I like what Andrew and Connie Attwood have done and why they’ve done it. If you want a hotel, knock yourself out. If you want something unique, laidback, and relaxing, come here
Andrew Attwood plops down into the Adirondack chair beside mine. “Life’s not bad, hey?” he beams. I beam back. Indeed. Sitting on the wooden deck of Antbear Lodge with great views toward White Mountain in the foothills of the Southern Drakensberg, life was pretty grand.
I like Andrew, even if he is a self-confessed “dictator” (he does bear a resemblance to Mussolini). I like what he and Conny have done and why they’ve done it. If you want a hotel, knock yourself out. If you want something unique, laidback, and relaxing, come here.
The Attwoods left the corporate rat race in Germany to develop their “open-source” ideals, waving their idiosyncratic wand over the place, with the focus on sustainability and responsible tourism. Think straw bales for building, solar for heating, and a reed-bed filter for cleaning waste water.
Antbear offers volunteer programs – mostly for overseas folk – to teach alternative methods in an African context. Every piece of the inspiring furniture is made at the lodge. Canadian Hennessy Bacchus, back for a second volunteer stint, wowed me with his wooden aloe chandelier and tree aloe standing lamp in the making. Andrew, his dad Bruce and various volunteers have created huge mosaics, whimsical stain glass windows and the distinctive wooden hinges. The woodwork alone makes this lodge a destination in its own right and guests are welcome to see what’s on the go in the wood shop.
All this gives Antbear a singular character. It’s not grandiose, but it sure is comfortable and welcoming ‒ with varied accommodation in 15 units spread about. There is even a man-made, private cave for honeymooners or romantic trysts, complete with candlelit dining under the stars on the deck.
There is no tv, no wi-fi, bar in the lodge itself, but there is a welcome decanter of sherry plus a small fridge, Jacuzzi baths in many units and comfy beds with the Heath Robinson steampunk woodwork everywhere.
At night, lit at night by candle chandeliers, dinners after drinks at the honesty bar, are convivial as congenial Andrew entertains the guests. Food is fresh and homegrown ‒ veggies from the organic garden, breads just baked, yoghurt, butter and cheese fermented here, milk from the cow, eggs from the hens. Venison is from a nearby game reserve’s excellent abattoir.
You could milk a cow, take one of many hikes, or embark on a safe and slow horse trail. Two dams are stocked with bass if you want to fly fish. Bushman paintings adorn rocks in the hills close by, though the finest examples are at the Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg valley. Day trips to Giants Castle, armed with a picnic lunch, are recommended.
Antbear is also a popular launch spot for the good people from Hot Air Ballooning SA ‒ weather permitting, of course, and via prior arrangement. I didn’t get off the ground but lazing about upstairs in the lodge with a good book on a cold winter’s day with the sun shining through the stained glass meant I was hardly distraught
Antbear’s chapel can up to 100 people for weddings, there’s also a spacious function room, but most of all, it’s really peaceful. The best recommendation is the reaction of two Dutch guests who arrive while Andrew and I are shooting the breeze. They are dismayed ‒ dismayed ‒ that they’d only booked one night.