On the next stage of his meandering journey, Jonathan Law discovers some unlikely treehouses…
If there’s anything more hobbit-like than a tree inside a pub, I suppose it would have to be a pub inside a tree. The Big Baobab [above] is a pub in the hollow trunk of a 72-foot baobab tree in Modjadjiskloof, South Africa. The bar seats around 15 people and boasts electric light, a phone, and a dart board. Carbon dating says the tree is around 6,000 years old and it is thought to have been inhabited by humans – mostly bushmen, but also the odd Voortrekker – for much of its history.
Or if you want to eat and don’t mind Japanese, how about this?
The Gajumaru Restaurant in Naha is one of the landmarks of modern Okinawa, a diner perched some 20 feet up in a massive banyan tree. If you don’t fancy the stairs, there’s a lift inside the trunk; once at the top, you are promised views across the harbour and a menu specializing in Shabu-shabu (literally ‘swish-swish’), the Asian equivalent of fondue.
‘Gajumaru’ is a local name for the banyans of Okinawa, venerable and hugely impressive trees that are traditionally regarded as sacred. According to indigenous belief, the trees are inhabited by (kijimuna – mischievous flame-haired spirits who eat fish eyes and delight in stealing the fire from paper lanterns. Alas, the tree under the Gajumaru Restaurant is in fact a concrete replica – so I fear no kijimuna.
Not your cup of green tea? Then how about this, the Yellow Treehouse Restaurant in New Zealand: the precise location is something of a secret – book a table and they’ll send you a map – but it’s somewhere deep in the forests north of Auckland.
The restaurant hovers 30 feet off the ground in a giant redwood, with access via a lengthy tree-top walkway. Its stunningly elegant and eco-friendly design has been compared to a whole range of organic forms – a conch, a chrysalis, an onion bulb, and so on. Somewhat prosaically, this wondrous structure was called into being as part of a PR campaign by Yellow Pages, the object being to show how even the most unlikely project could be realized through the directory. The architects, Pacific Environment, were found through its pages, as were all the builders, suppliers, and other service providers.
Finally, if you need a bed for the night, there’s always this place: Treehotel Harads in the far north of Sweden.
Treehotel is said to have been inspired by a Swedish film called The Tree Lover, a documentary about three urban types who try to get back to their roots by building a house-sized tree house in the wild. The hotel consists of five ‘tree-rooms’, all stuck 20 feet up in the pines but each built to a radically different spec by a different team of architects. The one pictured here is the so-called ‘Mirrorcube’, a true forest room that is made almost invisible by mirrored walls that reflect its woodland surroundings. For a “fluid play of interiors and exteriors” and “harmony of inside and out” you could hardly do better than this: staying here would be like stepping through the looking glass or inhabiting a hologram. And you needn’t worry about the birds: the walls have been treated with some infrared stuff, visible to them but not to us.
This being Sweden, there is also a tree-top sauna seating up to twelve people,
Next week: dinner with the wild man of the Dorset woods.