I’d driven past Grootbos Private Nature Reserve many times on the road between Stanford and Gansbaai, and was always attracted by the rolling fields of fynbos that swept past the window. Finally I got a chance to visit the private nature reserve, on a quick weekend break, and it totally surpassed my expectations.
Expansive coastal views of Walker Bay and the Atlantic, an incredible diversity of fynbos, a two-thousand-year old milkwood forest, incredible food, stylish interiors, beautiful rooms and 1768 hectares of private nature reserve were what awaited us as at Grootbos we escaped rainy spring Cape Town on a Saturday morning. Though we only had a short time to spend at Grootbos, we tried to take it all in, going on an afternoon horseride through thickets of fynbos (which my horse loved devouring), exploring the reserve on foot, learning about birds, insects and fynbos, and hanging out in the quiet stillness of the milkwood forest.
While it was only a quick break, the magic of being in such a beautiful place, surrounded by old trees, fynbos and the ever-present sound of the sea stayed with us for a long time afterwards. If you need natural rejuvenation after a draining week/month/year in the city – Grootbos is where you should head.
The story of Grootbos
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has been around for 20 years, ever since farmland was bought up by Michael Lutzeyer and rehabilitated. There are now 750 fynbos species, 107 bird species, 21 mammals and 21 reptiles on the reserve – an amazing conservation success story. There are only eight milkwood forests left in the world, three of which are on the reserve – hence its name ‘big forest’. The main forest is over 23 hectares, which makes it one of the largest forests of its type.
What to do at Grootbos
Explore the reserve on 4×4 drives, guided walks and on horseback. I loved the horseriding – it was a great way to take in the landscape and see a lot of the reserve – even though my horse was keener on eating fynbos than walking! You can also walk without a guide through the reserve – the trails are well marked. Spend time on your own in the magical milkwood forest – it’s a magically quiet place, as spiritual as a cathedral. There’s also bird watching, land- and boat-based whale watching, scenic flights, shark cage diving, beach walks and wine tours. You could easily spend a week at Grootbos and not fit it all in. If you only have a day or two, like us, you should spend time walking around the reserve, discovering the fascinating stories of fynbos, insects, animals and birds with Grootbos’ experienced guides.
When I visited Grootbos, they were busy building a spa in the forest – it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful, ethereal place to have a massage.
Grootbos is well known for its excellent food. Head chef Duane Lewis uses mostly fresh, seasonal produce from Grootbos’ garden and local farms, and you can taste it in the salads and veggies that burst with flavour. We had an amazing five-course dinner of rolled Greek salad, spicy-sour tom yum soup, pan-fried cob with a prawn and mussel risotto, and rum baba with pineapple-curd ice cream. Breakfast was a delectable spread of fruit, yoghurt, meats, cheeses, pastries and bread, followed by a slap-up cooked breakie (it was hard to choose between the omelette and pancakes so we had both).
We stayed in the Forest Lodge, which has suites spread across a ridge overlooking Walker Bay. Our huge suite had a lounge, veranda, log fire (which came in handy that cold spring night), separate bedroom and expansive bathroom with a super-sized bath with a view. The look is stylish, minimalist chic – pared down colours with a touch of fynbos in cushions.
Plant a forest (and buy some fynbos)
Guests get gifts of milkwood trees, which they can choose to plant at Grootbos (they get the GPS co-ordinates of their tree so they can follow up with it years later), or take home to plant in their garden (or balcony in our case). Grootbos runs the Green Futures Project, which trains unemployed people in fynbos landscaping and horticulture. Green Futures students run the indigenous plant nursery at Grootbos, which sells a huge array of fynbos plants. Pick up some plants for your garden and take a bit of Grootbos home with you, as well as help to support the project.
What I learnt on my weekend at Grootbos:
1. I’m not very good at horse riding. I can’t seem to get over the idea that I’m on a big animal that I don’t really have any control over.
2. Horses like eating fynbos.
3. Fynbos is more fascinating than I thought.
4. I want to make a fynbos garden on my tiny city balcony.
5. I need to spend more time in fields of fynbos.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Grootbos offers luxury accommodation in three properties and 27 suites on the reserve: the Forest Lodge, which has minimal chic decor and a modern feel; the Garden Lodge, which is more family-friendly with a cosy vibe and relaxed decor, and a villa (for exclusive use only) with six suites, a private butler, chef and guide.
Rates from R1645 a person a night sharing, which includes all meals and all land-based activities.
Grootbos is a two-and-a-half hour drive from Cape Town, close to Hermanus.