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The eco-lodges at the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve near Oudtshoorn have eco-friendly creds, and they’re really comfy too – the sort of places where someone has thought of everything. Words and pictures by Roxanne Reid

After a blisteringly hot October day, sunset found us at Fossil Ridge eco-lodge in the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, ice tinkling in our glasses. Small birds were still flitting through the sweet-thorn trees and a scrub hare bounced past and back into the thicket.

Fossil Ridge is one of three eco-lodges in the Gamkaberg. The others are Sweet-thorn and Tierkloof. Together they put Gamkaberg into the Top 50 most sustainable lodges in sub-Sarahan Africa, as featured in the book Africa’s Finest by David Bristow and Colin Bell. Gamkaberg was one of just seven places in South Africa to earn this seal of approval.

“We spend 90% of our time in the reserve on our conservation efforts,” said reserve manager Tom Barry. “Our top priority is to conserve biodiversity, then to create employment and only then tourism. That’s why our lodges have such a small footprint.”

The lodges are low maintenance, have a minimal impact on the environment and hope to create awareness of an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle. “It’s all so basic and really not difficult so I don’t understand why more places aren’t doing the same thing,” said Tom.

I was pleased the lodges were built using local labour, that skills were transferred in the process, even that four permanent jobs were created for locals. Pleased it had solar lighting, romantically dim along the curving pathways and in the tented bedrooms, but satisfyingly bright in the kitchen and bathroom. That it advocated awareness of water conservation and recycling (four bins were supplied for separation of waste). Even pleased it was accessible and affordable, not one of those high-end lodges in the middle of nowhere that cost a bomb.

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But to be honest, what pleased me most was how pretty and comfy it was, how private, how many bird calls woke us at sunrise.

Fossil Ridge has a gorgeous setting at the foot of a rocky koppie, with paths laid out among the Acacia karroo trees. The tents are big and there are extra chairs for relaxing inside or on the deck. There’s even a splash pool with lounging deck and umbrella, especially attractive in the soft light of late afternoon. The kitchen is well equipped and there’s a living area with a couch and picnic table.

Best of all was the lapa, with gravel to keep down the dust, a rock circle for a fire, a half-barrel braai, four canvas chairs, a picnic table with umbrella and a superb view of the koppie where a spotted eagle owl perched to hoot at us on our last evening.

Things to do at Gamkaberg

  1. Drive the Zebra 4×4 trail (grade 3) up the Gamkaberg for 16km to Oukraal campsite, or the new 32km Kannaland 4×4 trail (grade 3) which opens in November 2013. The Kannaland route is open only to overnight guests at Gamkaberg.
  2. Do one or more of the four easy short walking trails, from 20 min to 2,5 hours. Get a Bossie ID guide from reception to enrich your walk by identifying 20 common plants along the trails.
  3. Hike the Tierkloof trail, with options from a 14,4km day trail to an overnight trail (13,2km on day 1 and 11,6km on day 2).
  4. If you’re feeling meditative, walk the labyrinth marked out with rocks.
  5. Go birding and look out for Karoo endemics.