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IT WAS overcast but hot and we
had been hiking for a couple of
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
“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,
I floated on my back, staring
up at the mountains rising above
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
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 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
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
Sitting in the sitting room,
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
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
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.
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.
Telephone 021 483 019or email: