For something completely different, not to mention a great investment opportunity, head for the Breede River Lodge (about 300 km from Cape Town). This is not a gourmand retreat nor will you find fine wines – or indeed much by way of choice on the wine front – but if you want a real back to nature break its perfect.
We were a bit wary of venturing so far off the beaten track. Port Beaufort – on the periphery of the Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape – is some 40 kilometres off the main road in a straight line towards the ocean with nothing but Ostrich farms on either side to relieve the monotony. And when you get there you might be forgiven for likening it to small town Ireland without the excitement. But linger awhile and you will grow to love it as we did. This is undiscovered South Africa – whale watching to beat anywhere else on this coastline (except the locals want to keep it quiet). The Breede River Lodge is currently being redeveloped so while some of the public areas are a little shabby the new spa and conference centre will soon be open and the duplex apartments have all been refurbished. We were lucky enough to stay at one of the waterfront cabins – owned by one of the investors and rented out to guests when available. The bedrooms were downstairs with doors opening straight onto the beach at the estuary of the Breede River – a mixture of golden sands and fascinating rock sculptured by the sea.
With the Hoop Nature Reserve right on the door step this is great bird-watching territory (over 100 species) but the owner Derek Erasmus has an unusual passion for camels so the Lodge boasts three – available for camel rides (and a bit surreal when you arrive first). Still it’s all part of the charm of the place. The larger than life Activities Manager Mark Woof – (son of an Irish mother and brought up in Birmingham) will quickly make contact to chat about what’s on offer – Breede River would never lay claim to bespoke services but that is exactly what it has. We had the joy of a day’s fishing and eating the catch – a Grunter fish (the name became obvious after it was caught) which the kitchen cooked and served to us for dinner. We spent five days beach combing and enjoying total relaxation. There is a popular boat trip to one of the few pubs in the area – the Bush Pub – some 14 kilometres up the river. According to Mark the whales come in droves between May and November and are so plentiful that they are like “mobile reefs” – just off the point there were over 200 Southern Right Whales with 60 calves last year. Paul Garratt who engenders a friendly, family atmosphere runs the Lodge and he has ambitious plans to develop a conservation centre.
Breede River’s entrepreneurial owner Derek Erasmus has cleverly brought on board private investors to help fund the refurbishment – so if you fancy a small piece of this unique corner of South Africa you can purchase one of the duplex apartments, suites or cottages.
Breede River Lodge, PO Box 27, Witsand 6666, Western Cape, South Africa. Telephone: +2728 5371631; www.breederiverlodge.co.za; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Irish Tatler 2008: Norah Casey & Richard Hannaford