Grootbos is a private nature reserve near the southernmost tip of the African continent. Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, Grootbos is a two-hour drive southeast of Cape Town and a short 30-minute drive from Hermanus, the premier destination for land-based whale-watching in South Africa. Literally translated, Grootbos means ‘big forest’ in Afrikaans (or Dutch), a reference to the ancient milkwood forests surrounding the estate; some of these trees are more than a thousand years old!
I’d heard of Grootbos before from various people who’d been there – each time, their faces would light up and their eyes would twinkle as they described their stay there, and they would end their monologue with a “You’ll love it there! You have to go!”. So, I decided to take them up on their advice. Grootbos was fully-booked around the time I was in the area but I was invited to spend the day there touring the estate and its surroundings… and what a day it was!
Experiencing the magic of Grootbos
I was staying in Hermanus and the drive to Grootbos through the Overberg region was absolutely stunning. I’ve explored this region several times before and I’ll never tire of the beautiful scenery. There’s just something magical about the hilly fynbos-covered landscapes that end abruptly at dramatic cliffs or large swathes of blinding white sand, the seemingly ‘airbrushed’ clouds and the sparkling ocean. The Grootbos Lodges are perched on the slopes of a forested hill, with panoramic views of the ocean and the fynbos plains. We arrived in time for a hearty breakfast by the pool with Michael Lutzeyer, the founder of Grootbos. Michael’s boundless energy and enthusiasm is infectious and by the time breakfast was over, we were raring to go.
We climbed into the safari jeep and off we went down the hill to our first stop, the majestic Walker Bay. Walker Bay is a large nature reserve – its shores form the Walker Bay Nature Reserve whilst its waters are a protected marine area. Standing at the top of a cliff, the bay stretched out below us in a broad arc and we could just about see the town of Hermanus in the distance.
Lending the community a helping hand
After an invigorating walk on the beach, we headed back to Grootbos where we stopped at a project which Michael is very passionate about: Green Futures. Through the Grootbos Foundation, various ‘social upliftment’ projects are realised, amongst which the Green Futures Horticultural & Life Skills College. Michael’s enthusiasm shone through as he led us around the school, where people from the nearby Gansbaai community are taught about horticulture (the students grow and sell about 150 different plants and provide gardening services) as well as other important literacy, administrative, computer and social skills. Through extensive training and partnerships with the likes of the Eden Project in England and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, the students are groomed to become fully-fledged horticulturalists. One project I was particularly drawn to was the Growing the Future project whereby female students are provided with vegetable boxes along with training on organic farming, bee-keeping, nutrition and entrepreneurship. Some of them have become expert vegetable growers/sellers, creating a sustainable source of income for their families.
Flying along the Western Cape coast
Our visit continued with a drive through the fynbos covered hillsides. We stopped and Michael surprised us with a flight tour along the Western Cape coast! It was an unforgettable flight that took us past Walker Bay and Gansbaai where we spotted dolphins, flamingos and even Great White sharks!
A cruise to Dyer Island
The flight tour was followed by a cruise to Dyer Island with Marine Dynamics, an award-winning marine tour and shark cage-diving company. Michael sure had it covered, from the ground to the air to the ocean, all within the short space of several hours! This time, we got to get up close to the marine life of the Western Cape. Dyer Island and Shark Alley are famous the world over for its Marine Big Five: whales, Great Whites, dolphins, penguins and seals. On my previous visit to Dyer Island several years before, I spotted all five! We weren’t that fortunate this time but we did get to see some dolphins and the huge penguin and seal colonies on Dyer Island.
a little piece of paradise on the Western Cape.
We returned to Grootbos after the cruise and as we tucked into a gorgeous grilled prawn lunch, I stared out at Walker Bay and the beautiful fynbos shrubs surrounding us. The ocean glistened in the afternoon sun and I picked up the faint woody scent of the fynbos. My mind was still reeling from the amazing experiences that day but one thing was clear to me: Grootbos sure is a little piece of paradise on the Western Cape.
A fynbos floral safari
Our tour of Grootbos wasn’t over yet – Michael had one more treat up his sleeve: a fynbos floral safari. Fynbos is a family of shrubs endemic to the Western Cape of South Africa and is characterised by its high degree of diversity. Of the world’s six floral kingdoms, fynbos is the smallest and richest per unit of area. We clambered back into the jeep for a beautiful drive through the fynbos-covered hills and plains, stopping every so often to check out the different species of plants and flowers.
The proteas were blooming and the low shrubland was a colourful palette of red, yellow and pink. We were surrounded by a thick blanket of flowers and gorgeous floral scents. Above us, dark brooding clouds added some drama to an otherwise enchanting moment.
We returned to Grootbos for a glass of wine on the deck, where we got to witness a spectacular sunset.
I was already thinking that this day could not get any better when Michael rounded us up and led us along a torch-lit path into the milkwood forest. With their gnarled, mossy branches, the milkwood trees created a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere. We arrived at a clearing where a large camp fire roared. The trees around the clearing were draped with fairy lights and heat lamps were added for extra lighting and warmth.
In one corner, a bar was set up where sparkling wine and canapés were served. It was just magical! There was a collective gasp from all of us as we entered the clearing. It truly was the perfect end to an unforgettable day in this little paradise.
I will return one day and that’s a promise!
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 the 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.