Hunters Country House: Our full report
Set in a piece of heaven that you’d never know existed, Hunter's Country House lies along South Africa's ...... Garden Route between the popular towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Its extensive gardens, on a private estate, just off the N2 freeway, originally housed a homestead called Pear Tree Farm. The homestead became a B&B, then went on to open as one of the area's first luxury lodges.
It all began when Craig and Jill Hunter wanted to escape with their family from city life in Johannesburg. They came to the area on a business trip, and ended up buying the “beautiful thatched cottage” at Pear Tree Farm for their home in 1979. At that time, water had to be pumped from the river and electricity came from an old hand-cranked diesel generator.
A few years later, when their children had left home, the Hunters started a B&B, letting out rooms to visitors. Then, a decade further on, they scaled this up and in 1989, Hunter's Country House was born. One of Expert Africa’s team first visited Hunter's around 1995; he was impressed by its quality levels and as early as 1996 Hunter's Country House picked up South Africa's “Hotel of the Year" award. We continue to be impressed by it, including our last visit in July 2018.
Hunter's stands within a large, gated estate, which it shares with its smarter sister camp, Tsala Treetop Lodge, and Zinzi Restaurant, a top-notch, cutting edge yet relaxed restaurant. Around each of these are lawns, small lakes and landscaped gardens, and beyond lies the estate’s forest.
For guests at Hunter's Country House there are 23 thatched suites, in six different categories. All are individually decorated in soft neutral tones with lots of antique furniture, a small lounge area with a log fire (particularly welcome in winter), an en-suite bathroom with a separate bath and shower, and a private patio with tables and chairs in the gardens. Plus they come with the extras that you can expect from a five-star lodge, such as air conditioning, a stocked minibar, complimentary tea/coffee-making facilities, a hairdryer, television with satellite channels, digital safe and a telephone.
- The Terrace Rooms are the lowest in cost, and are now used mostly for tour guides, or for very modest, solo travellers.
- The Orchard Suites, in a block close to the pool area, have a slightly more contemporary feel than the other suites as they are not thatched.
- The Garden Suites are much bigger and are more privately positioned along winding paths. They have thatched roofs with exposed beams, french doors and cottage pane windows looking out into the gardens.
- The Family Suites have all the comforts of the Garden Suites but each of these has two spacious en-suite bedrooms.
- The Pool Suites have a larger bedroom, a separate dressing room, a lounge and dining area, an outdoor shower and a private plunge pool outside. These rooms were looking a little dated in their style and décor, so Hunter’s plan to refurnish them in 2019.
- Finally, the two-bedroom Family Pool Suite has the comforts and amenities of the Pool Suites, but as it is made up of two suites with interleading doors, it can be used as one self-contained house. Along with a lounge area, it boasts three dining areas, two fireplaces, a thatched gazebo and a private pool.
Excellent meals with superb service are taken in either the light and bright conservatory, or in the Manor House dining room, which comes into its own at dinner with white tablecloths, silver cutlery and cut-crystal glasses. On our most recent visit, in July 2018, the conservatory was undergoing a soft refurb with a fresh coat of paint, new tiles and furniture. There are also plans to open it as a bistro for light lunches and more relaxed evening meals.
Within Hunter’s Estate, perhaps 500m from the country house, is the smart, modern Zinzi Restaurant, which is open to guests from both Hunter’s and Tsala, as well as to the general public. Zinzi's executive chef offers a weekly changing à la carte menu of South African dishes mixed with international trends, including seasonal products. The setting, nestled among the trees with an expansive lawn out front, rolling down to a small lake, reminded us of the renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. And it offers a truly memorable dining experience.
Of course, a stay at Hunter’s is not all about the dining. Their swimming pool is close to the boma but has a separate, private garden with plenty of shaded sunloungers. There's no spa, but pampering treatments such as hot-stone massage, aromatherapy and reflexology, can be arranged in the privacy of your own suite.
Hunter’s is also particularly well set up for a family holiday, with a fantastic play area called Cub’s Corner for children up to six years old. It’s very well organised and sometimes supervised, with toys, games, a paddling pool, climbing frame with slide and a shaded sandpit.
On a different note, the beautiful Chapel in the Forest, built in 1997, is used for worship, christenings and weddings, as well as study groups.
Activities abound, both on the lodge's estate and in the nearby area around Plettenberg Bay. Within the lush gardens, the lodge's team can arrange romantic picnics, but there's also enough space – including forests and a lake or two – just to ramble for a few hours or to explore on one of their bicycles.
In the surrounding area, various companies offer horse riding or mountain biking through the forest and hills, or you can visit a variety of animal and bird sanctuaries.
