Want to avoid the year-end beach crush? This small town in Mpumalanga has fabulous countryside views and excellent fishing options, and it’s an easy drive from Joburg. Pippa de Bruyn scouted the best places for your next stay. Photographs by Teagan Cunniffe.
How it works:
TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, can we trust them? Pippa, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years, inspected 24 properties – some rated on TripAdvisor, plus she rooted out new ones. These 13 made her list.
It’s close to Joburg: Head out directly from work and (256 kilometres later) you’re in Dullstroom for dinner.
It’s SA’s premier fly-fishing destination: Most accommodation in Dullstroom offers fly fishing and typically the first booking query is: ‘When last were your dams stocked?’ Mavungana, SA’s largest fly-fishing outfitter, is on the high street and offers kit to hire, on-site casting tuition and advice.
The surrounding landscapes are extraordinary: I focused on accommodation choices outside of town because, for me, that’s the real drawcard: huge vistas reminiscent of the eastern Free State but more undulating, the rolling hills pelted in thick yellow grass that turns emerald in spring, the savannas broken only by the occasional mirror-like dam or copse of trees.
It has excellent restaurants: It’s worth the drive east just to sample what owners Dave Pym and chef Christine Hamman have dubbed, tongue in cheek, ‘plaasy’ ‒ classy with a touch of plaas. Deli/ restaurant Art of Food has a daily changing menu. 082324594. Mrs Simpson’s is also highly rated.
It has the largest whisky selection in the southern hemisphere: Blends, blended malts, single malts, bourbon, straight rye, straight wheat; Scotch, Irish, Japanese, American, Indian, Australian, Welsh, Belgian, Canadian, South African … you’ll need a very long weekend to work your way through the 1100 whiskies and 30 tasting menus at Dullstroom’s cosy bar, Wild About Whisky.
Accommodation is abundant: There’s a lot of fuddy-duddy tartans, frilly canopies and scalloped tie-backs, but what Dullstroom tends to lack in decor it more than makes up for in setting. There are many places to stay and likely plenty still available for this December. Dullstroom Reservations has the biggest and best stock: over 160 properties, and well-versed staff adept at matching expectations.
You can get close to a raptor: At 10.30am and 2.30pm there are flying demonstrations (weather permitting), the raptors at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Centre put on a show that is world class.
Best-value large house
1. Shooters Hill
This family holiday home is located on the 890-hectare Walkersons Private Estate – the low-key residential development that now surrounds the hotel – and enjoys a prime position on a hillock overlooking the pretty hotel and dams.
It’s a generously proportioned, uncluttered, simply furnished house, with the two bedroom wings centred on the large open-plan kitchen/dining/lounge area and doors opening onto a deep, shaded veranda with great views. Sleeping arrangements comprise three en-suite bedrooms furnished with queen beds and wood-burning fireplaces, plus a fourth en-suite kids ‘dorm’ bedroom.
There is a large built-in braai on the veranda and the open kitchen – facing the view – is ideal for gregarious cooks. The hotel is a trundle down the road if you don’t want to cook, or feel like nipping off for a spa treatment. Pets are allowed by prior arrangement.
Room tip: The bunk bedroom can accomodate six children in three double bunk beds.
Cost: A flat (and reasonable) rate of R4180 (sleeps six adults and six kids). Maximum six adults.
Best for views, value, romance…
2. Woolly Bugger Farm
TripAdvisor No.1 of 27 Specialty Lodgings
Unless you’re in a 4×4 you’ll curse the road to Woolly Bugger – 22 kilometres of bumpy dirt to the one-donkey village of Tonteldoos, and another seven kilometres beyond – but within minutes of arriving at your stone cottage, breathing in the big 360-degree views, the resentment dissolves.
I loved everything about Woolly Bugger (referring to the most commonly used fishing fly, though there are plenty of sheep about too): just four rustic, simply furnished cottages share the 270-hectare farm, each located for privacy and views, and surrounded by wild cabbage trees and proteas. You’re left to enjoy the peace but any requests are seen to by Jono, a warm, intuitive host who recently completed a small, communal, shaded dining area replete with braai, toilets and a circular splash pool with built-in seating – the ideal gathering spot if you’ve booked more than one cottage.
There are plenty of walking and bike trails, two trout dams (with kit to hire), archery, a treasure hunt for kids and there’s even a couple of pub options in Tonteldoos. It’s pet-friendly too. And then there’s the price…
Cottage tip: Half Hog is the most affordable, romantic bolthole you could hope to find; I also loved Sedgehog, with its slide-and-fold door that opens onto expansive views.
Cost: Half Hog from R600 (sleeps two); Sedgehog from R1050 (sleeps four); Ginger Quill and Blue Dunn from R1200 (sleeps six adults, or four adults and four children). Minimum two-night stay.
