28 Towpath, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Backpackers are a forward thinking lot. I think an awareness comes with travelling and seeing different parts of the world for what they are, rather than through a ‘tourist in a 5-star hotel’ lens. Thus backpackers, by and large, realise that we live in a world of finite resources, and that we need to find ways to mitigate our current consumption.

Mark’s a sustainable man. Mark has a sustainable plan. By his own admission he’ll never be entirely self-sufficient – he does, after all, drive a car he didn’t make to go buy things he can’t create – but for all intents and purposes, he’s about as self-sustained as a 21st century dude can be.

What’s impressive about Mark is that he manages to sustain not just himself, nor just his small family; over and above this, he manages to sustainably host an average of 10 or so perfect strangers each and every night. That’s because Mark owns and runs the top rated hostel in Port Elizabeth – 28 Towpath.

Oh so N A T U R A L

Permaculturalists beware: Entering onto Mark’s property in the adorable river-bound suburb of Redhouse could result in the need to change your trousers. In the spacious backyard there’s a stunning array of plantlife, all of which has a use, be it edible or medicinal. It’s also all incredibly low maintenance – Mark has worked out a system that mimics the way the (largely) local plants grow naturally. You’ve got three tiers of plantlife:

  • Tress at the top to protect the plants below from the elements
  • Fruit and shrubbery in the middle
  • Herbs and succulents at the bottom

By mimicking a natural ecosystem the garden essentially takes care of itself. All he and his guests need to do is pick the fruit, vegetables, herbs (yes, including THAT one) and spices that the plants offer up. The result: FREE FOOD FOR US TIGHT-ARSE TRAVELLERS.

A completely self sustained cottage within the garden for those who are SERIOUS about this shit

But the sustainability message doesn’t stop there. Water is heated by the sun and by compost (which gets to a searing 70C in the middle – yay decomposition), the grey water from the house is filtered and delivered straight to the backyard, and you’ve got to believe me when I say that this toilet video on Mark’s Facebook page is the ONLY toilet video you should check out today.

But all of this environmental friendliness isn’t to the detriment of the guests’ experience. 28 Towpath is stunning hostel, with one of the best front yards I’ve seen. It sits on the banks of a tidal river primed for swimming, bird watching and paddling (Mark hires out kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards).

The kitchen is well equipped, the dorms and private rooms are fastidiously clean and wonderfully comfortable, and the communal areas are perfect to meet and mingle with other travellers. The walls of the main communal space are littered with artwork, which led Mark to mention that he partners with an artist in a nearby township (otherwise known as a shantytown). Guests can visit the artist’s home/gallery, and know that by buying a piece of art they’re directly helping someone who needs it.

The dorms
And oh what a cutesy double

When 28 Towpath is full – which is often – Mark sends the overflow to another property just down the way. Mark called it a flashpackers, but I’m going to call it for what it is: a fuckin’ mansion. We had the pleasure of being said overflow, and had a few of the most relaxing days I think any backpacker could ever claim to have had.

Mark’s a sustainable man. And I’m expecting 28 Towpath to sustain its popularity for some time yet. If you’re keen to check out the fruits of Mark’s labour – both literal and metaphorical – contact him via his website or Facebook page.

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