list. – René de Klerk
4. Mpumalanga – Shimuwini Bushveld Camp, Kruger National Park
There are five bush camps scattered over the length of the Kruger National Park’s 19 000km², among them Shimuwini (Place of the Baobab) in Shangaan. It has been named as such because it’s situated alongside the baobab-lined Letaba River. This solar-powered camp is remote and in a restricted area, which only allows access to residents, and being fenced, we could safely walk around at all hours. Self-catering accommodation is in 15 family-size cottages along the Shimuwini Dam. The kitchen is well-equipped, there are braai facilities and if you need something, we found that the staff is extremely friendly and helpful. There are no shops, although wood and ice can be bought at the camp reception. Shimuwini is, however, situated within an accessible radius of the bigger Letaba and Mopani rest camps, where groceries and petrol can be purchased. The benefits of being a smaller camp are fewer vehicles and better game sightings; it’s also a great destination all year round. – Anita de Villiers
5. KwaZulu-Natal – Cape Vidal log cabins, iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Cape Vidal is one of my favourite bush escapes, offering both terrestrial and marine attractions. On the 33km drive there from St Lucia, through the Eastern Shores section of the park, we saw buffalo lumbering across the road, passed big herds of zebra and antelope looking on curiously, and warthogs trotted away from our car indignantly, tails in the air. The camp, which consists of five- and eight-bed, fully equipped log cabins and a campsite, is at the end of the road, tucked into the coastal forest. The cabins are rustic but the setting is lovely. Little red duiker and bushbuck scampered away as we approached, mongoose families slunk around and, at dusk, bushpigs sniffed outside the cabins. Sightings of leopard are common, and recently a hyena has become something of a surprise attraction. What makes the camp special, however, particularly for families and energetic folk who, like me, can’t bear to be trapped at a conventional game lodge, is Cape Vidal’s glorious bay and beach, which is just over the dunes and is part of the St Lucia Marine Reserve. It’s a wonderful place to stroll, snorkel, cast a line or scan the ocean for whales and dolphins. Between November and March, loggerhead and leatherback turtles arrive to lay their eggs and you can join a guided turtle tour. – Fiona McIntosh
6. Limpopo – Leokwe Rest Camp, Mapungubwe National Park
This rugged park, scattered with sandstone rock formations and vast, open plains, is a World Heritage Site, with prolific birding and plenty of wildlife, and it’s the land of giant baobabs. Just 11km from the entrance gate is Leokwe Rest Camp. Its cluster of thatched rondavels are perfectly spaced for privacy, and blend into the rocky environment. And expect more luxuriors interiors than the usual national park accommodation. The rondavels sleep two to four, have terracotta floors, beautiful bathrooms and spacious bedrooms. The camp isn’t fenced, so as we sat on our stoep and enjoyed a sundowner, genets and other night creatures passed close by. By day, there’s a treetop hide where you can spot elephant, gemsbok, lion or kudu – and a series of elevated decks where we watched sunset over neighbouring Zimbabwe or Botswana, as the park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Views here are also over the confluence of the great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo and the Shashe rivers. – Keri Harvey
7. KwaZulu-Natal – Umziki Pan, Hluhluwe
‘Budget’ bush break has become a contradiction in terms, but not so here in this 80-hectare northern KwaZulu-Natal Natural Heritage Site and registered birder-friendly establishment, where a night cost us less than the average B&B. Umziki (the Zulu name for our common reedbuck), is renowned for pristine sand forest habitat, as well as its associated endemic plants and wildlife, so you’ll need little encouragement to take advantage of the open spaces and abundant bird life as you walk with impala, nyala, red duiker and suni antelope that are among the wild animals you’ll encounter on the trails. Accommodation is self-catering, and comprises two rondavels that sleep five and two people respectively, a ‘square-davel’ for two and an eight-bed guest house. Each cottage is en suite. There’s a boma/braai area by the pool with a bar which creates an inviting social setting. Resident game even joined us. A short drive took us into the Hluhluwe Game Reserve in search of big game – just one of many activities the area offers. – Olivia Schaffer
8. Northern Cape – Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi is the land of red sand dunes and forms more than 3.6 million hectares of conservation area in South Africa and Botswana, one of the biggest conservation areas in the world. Twee Rivieren rest camp is at the main entrance on the South African side, and is the biggest of the park’s camps and the only one with a restaurant. Plus it has a shop for basic provisions, and a petrol station, along with limited cellphone reception. Game drives go north from the camp and there’s plenty to see – we saw gemsbok and springbok, black-maned lions, cheetah, wildebeest, meerkats and more. This is also Sociable Weaver territory and there are many raptors like Pygmy Falcons.
Accommodation comes in various shapes and sizes from camping to family houses, depending on preference. The self-catering houses are well appointed, serviced daily and there are braai facilities. Temperatures range from -11 degrees in winter to 45 degrees in summer, and the sunsets are always dramatic. While SANParks prefers visitors to travel in 4x4s, we saw many sedans on the main roads around Twee Rivieren. – Keri Harvey
Here are 3 more affordable bush breaks we love…
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