My night in a tiny home in South Africa: Green Route

The PanGoPod is a go-anywhere tiny home and when I was writing a story about tiny homes in South Africa Dr Pete Laver, the creator of the PanGoPod invited me to try out the tiny house for a night. Finally, I would see for myself what tiny house living was like

Living tiny is an unavoidable socio-economic reality for tens of millions of South Africans,” says Dr Pete Laver, a director at the Biodiversity and Development Institute, a South African non-profit.

“However, for people who have the choice, tiny home living can offer an alternative lifestyle in which one has to downscale possessions, and cultivate a lifestyle more focused on engaging with the community and environment around you,” said Laver.

The BDI has just completed its prototype off-grid, eco-friendly tiny home, the PanGoPod, which is sitting on a fynbos-covered slope below Dragonridge on Fynbos Estate in the Swartland.

“We designed and built the PanGoPod to accommodate international students who come to SA to do biodiversity research,” said Laver.

“Our goal is to bring down the cost of production of the PanGoPod and then partner with either civic or charitable organisations to be able to provide PanGoPods to people in need.

“We see PanGoPods as potential stepping stones to RDP, or other more substantial homes. We are a few years out from that.

“In the meantime, we think that our fully-equipped PanGoPods provide a good ‘plug-and-play’ solution for people who are in remote places, people who want to be able to move their home around, people who might not want the hassle of having ongoing construction on their site, or people who might want additional accommodation on their property for a family member, guests, or as an Airbnb option.”

Laver and a team from the BDI have built the tiny home to accommodate occupants in single or queen beds (in two lofts), and it has everything researchers need to live off-grid. It runs off solar panels, has rainwater collection and a composting loo.

There’s a raised loft bedroom at one end, with a bathroom under the loft, a galley kitchen and seating area with storage at the other end.

The PanGoPod

Dr Laver met us at the tiny house, ‘parked’ on Fynbos Estate, a farm near Malmesbury, and gave us a tiny tour.

Downstairs, there’s a big open-plan living area with a sleeper couch, kitchen and bathroom. Upstairs, there are two loft bedrooms, accessed by vertical ladders requiring good core strength. (I would go with an option that has one big loft bedroom with a user-friendly staircase with nifty storage underneath.)

It’s got everything you need, including USB points if the whole off-grid living thing gets too much.

There’s a gas stove, complete with whistling kettle, and an electric fridge powered by the rooftop solar panels. The bathroom consists of a composting toilet, a sink and a shower encased in zinc.

But the best tiny thing by far is the wooden deck on one side of the PanGoPod with views over the Paardeberg. Sliding doors bring the fynbos farm inside and the tiny home instantly becomes a much bigger space.

We were a bit lazy about catering tiny, stopping off at Babylonstoren en route to eat lunch and boiling up some pasta for supper.

Who needs food? I’m drinking in the loud silence and bird song in our little off-grid habitat powered by the sun. It feels substantial and because of the tall ceiling, it doesn’t feel cramped. Although, up in the eaves where the beds are, headspace gets a little tight and crawling comes into play.

When I was a little girl my great-gran lived in a caravan in my gran’s garden and I loved visiting her for tea at the Formica-topped built-in table at one end of the caravan. The PanGoPod reminds me of her and my fascination with all things tiny and the appeal of a simpler life.

After 24 hours in a tiny house in the fragrant fynbos I think I could live tiny part-time. I see it as an off-grid weekend country getaway spot rather than living tiny fulltime. And I’m buying myself a whistling kettle.

Wanderlust, KZN

While function is a priority in the PanGoPod, the highly Instagrammable tiny homes made by Matthew and Kendal Bower’s Ballito-based Wanderlust Co are big on style. Meticulous design and a soothing Scandi-palette of wood and white walls give a sense of space (see image above).

Wondering what the Tiny House movement is? Basically, you take a big trailer, build a house on it, then tow it to your desired location. The tiny homes movement has been growing steadily in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, embraced by millennials aspiring to a simpler, cheaper, more eco-conscious life. Take a look at Tiny House Nation on Netflix or Youtube’s  Living Big in a Tiny House, in which disarming New Zealander Bryce Langston tours a tiny house every week.

In-House Camp, KZN

Try tiny for size

If you’d like to book yourself into a tiny house in SA for a couple of nights Steve Walters in KwaZulu Natal rents out three tiny homes on his property, In-House Camp, in the Midlands, between Howick and Maritzburg. Book through In-House Camp

PanGoPod specs

The home’s solar panels provide hot water and energy for lights. USB ports and other appliances using 12V or 230V. There is a composting toilet. Water is recycled and can be used in a small washing machine and is also piped out into the garden. The only minimal carbon footprint comes from a gas cooker.

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Published by Melanie Farrell

Founder of Green Route ZA - the path to eco-conscious living. I live in Cape Town, South Africa.

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