Words by Janine Avery
Bumping along the gravel road, venturing deeper into the wilderness, we spotted a sign warning us that chameleons have right of way in these parts. Wondering how much further into the forest the road would take us, we were suddenly greeted by the smiling face and waving arms of our host. With no other people around, we could hardly miss her but her enthusiasm for welcoming up her little piece of paradise to visitors was firmly planted on her face and somehow her energy filled up the vast open skies.
We had arrived at Treedom Villas and Vardos on the Garden Route of South Africa and its creator, Debbie Nortje was ready and waiting for us. Although she had a surprise, in an effort to preserve this wild part of the country, we were to leave our vehicle at the gate, it was only footpaths and buggy tracks from here on out.
Upon venturing further into the five-acre forest to find our treehouse abode that would become our home for the next few days, I found my normally shy self suddenly chatting away to Debbie as if she was an old friend. Debz, as I was calling her only a couple of minutes in, and husband Marc started their Treedom dream seven years ago, and it’s no surprise that the place has this name as it is a sense of freedom that called them here in the first place.
Living action packed lives in Cape Town, working in the eventing and film making businesses, and with little time to themselves, they were aching for a change. When Debbie’s parents decided to sell their coastal holiday home, their one place of escape disappeared and getting away from the hectic city life became a necessity. They needed freedom from the rat race and a sense of control over their own lives, even if that meant living in a scary world without the safety net of a steady income.
And so, began their search for a piece of paradise to call their own. But it would be more than theirs because they had grand ambitions of sharing their sanctuary for the soul with those that visited. They searched high and low for the perfect spot and were tugged by childhood memories to Wilderness where they fell in love with the Treedom property.
Apart from the spectacular views and wild forest, it’s difficult to try and imagine what they saw with literally only forest and thick bush on the land. But they had a vision. It was a plan that involved creating a fantasy holiday destination where guests could rediscover happiness in the great outdoors.
Inspired by Pete Nelson of Treehouse Masters, Debbie felt she could relate, not only to his wild personality that mimicked her own, but his passion for living up in the trees. The idea was to keep the forest as pristine as possible, creating a home for themselves and a place for people to visit that was eco-friendly, chemical-free and self-sufficient. Where guests could even help themselves to fresh veggies out of the garden for their evening salad.
And seven years later, they’ve well and truly done it, having created everything from scratch – the footpaths, supplying electricity and water, and, in order to preserve the environment, builders were given strict instructions that everything had to be carried in by hand, even the cement blocks.
The result of this hard work is magnificent, and I couldn’t wait to explore. It was the tiny touches that delighted, the quirky signs that welcomed me to every new room of the treehouse. Not only was the location – near to the beach – fantastic, but inside the treehouse were comfy beds, a modern kitchen and private patio to relax and listen to the birdsong.
With a colour palette inspired by magic and adventure, it was like entering a Pinterest board full of décor ideas. Having recently built my own home myself I wondered if Debbie had watched the same shows I had become fascinated with in recent months where unsuspecting dreamers competed to create the world’s best tiny homes, apartments and pop up hotels. She had; of course, she’d seen them all.
Not only had Debbie and Marc been inspired by the epic ambitions of others but they were planning some of their own. Next up on their plan for Treedom is to create five intricately designed gypsy caravans or wagons.
But they won’t just be creating a first of its kind holiday destination in South Africa, the couple has some grand ambitions for creating a TV show, where local artists compete as they decorate the wagons and craft the stain glass doors. Thereafter a forest lounge and river pool will follow and who knows what else could be on the horizon will all those fabulous creative ideas buzzing around in Debbie’s head?
All I know is that whoever is lucky enough to visit this remote wilderness may find solitude up here in the trees, but loneliness definitely won’t be on the cards. Instead Debz and Marc will leave you with a renewed spirit, a determination to follow one’s dreams, just as they have, and an outlook for the future that is touched by just a little bit of magic.