Eco - Bliss getaway

mel A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: One of the hiking trails runs for 5km along the Palmiet River, with several spots to swim. .

IT WAS overcast but hot and we

had been hiking for a couple of

hours.

I looked at the river, slow-moving

and black. Coca-Cola rivers,

we called them when we were

kids, dark where they are deep

and amber where they bubble over

rocks.

“I’m going in.”

I love that feeling: peeling off

sweaty clothes and wading into a

mountain stream. The shock of

cold as you sink under, tiny bubbles

running over your scalp and

that silky touch of the water on

your bare skin. And when you pop

up, the silence. Birdsong, a few

insects, but behind that a big,

enveloping silence.

I floated on my back, staring

up at the mountains rising above

me.

This was Kogelberg Nature

Reserve, just 90km away from

Cape Town, but we could have

been in the most remote wilderness.

I first heard about Kogelberg

when I lived in Joburg in the ’80s,

when there was a public outcry

over plans to dam the Palmiet

River flowing through it – the

same river I was swimming in.

The plans were eventually

shelved, apparently because there

was not enough water to make it

viable.

Kogelberg is managed by Cape-

Nature, which calls it “the heart of

the Cape Floral Kingdom”.

It is big, stretching from just

south of the N2 near Grabouw to

just above Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond,

and sweeping right down to

the sea between Kogel Bay and

Rooi Els on the False Bay coast.

It encompasses part of the

Hottentots Holland mountains,

forming the core of the larger

Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

Kogelberg is home to leopard,

otters, tiny bokkies and masses of

birds. It has over 1 500 plant

species, 150 of which occur

nowhere else, including the endangered

marsh rose.

Marsh Rose was the name of

our cabin, one of five that make

up the Oudebosch camp.

I’ve never really cared too

much about the type of accommodation

in the wilds, as long as it is

clean and functional, but I have

stayed in some places that have

irritated me because they seemed

purposely designed to block one

off from the beauty all around.

Not so with Kogelberg’s ecocabins.

Wherever you are inside, it

feels as if you are outside. They

are quite extraordinary.

Just one year old, the cabins

have replaced the old wooden

bosbou chalets, and are designed

to touch the earth lightly and

blend in with the surroundings.

When I walked up the boardwalk,

the cabin looked faintly

hobbit-like: long chimney poking

out of a roof that had plants growing

on it (for insulation and to

blend in) and rustic walls clad in

latte. Open the big door and you

look across a deck to the breathtaking

sweep of the veld and the

mountains beyond.

On one side of the deck are two

bedrooms and two bathrooms, one

en suite; on the other side a sitting

room, with inside fireplace, and a

kitchenette. There is a stoep with

a huge wooden table, and a view

right down the valley, and an

outside braai built into a gabion

wall.

Sitting in the sitting room,

lying in

bed or even taking a shower, you

always have a view. I loved that.

And I loved the fact that it was

“eco-friendly”, minimising our

impact on the environment with

low-flow showerheads that use

only three percent of the water

the old system used, solar lights,

solar hot water and a compost loo.

This is really cool. It involves no

water at all.

On the floor next to the loo is a

little bucket of compost and a

spoon, and after you use the loo,

simply toss a spoon of compost

down the long-drop and nature

does the rest.

No nine litres of water for a

flush, no septic tank seeping into

the sensitive fynbos, and not a

trace of smell.

After a few months, everything

becomes pure compost and is

removed from a unit outside. Why

aren’t all loos like this?

For those who don’t feel like

trekking to the river for a swim,

there is a pool. Not your turquoise

number saturated with pool chemicals,

but an eco-pool, as dark as

the Palmiet river, with no chemicals

at all. The water flows out at

one end over a constructed “wetland”,

and it is these wetland

plants that filter and clean the

water. So clever.

Why aren’t all pools like this?

I hooked my arms on the wall

and stared at a little frog in the

“wetland” pool. Was it real or was

it an ornament?

I stretched out my hand and

plops! It dived into the water. A

real, living ecosystem.

There were some tiny things

that niggled: there’s nowhere to

hang towels in the bathroom,

nowhere to pack away clothes in

the bedroom, no work surface in

the kitchenette and no cupboards

for groceries. But these were

minors.

The other niggle was that in

this eco-sensitive set-up, there was

no system to separate rubbish for

recycling. We took ours home, but

not everyone wants to do that.

For the active types Kogelberg

has a lot to offer: two mountain

bike routes, one 39km and another

26km, a place to launch kayaks,

and many hiking trails.

The easiest is the Palmiet River

trail, a 10km out-and-back walk

that follows the river, with plenty

of places to swim.

There is a 24km circular Kogelberg

trail, and a 6km hike up a

kloof through forest to the Harold

Porter Botanical Garden on the

other side of the mountain. These

all start from the cabins.

There are two other hikes, the

Perdeberg and the Houw Hoek,

which are further afield and you

have to drive on the N2 to reach

the starting points.

Each cabin sleeps four, and my

party seemed to take that as an

instruction. I could not believe

anyone could sleep as much as

they did.

DIRECTIONS:

From Cape Town take the N2, turn off

to Gordon's Bay on the R44. Entrance

gate between Betty’s Bay and

Kleinmond, just before the bridge

over the Palmiet River.

COST:

R1 600 a cabin a night in peak season

for one or two people; R800 in the off

season; R250 each for a third or

fourth person. Peak season includes

public holidays and Western Cape

school holidays. Conservation fee of

R40 a day for adults, R20 for children.

Wild Card holders do not pay this fee.

BOOK:

Telephone 021 483 019or email:

[email protected]


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