By Malu Lambert
“The proper use of science is not to conquer nature, but to live in it,” author Barry Commoner once wrote. The hospitality industry has heard the call of travellers wanting more responsible holidays. No longer is sustainable travel a niche requirement, but rather, it’s getting to the point where it is expected.
Adopting eco-friendly initiatives can help save airports and hotels money, which is also encouraging brands to use increasingly inventive methods to hoist the eco flag. Allowing guests to reuse their towels simply isn’t enough anymore. The accommodation is no longer the star of the show, the destination is. Eco architecture, too, should have a minimal visual and structural impact on the surrounding environment; it should allow the natural world to shine.
Taking this to another level is the concept of ‘living hotels’, where establishments push the boundaries to become a living extension of their setting. Like the plans for the Beijing National Hotel, which will house an indoor rainforest, with windows and skylights for natural light as well as energy-efficient solar thermal pipes for heating.
Another way to promote responsible travel is for brands to actively engage their guests with eco-initiatives; such as the novel idea of a bed & breakfast in Britain whose guests have to activate their television sets with pedal-power.
Responsible, ethical and sustainable travel will soon become the most desirable way to travel. Here in South Africa, with our spectacular natural beauty, there are plenty of options for the eco-traveller. We look at five of the best.
Akasha Mountain Retreat
Where: The Heidelberg, Western Cape
Sleeps: The main house and suite are 20 metres apart, rented together as a single unit, and can accommodate eight people and two children (all self-catering).
What: Disconnect from digital and reconnect with nature. Enjoy Cape-Maroc style accommodation and panoramic views over the Langeberg, Duiwenhoks Dam (ask about the mermaid) and Boosmansbos Wilderness Area (a World Heritage Site). “We designed the house with roof overhang and skylights to optimise thermodynamics, which means less heating in winter as well as less cooling in summer,” says owner Chris van der Walt. “We used recycled windows and doors as well as all natural and local building materials, such as rocks and reeds.” Add to this solar electricity and a system of using solar pumps and mechanical pumps. To maximise the peace and privacy of this tranquil retreat they host only one group at a time. There are also many nature activities to enjoy—such as hikes and walks in the fynbos-rich mountains—to specially tailored tours that include everything from botanicals, birding, game viewing, to the more cultural, which encompass fine arts, antiquing and farmyard excursions. Something special: Look out for the wild horses that roam free on this 130-hectare farm.
Go to www.akasharetreat.co.za.
Wolwekrans Eco Lodge
Where: Schoemanskloof, Mpumalanga
Sleeps: Two luxury self-catering cottages, which accommodates six people.
What: Bushveld accommodation in the heart of the Lowveld with breathtaking mountain views of the Schoemanskloof escarpment. The chalets are supplied with electricity through solar power and gas and all water comes from the farm’s own private spring. Other than the spectacular views guests can watch wild game, which includes many species of buck as well as warthog and jackal. A bird lover’s paradise: the creek is home to eagles, falcons, and smaller exotic birds. There are also many interesting hiking trails to explore. Something special: Gather your family around your private boma for dinner under the starry night sky.
Go to www.wolwekrans.com
Marataba Trails Lodge
Where: Marakele National Park (3.5 hours’ drive from Johannesburg)
Sleeps: 30 guests in 15 tented suites.
What: A luxury tented experience of note, and in a Big 5 private reserve, this lodge was designed for hikers. It offers diverse trails in spectacular settings. The Marakele is famous for the Waterberg Mountain, which is approximately 2 billion years old.
“Marataba Trails Lodge is completely green,” says general manager Gawie Grobler. “We have a solar energy system that’s strong enough to power the entire lodge. In the suites we have energy-saving inverter air conditioners, which the solar banks also support. Our water is heated by gas and comes from a borehole that gets powered by a separate solar bank. Our grey water flows naturally into a bio-rock system that helps break it down and the water soaks away back to the earth via a French-drain system.”
Something special: The game reserve is home to about 800 Cape Vultures, which are on the endangered species list.
Go to www.marataba.co.za
Karkloof Safari Spa
Where: Karkloof Valley, Pietermaritzburg
Sleeps: 16 private villas.
What: Karkloof Safari Spa is set on a 3500-hectare reserve, surrounded by waterfalls and rivers, an indigenous mist-belt forest and grasslands.
The reserve is rich in wildlife and birdlife as well as abundant indigenous flora. It was built with conservation in mind with the help of ecological experts. There are five waterfalls in the reserve.When not enjoying a game drive, hiking, mountain biking or fishing, you can take full advantage of the spa that offers views over the bush and surrounding gardens. The eco-design incorporates natural materials, with thatch and living roofs.
Something special: Many species of butterfly can be found here, including the rare Karkloof Blue Butterfly.
Grootbos Nature Reserve
Where: near Hermanus, Western Cape
Sleeps: 39 rooms or suites across two lodges.
What: In a nutshell, this luxurious eco-retreat is a ‘five-star eco-paradise showcasing the incredible flora and marine life of the Southern Tip of Africa’. This is flora nirvana. They’ve recorded 765 different fynbos species on the estate, 100 of which are endangered and six that were undiscovered. To support the local community Grootbos runs an extensive conservation and horticulture-training programme for students from nearby villages. The majority of the staff also come from these communities. There are plenty of ways to admire the fynbos with a host of eco adventures, which includes taking a ‘flower safari’ on a 4x4.Something special: In the aftermath of a sweeping fire in 2006, 70 new plant species were discovered.
Go to www.grootbos.com