Best luxury group getaway
3. Spring Valley Retreat
It’s been awarded ‘Best Fly Fishing Waters’ and ‘Biggest Fish’ at the Dullstroom Classic Fly-Fishing Competition, but even if you don’t lift a rod you’ll be delighted you washed up at Jan Wilken’s 150-hectare farm. Spring Valley is a sprawling exclusive-use home, yet offers the space and privacy of a small lodge: you have a choice of five separate en-suite cabins strung along the lake, each with identical layouts and lake views, making this a very democratic choice for a group sharing the cost of the getaway.
It’s also excellent value for friends travelling solo, as there is no punitive single-rate hike. They’re the kind of bedrooms that invite lazy morning lie-ins while the more gregarious gather in the communal Club House, with it’s open-plan kitchen/lounge/dining room opening onto a deep shaded deck where there’s more seating and a braai with a view. There’s even a splash pool (rare in Dullstroom), walking trails, picnic tables and canoeing… Well-behaved pets that won’t chase the resident zebra, blesbok, antelope and wildebeest are welcome. Understandably, it’s very very popular.
Room tip: Extra single beds for up to five children can be added
Cost: R600 per person (minimum six adults) and R300 per person for ages three to 11. Minimum two-night stay. Serviced daily.
Best special-occasion splurge
4. Walkersons Hotel & Spa
TripAdvisor No.1 of 2 hotels
I was delighted to find nothing much had changed at this wonderful five-star country hotel, and while it’s no longer owned by the Walkersons it still feels genuinely warm and personal, with staff who’ve been serving guests for years. The setting – a cluster of stone-clad buildings overlooking many dams and weirs in a valley about 10 minutes east of town – is beautiful; food is good, decor warm and characterful, and the spa menu the best in Dullstroom (it’s very popular, so pre-book).
The hotel somehow manages to cater for all types: from couples wanting a romantic weekend away and dads spoiling families to tour groups en route to Kruger and corporate drones on incentive junkets. In winter, decadent fires burn throughout the hotel – there are four fireplaces in the dining rooms alone, one in the bar, another in the lounge, and when you return to your room after dinner it too will be warmed by flickering flames.
Room tip: I personally prefer the original Lakeside Suites – perfectly spacious, under a thatched pitch roof (rather than ceiling), with both bed and wingback chairs centred in front of the fireplace, and R310 per person cheaper than the Luxury Suites.
Cost: From R2250 per person sharing DBB
Best historic cottage
5. Watersmeet Cottage
If Woolly Bugger sounds too remote and Kinloch’s Inverness too old-fashioned, take a look at this delightful two-bedroom option, on the slopes of a hillock on Walkersons Private Estate. Adjoining the home of owners Patsy and Andrew Allen, this is one of the original farm’s stone buildings, with its own creeper-clad entrance, a comfortably furnished open-plan lounge/dining/kitchen area (with de rigeur fireplace and plenty of wood) opening onto a covered stoep, and marvellous views of the estate valley below.
The main en-suite bedroom has a queen bed; the second bedroom two single beds that can be converted into a king, and there’s a bathroom across the passage. Decor is traditional English cottage and the walls are covered with Patsy’s art – fine, realistic watercolour paintings of the local birdlife, trout, bush scenes and Nguni cattle. The self-deprecating, talented Patsy is happy to host painting courses; if these interest you, do enquire.
Room tip: I preferred the two-bedroomed cottage but there is also a self-catering studio (no views) that sleeps two.
Cost: Watersmeet Cottage is from R2000 (sleeps four). Feathers is from R1300. Minimum two-night stay.
Best old-fashioned cottage
6. Inverness at Kinloch Farm
There are three cottages on Kinloch Farm but Inverness stood out as much for its outside spaces – a front stoep with views as well as a protected back garden, both furnished with tables – and the fact that each bedroom has its own fireplace.
I also liked the classic cottage decor: the collection of fish plates on the wall above the lounge fireplace, the old-fashioned armchairs and cosy atmosphere. It’s like visiting an old aunt’s cottage: a bit frilly but there’s a disarming, authentic charm here, and the gardens and surrounds are pretty, with rolling lawns centred on a large pond surrounded by fat geese, a bird hide, three dams (one of them stocked with bass and ideal for float tubes).
The catch limit is also quite generous for a weekend: three fish per cottage. (Note: if this kind of style appeals to you, then Apple Blossom, also booked through Dullstroom Reservations, is another quaint nostalgia-inducing gem.)
Room tip: If you require a third bedroom, book Stirling, a separate en-suite room located 150 metres from Inverness.
Cost: From R2400 for Inverness (sleeps four). Minimum two-night stay.