And then there’s the coast, where different beaches await. At Keurbooms River and beach, for example, you can sail, surf and take boat trips or cruises aboard a catamaran in the lagoon. You can often spot dolphins, seals and whales from the beaches at Plettenberg Bay – though the best time for whale watching is from around June until December. Other activities in the area include a treetop canopy tour, bungee jumping and sky diving.
Hunter's Country House offers truly elegant and comfortable accommodation, with luxurious suites in extensive, beautiful surroundings, and superb food. The lodge has many services and facilities, and caters particularly well for families – although couples seeking privacy will also be very happy here. It also makes an excellent base for exploring Plettenberg Bay and the surrounding Garden Route area.
South Africa expert
- Plettenberg Bay | Garden Route, South Africa
- Ideal length of stay
- Typically 3–4 nights is ideal here, although you could easily spend longer as it’s a good spot to relax.
- Hunter’s is just off the main N2, 10km from Plettenberg Bay and 22km from Knysna.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Bed & Breakfast
- Food quality
- Hunter's Country House includes breakfast in your stay, but lunch and dinner are also served – and the food on our last stay in July 2018 was truly excellent. The chef will usually adapt very well to guests' dietary requirements.
The buffet breakfast, served in the conservatory, is extensive. Start with a choice of half a dozen cereals, with various seeds and flakes to add to the mix, and freshly cut fruit – raspberries, strawberries, grapes – then move on to cold meats, a selection of local cheeses, mini quiche, fresh scones and croissants, salmon and cream cheese. A full cooked breakfast ranges from traditional farm eggs and bacon, to eggs Benedict and omelets.
A light lunch with a small à la carte menu is usually served in the dining room or outside in the garden. Picnics are also available, but only on request.
Afternoon tea is served in the lounge at 4.00pm, for a small charge.
For most of the year, the dinner menu features a couple of choices of starter, three main courses and three desserts, but between December and February there is a full à la carte menu.
Expect starters like smoked venison carpaccio served with slow-roasted tomatoes, toasted cashew nuts, caramelised onions in a balsamic reduction, or cream of butternut soup with toasted ciabatta.
Main courses might include roast chicken breast with Mediterranean vegetables, olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes, or grilled line-fish served with roasted fenugreek and onion masala potatoes, pickled green beans and a spiced dressing.
Typical desserts are chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, or strawberry shortcake with fresh berries, berry compote and Chantilly cream.
For children, there is the option of a different menu, usually incorporating beef, fish, chicken, pasta and vegetables.
Zinzi Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner at the weekend all year, but lunch during the week is only during the busier months. Food at this very trendy restaurant is of an exceptionally high standard – and the dinner we once had here was the best that one of our team had during her two-week trip around the Cape. You do need to pre-book a table though, especially in peak season!
- Family holidays
- For a family holiday in South Africa, the Country House on Hunter’s estate offers a very safe and relaxed environment. There’s an enormous amount of outdoor space, a first-class play area for younger children, and particularly good family rooms.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- Attitude towards children
- Children are welcome at Hunter’s Country House.
- Property’s age restrictions
- There are no age restrictions.
- Special activities & services
- Cub's Corner at Hunter’s Country House is a designated area for children under six, with a small paddling pool, climbing frames, sandpit and the “Clubhouse”, filled with videos, books, toys and games, where children can watch videos, paint, draw and play games.
- The Family Suites have enough space for a single bed, and a sofa bed to accommodate two children, plus a cot for infants (on request). Highchairs are also available on request.
Hunter's can offers babysitting in the suites, usually by one of the housekeeping team, rather than a fully-qualified childminder – and note that you will need to book before noon. Costs in 2018 were very reasonable – around R100 per hour (£5.25/US$6).
- Generally recommended for children
- WiFi is available throughout the main area and in all the suites.
- TV & radio
- All the suites have a TV with a few satellite channels. There are no TVs in the main areas.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The water is completely off the grid, and treated, tested on a daily basis and fresh.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- A fully stocked first-aid kit is available and some of the staff are first-aid trained.
Quadbike warning: Quadbiking is sometimes available as an activity in this area. As with any potentially dangerous activity, it's vital that you take responsibility for ensuring that you have adequate travel insurance prior to getting involved. Be aware that some insurances cover quadbike activities only for bikes with lower engine ratings: check such clauses particularly carefully before you get on a bike.
- Dangerous animals
- Low Risk
- Security measures
- Hunter's Estate is gated and manned by security guards 24 hours a day.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in all rooms.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Pressing, mending and laundry are available during the week, but not at weekends or on public holidays. The laundry is off the premises and the hotel takes no responsibility for loss or damage. Laundry is collected before 10.00am and returned the following day.
- Hunter’s Country House is not permitted to exchange foreign currency, but guests can however pay in a foreign currency.
- Accepted payment on location
- Hunter’s accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners and it's possible to add a commission fee onto the account for traveller's cheques of foreign currency.
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