So I’ve been holding off on writing this one. You know when something really special happens and you want to tell everyone about it and you can’t because no matter what words you choose, you know can’t possibly do the thing any justice? That’s kind of how I feel about 1B4 Permapackers, also known as Nkwazi Eco Backpackers.
But I’m going to try.
But I’m going to fail.
But I’m going to try. Isn’t that what matters?
So really, it’s one of those places you’ll need to see for yourself, and I feel like it’s my duty to get you there somehow. Deep breath. Here goes…
I want to start with what’s wrong with the world. The safari ‘industry’ where I make my home is seriously flawed and it sometimes makes me want to rip all my hair out and throw those blonde hair clumps at the nearest hippo. Sorry hippo. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’ve already written about my endless frustration with plastic bottles in safari lodges (there is no hate deep enough…) and I want to scream about these so-called ‘eco-lodges’ that stick themselves with a label they simply don’t live up to. Not by a long-shot. Let’s talk about lodges that run on 24/7 on diesel generators when they can be run on solar power. Let’s talk about the recycling program (‘super-sarcastic air quotes’) in our national parks that encourages gullible tourists to separate glass from paper and then just dumps everything in the same nasty dump anyway. Let’s talk game drive vehicles and their crummy emissions. Let’s talk about mass water wastage and hour-long showers in South Africa’s current drought. Let’s talk about food shipped in at massive cost from goodness knows where, when it could have been grown right at the lodge. Actually, let’s not talk anymore. Let’s just do something about it. And I’m wild for the fact that somewhere DOES do something about it. Thank you, 1B4 Permapackers.
At 1B4, their goal is total sustainability and they’re well on their way to being off-the-grid, despite being so new to the scene. Isn’t that awesome? Your brilliant hosts, Courtney and Mike are more than happy to show you how they’re living it with their extensive organic gardens where they grow everything from passionfruit to moringa to peppadews and tomatoes and beets and spring onions and coconuts and bananas and pretty much everything else you can possibly grow (with a lot of love sprinkled over the top) on KZN’s tropical North Coast. They’ll show you their epic compost chicken pen (heck yes!) and the system that uses your shower’s water to grow bananas. Seriously. Oh, and the recycling bins where you separate cans from glass and know that it all goes to the RIGHT place in the end. Nothing goes to waste here.
And if it’s not enough just to look, you can get involved with every step of the process by helping plant seeds in the garden or harvesting the yummy produce. They even run a volunteer program where you can immerse yourself totally and begin to learn the art of permaculture. In case you didn’t know, that’s the art that’s going to SAVE THE WORLD. So you should probably learn it quickly. You’re already guessing why I love it, right? This place totally embraces Safariosophy and what it means to me.
I met the owner Mike, a fellow safari guide, way back when we worked together at the same backpackers near Kruger Park. I’ll admit it wasn’t the greatest place, so I’m not even going to name it. That unnamed lodge delivered what you’d expect from a typical South African backpackers. It was a little too unclean, a little too uncomfortable and a little too rundown. Travel marketers like the term ‘rustic,’ but you can definitely take ‘rustic’ too far… But what it did was inspire Mike to go better. Like, way better.
I love that Courtney and Mike have taken their experiences with lodges and made their own into something so clean and comfortable. But above all else, it’s something true. Their experience really shows. Accommodation wise, you’re faced with choices ranging from genuine eco-camping to sunny dorms to fabulous luxury rooms. You’re also faced with the absolute newest and cleanest bathroom you’ll ever come across when traveling on a budget in South Africa (promise!) as well as the prettiest, most well equipped country home kitchen. All that delicious fresh organic produce in bowls all over the place? You can buy it then and there.
At 1B4, I lived on gorgeous boiled eggs from their happy chickens, mixed with peppadew freshly picked from the gardens. Happy chickens are so important and these are the first eggs I’ve eaten in South Africa that I know for sure come from happy chickens, and that means a lot to me. A big chunk of my university grant was spent on ridiculously expensive eggs at Marks and Spencer that promised to be from happy chickens in the Cotswolds, but even then I couldn’t be sure. I could have just been won over by the fact they were blue and green. I figured they’d have to be happy to lay boutique eggs…?
But back to the lodge, where the common areas are cool and cozy with an honesty bar, hammock, couches and a pool table. Also, good luck finding a cleaner swimming pool…
My time here was so inspiring. This place made me want to get hands-on and I loved the morning I spent ‘helping’ Courtney with planting and soil mixing. I learnt a whole lot too, which is one of the aims of 1B4. Although as a total permaculture amateur, there were times when I felt like an excited puppy just running around behind the real work, wagging my tail and knocking stuff over. But it’s the enthusiasm that counts! I definitely want to know how my green cauliflower seeds grow. I feel rather invested in their well-being now. Those tiny seeds are like my little green children. I’ll need photos of the day they get big enough to graduate to bigger boxes in the greenhouse, and even more photos later when they go on to join the ‘big garden.’ Go forth and grow wide, my darling veggie offspring…
Oh and there are actual excited puppies there as well. Yep, puppies! Lodges with pets are always a bonus and at 1B4, the three dogs become your best friends right away – no questions asked. It’s like proper unconditional love. You’ll feel pretty darn special when Lula, Hunter and Falkor are following you around everywhere with giant smiles on their smiley doggy faces. I even nabbed all three of them one night to use as fluffy hot-water bottles. They did good.
Please go and experience it all for yourself. While other places just like to give themselves the badge, this place is truly honest and ‘eco’ in every sense of the word. It’s also by far the friendliest and most down to earth place to stay while you’re exploring the North Coast and it’s only a five-minute drive from Zinkwazi Beach, which is totally one of my favourite beaches. The birdwatching in the area and on the Zinkwazi Lagoon is kick-ass rad. It’s here I had my first glimpses of a Finfoot and an African Emerald Cuckoo. And if you’re planning a safari in the area and you’re not really sure how to go about it, speak to Mike. He runs the best private safaris in KZN (at least until I start running my own private safaris…!) so you’re in excellent hands.
I don’t know what else to say about 1B4. I only hope I’ve given it some of the shine it deserves. If you go there and you love it, then tell me about it! I’d love to hear from you. Just don’t tell me if you plant any green cauliflower. I’m pretty possessive.
Beauty and Truth, Y’all. Love Safariosophy.
The practical stuff: 1B4 Permapackers is just off the N2 at the Zinkwazi turnoff. Go towards Darnall and you’ll see the sign on your left. Prices in the low season start at R120 for a campsite, R180 for a dorm and their private luxury rooms range between R550 and R800 and are well worth it. You won’t find better value accommodation anywhere on the coast.
Check out their website at: www.1b4permapackers.com or phone them on 0827450442 because I promise you’ll want to spend some time with them and learn more about who they are and what they do. Y’all gonna get hooked…