Best in-town option
7. Big Oak Cottages
Dullstroom’s surrounds are too beautiful to base yourself in town, but if you require an overnight stop here en route to the Lowveld or you’re just keen to focus on the dining and functional, well-designed and well-equipped self-catering units.
Located in a quiet cul-de-sac and built under an oak tree in the large back garden of the Gibbons family, the four cottages (two semi-detached units) are within walking distance of the main drag with its restaurant and bar choices.
Each unit sleeps two in a king or two in a king or two twin beds against a double-volume stone-clad wall, with an efficient wood-burning oven to warm the cottage, a kitchenette with a two-plate gas stove, fridge and microwave, and a patio with a four-seater table. Generously, the Gibbons will take one-night bookings even on weekends.
Room tip: Each of the two semi-detached units has an interleading door between them, so can be booked together to accomodate a group of four.
Cost: From R495 per person sharing (sleeps two to four)
Most quirky collection
8. Cpirit Country Haven
TripAdvisor No. 6 of 11 B&B/Inn
Seven klicks down the bumpy road to Tonteldoos, and a further one-kilometre drive into the farm before these pretty cottages hove into view. Bar perhaps the large open-plan Barn House, which could prove tricky to heat in winter, the Cpirit cottages are very compact and cosy. All are dressed in the same strong, simple decor theme of stoep-red and gunmetal-grey offset with touches of white, deep red, chocolate brown and stone.
With rickety staircases or steps into unexpected spaces, there is an overall rustic, boho charm that won’t suit city slickers who like finessed finishes, or couch potatoes (no TV, but fireplaces aplenty). Fisherman’s Cottages 1 and Barn House are set apart from the original farmhouse, which has been converted into four studio suites.
Along with adjacent Fisherman’s Cottage 7, these four studios share a fairly intimate space, so ideally (though not necessarily) should be booked with friends. Book all seven and the farm us yours: a great venue for 28 guests, with a covered outdoor lapa, a function shed with a large open fireplace, two dams and peaches, pears, figs, plums, crab apples or walnuts to forage for in season.
Room tip: Compact Fisherman’s Cottage 7 (two upstairs bedrooms, one downstairs bedroom, all sharing one bathroom) is a good-value family option. If you are two couples, I’d book Studio 4 and 5 which face the view.
Cost: Studios are from R875 (sleep two); Fisherman’s Cottage 1 is from R2600 (sleeps six); Fisherman’s Cottage 7 is from R1750 (sleeps six); Barn House is from R3500 (sleeps eight). If you book two nights you can stay a third on the house (this does not include long weekends and T&Cs apply). Serviced daily.
Worth a look
Field & Stream : Those wanting to fish in running water, or just wanting to defrag (no cell-phone reception) in an affordable self-catering cottage in beautiful surrounds, look no further. This 1 000-hectare farm, nine kilometres from Dullstroom on the road to Tonteldoos, has five self-catering cottages sleeping up to 10. The decor isn’t great but the cottages are neat and clean and score high on privacy, peace, views and price. There are two pet-friendly units. Clay- pigeon shooting is on offer. From R1740 (for two). fieldandstreamsa.com
Remi Lodge : Fly fishermen note: this fabulous farm located halfway to Tonteldoos offers excellent fishing in three well-stocked dams. Extensively renovated and beautified by new owners, it has luxury accommodation in four generous en-suite bedrooms and a huge open-plan kitchen/dining area. It’s a good alternative to Spring Valley Retreat. From R4000 (sleeps eight). If you book from Monday to Thursday, the rate is R8000 for the four nights. dullstroomreservations.co.za
Ilanga Game & Fishing Lodge : This well-designed, well-furnished house on Dullstroom Country Estate (about 20 kilometres from the village, mostly on bumpy dirt) has four identical large en-suite bedrooms. It’s located on a hilltop with awesome mountainviews and surrounded by grasslands ‒ a stunning, wild location with fishing dams and free-roaming antelope, but some might find it a tad bleak, especially when the wind gets up. From R2500 to R3800 depending on numbers (sleeps eight). dullstroomreservations.co.za
Foxhill Guesthouse Perhaps not the best choice for light sleepers as it’s fairly close to the main road (ideal if you’re here for the restaurants and bars), but these four boudoir-style bedrooms ‒ each with its own entrance off the garden; most with fireplaces and open-plan bathrooms ‒ are cosy little nests you’ll be delighted to clamber back to after a night out. From R450 per person. foxhill.co.za
Mrs Simpson : With three bedrooms plus a loft space for kids, this is ideal for a group or families wanting to stay in town. The face-brick exterior is pretty dire, but open the door and the fresh American-country-cottage style totally transports you. From R325 per person. Minimum two-night stay on weekends. dullstroomreservations.co.za