• African Crags Sunset Views
    African Crags Sunset Views

Green is the new black - eco-travel at African Crags Eco-Lodge

Posted on Sat August 19, 2017.

Portfolio’s general manager, Lauren, continues her winter road trip down the Garden Route with her family, combating chilly temperatures and uncharted territory along the way. Here she recounts discovering The Crags for the first time, with a supporting cast of new wine farms (hooray!), nature escapes at African Crags Eco-Lodge and...a cat among the chickens.

Portfolio’s general manager, Lauren, continues her winter road trip down the Garden Route with her family, combating chilly temperatures and uncharted territory along the way. Here she recounts discovering The Crags for the first time, with a supporting cast of new wine farms (hooray!), nature escapes at African Crags Eco-Lodge and...a cat among the chickens.

After 4 nights in Wilderness and Tsitsikamma, we were looking forward to our stay at African Crags Eco-Lodge in the Crags. I’ve stayed in Plettenberg Bay plenty of times, but The Crags was hitherto uncharted territory. We had unknowingly driven past it before - an easy oversight, as the area is serviced by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stretch of the N2 with a left and right turn each taking you to the otherwise hidden enclave. In fact, my temperamental GPS found it all too overwhelming and took us to a parking lot, where it presumably expired from the stress of roads unknown (personal note: I am what is known as a black hole of technology – things that are in perfect working order inexplicably stop functioning in my presence. As you can imagine, navigating with me is a bunch of laughs).

We were a little early for check in, but we thought we’d pop in and say hello before heading somewhere for lunch. We turned off the N2 towards Monkeyland and Birds of Eden and made our way along a little dirt road behind an informal settlement. The lodge isn’t more than a kilometre or two from the turn off, but as we drove in the gates it was like arriving in our own private universe.

We were met by Marjolijn, who welcomed us with open arms and a beer on the patio, enjoyed over a lengthy chat about how the lodge came to be. Owner-managers Marjolijn and Marc opened African Eco-Lodge in December 2016, three years after taking over African Queen Guest House in Noordhoek, Cape Town. They are outdoor enthusiasts and self-taught remodellers – they do much of the renovating and landscaping of both lodge and surroundings themselves. The property is enormous; 11 hectares of private nature reserve complete with fynbos trails, deep gorges that give the area its name and a dam for swimming. What makes the lodge and adjacent self-catering cottage truly unique, however, is Marc and Marjolijn’s level of commitment to ecological sustainability.

Eco-travel is a trend on the rise and environmentally conscious travellers are increasingly choosing to go green when deciding where to stay. I found it inspiring to experience this nature-orientated escape which has such minimal impact on its surroundings. A number of cool eco-tricks are in place - rainwater is collected in a dam and funnelled into giant storage tanks for household use, while all cooking is done using natural gas. There’s a vegetable and herb garden that guests are welcome to use and Marc’s recently acquired chickens provide free range eggs. There is wifi, but it’s not a selling point. The surrounding vegetation is fresh and unspoilt, with meandering hiking trails that can easily take up a couple of hours or a day of your time. We quickly felt completely immersed in the tranquil environment...from there it’s not such a stretch to stop checking your phone.

We could have stayed and chatted all afternoon, but while our room was being readied we decided to go and grab some lunch. We’d spotted some signs across the road for wine farms - a revelation for me as I’d not heard of viticulture in this part of the world. We chose Kay and Monty for our first foray into Plett wines and we weren’t disappointed. Sitting outside on the wooden deck, horses grazing on the one side and views over a little dam on the other, I felt quite content with my lot in life. Although perhaps that was the warm and fuzzies from the Sauvignon Blanc… The temperate climate in The Crags especially champions Sauvignon Blanc and MCC varietals. Further down the beaten track is Bramon, which has the distinction of being the first successful wine farm in the area and putting Garden Route wines on the map. In fact, the emerging wine industry is becoming so popular that there is now even an annual festival to celebrate – The Sasfin Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival.

We made our merry way back to the lodge in time for a late afternoon hike down to the river. Marjolijn guided us along the path as far as the potentially confusing fork – “It wouldn’t be the first time someone has gotten lost in the mountains” – and left us to pick our way down the steep slope of the gorge. About two thirds of the way down we got cold feet, or more correctly, aching back, at the thought of the vertical return climb with our no-so-little baby, and headed back up to even land. The lodge kitchen and lounge is a cosy and inviting room with a woodfire and guests are encouraged to make use of facilities for meals. There’s even a pizza oven for warm summer evenings. We opted to head into Plett for dinner and ended up at a local family-friendly diner called The Table. I can definitely recommend this if you have kids; and even if you don’t it’s cheap and cheerful with surprisingly tasty food.

We spent the chilly night tucked up toasty warm in our bed and woke to ethereal mists shrouding the peaks outside our bedroom window. By this time Marc and Marjolijn felt like old friends and I spent an idle morning with them gabbing away about their future plans for the lodge and drinking far too many cappuccinos. Just as we were about to leave there was a great commotion – a little wild cat - we think as serval - had been found inside the chicken coup. After a hair raising and eventually successful attempt to catch it and safely box it up for release on a farm far away from the bewildered chickens, we said our goodbyes and set off for Belvidere Manor in Knysna.