“I have a surprise for you”.
We stood on a dirt road surrounded by mile upon mile of fynbos, a shrubby vegetation found in the Western Cape of South Africa. In the distance, I could see the Atlantic Ocean and its pounding surf. The air was heavy with a heady mix of salt and floral scents. Michael is the owner of Grootbos, a stunning private nature reserve about a two-hour drive southeast of Cape Town (map). I looked at him and wondered what that surprise could be – we were practically in the middle of nowhere on his expansive estate. He stood there grinning, and as I reeled all sorts of possibilities through my mind, he turned to face the dirt road and pointed up into the sky. At that moment, a small plane appeared from behind the hills and descended slowly. I gasped! “We’re going on that?”… was all that I could muster up. Michael nodded excitedly, “You’re going on a scenic flight tour!”. I was nailed to the ground, perhaps in awe, and it wasn’t until Michael grabbed my arm and walked to the side of the road that I realised that the plane was actually going to land right there. Gosh! That’s like the coolest surprise ever!
Seeing the marine life of the Western Cape from the air
The plane landed with a soft thud on the dirt road and within minutes I was clambering into the plane alongside the pilot. He revved up the single engine and before I knew it, we were tearing down the dirt road. The take-off was swift and within moments, an amazing view of the fynbos-covered hills and the stunning coastline unfolded before me. What I saw in the next half hour was simply astounding!
The pilot flew along the coast past the breathtaking expanse of Walker Bay and the small town of Gans Bay (Gansbaai). Gans Bay is one of the most famous spots in the world for marine expeditions and cage-diving with Great White sharks. Dyer Island, with its huge colonies of seals and penguins and its world famous ‘Shark Alley’ (where Great Whites hunt for seals), lies just off the coast. On a good day, it’s easy to spot Great Whites, seals, penguins, dolphins and whales in this area. I’ve been on various boat trips in this area but this was the first time I had the chance to see the marine life of the Western Cape from the air!
Seeing Great Whites and dolphins from the air
We soon spotted a cage-diving boat surrounded by several Great Whites! These were several meters in length and it was an awesome sight to see them circling the boat.
A bit farther down the coast, we followed several large pods of dolphins. As we passed the gorgeous white sands of Walker Bay, a flock of graceful flamingos flew below us.
Sadly, we didn’t see any whales but it was very early in the season (August-October are the best months). We were about to head back to Grootbos when the pilot made a sharp bank to the left. He’d spotted something in the clear waters of Walker Bay. He didn’t need to say anything. I spotted it almost instantly. There below us was the largest shark I’ve ever seen. Just seeing its massive silhouette in the water sent chills down my spine. The pilot said it could be Colossus, a huge one-ton shark made famous by Discovery Channel and which is known to lurk around these waters. We circled above it a few times – I was so entranced by the amazing sight below me that I even forgot to reach for my camera!
We returned to Grootbos with big smiles. It was an awe-inspiring thirty-minute flight, one I’ll certainly never forget.
Grootbos is a private nature reserve located in the hills above Gans Bay. The reserve is home to luxurious accommodations and restaurants, as well as schools for ‘social upliftment projects’ such as Green Futures. Many activities such as this scenic flight, jeep safaris, boat tours and horse-riding are organised for guests. Surrounded by lush fynbos and with the rich marine life of the Western Cape at its doorstep, Grootbos truly is a five-star eco-paradise.
Note: a big thank you goes to Grootbos for your incredible hospitality. As always, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.