African Array is not a backpackers. It’s a palace pretending to be a backpackers. And I’ve got to say, it’s not pretending very well.
Situated on South Africa’s Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay is a rite of passage for almost every backpacker who chooses to tackle the country. Home to incredible beaches and the famous Robberg Nature Reserve, if you don’t spend at least a couple of days there, you are, in my humble opinion, an absolute fuckin’ idiot. And more than just a hostel, African Array is just as big a drawcard as the area’s renowned natural beauty.
Matthew and Vicky spent 8 years in the hostel game in Plettenberg Bay, originally running a guesthouse on the outskirts of town. But when the large estate that African Array now sits on became available, they did the smart thing and decided to upgrade. And what an upgrade it’s been.
‘African Array Backpackers Lodge’ is the full title, because it’s neither a backpackers nor a full-blown lodge. It offers rooms ranging from 12 bed dorms to penthouse suites, and attracts the single most diverse group of clientele I have ever come across. In our short time there we sat with 18 year olds, 70 year olds and everything in between. And it just worked.
The brilliant thing about African Array is the sharehouse feel. The staff are incredibly hospitable, ensuring that conversation is started between travellers and continues well into the wee hours, and the communal spaces seem custom-built to get people interacting. Bonfires (at least in April) are lit every night near the bar, so inevitably everyone ends up with a drink in hand, staring at the flames and having a laugh.
The standard ‘great hostel’ requirements were all comfortably met – the place was scrubbed incredibly clean, the linen smelt like a fresh summer breeze, and the cooking facilities were top shelf. But it was the non-standard hostel stuff that is important here. And so we come to the deck.
African Array sits on the side of a mountain. The side of that mountain features a cliff-face that drops into a reservoir that I’d estimate to be maybe 80m below. And atop that cliff, like some sort of highwire performer, sits the African Array deck.
The views are stunning. It’s impossible to think that you’re paying hostel prices when you’re perched on one of the many lounges, beer in hand, watching the sun go down over the horizon. I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing smoke up anyone’s arse here, but again, I just haven’t seen anything quite like it in my backpacking career.
African Array isn’t a hostel, nor is it a lodge. It’s an experience.