Home on the range in the Western Cape.
South Africa is well known for its bushveld landscapes and the country boasts grassveld, lowveld, highveld, thornveld, and if there was a classification for sandveld or duneveld it would be painting a picture of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.
A Forest Lodge Suite.
A two hour scenic road trip from Cape Town brings me to Grootbos over the Sir Lowry Pass and through the Garden Route that winds past apple orchards, vineyards and magnificent golf courses.
In Afrikaans, Grootbos means “Great Bush”, and the scraggly but scrappy ancient fynbos bushes spread out before the two lodges (Forest Lodge and Garden Lodge) like a golden carpet after the Walker Bay and Gansbaai Bay squalls blow back and forth across the Reserve. Grootbos protects 1,768 hectares of Cape Floral Kingdom species that is home to 750 indigenous plants and wild flowers and 121 types of birds. Bring a camera and binoculars and the Reserve will supply a bird list for you to check off.
You may have seen the Big 5 at a safari lodge, but have you seen the Big Marine 5: Southern Right Whale, Great White Sharks, penguins, seals, and dolphins? Upon check in at the Forest Lodge I am presented an activity calendar where I can choose cage Great White Shark diving, boating on Walker Bay, beach cave exploring, horseback riding, walking and motorized safaris, flight-seeing, or tours around the region. Grootbos is a whirlwind of activities.
The Forest Lodge Suites from the birding trail.
Milkwoods lined the path to my Suite.
The canopied King bed.
The Forest Lodge only accepts children over the age of 12 so it is quiet and secluded and perfect for couples and singles or small families. The 16 duplex suites are ensconced at the edge of a 1,500-year-old Milkwood Forest that is protected by law. The Forest Lodge had only been open six months in 2006 when a fierce fire swept over the hill and killed many of the trees and destroyed the thatched roof lodge. Non-flammable materials were used to rebuild the new architectural marvel, including slate roofs, steel beams, and brickwork.
The brick path leading to my suite is through a tunnel of tangled moss covered gnarled Milkwood trees. The path is lit at night but the walk is still eerie when the wind blows through the branches and brambles and I expect the trees to become alive and animated like in a Harry Potter movie.
At anytime the porter swings by with paraffin sticks and lights the salvaged logs in the fireplace and makes my spacious lodge feel like home.
My spacious canopied king bed with down quilt is in a middle section of my suite and overlooks its own terrace.
Over the bathtub picture window a venetian blind filters the hard daylight into slats of moderated rays. A terry bathrobe hangs near heated towel racks hand reachable from the huge step in double shower.
Bamboo flooring is sleek and clean.
Heavy sliding doors separate the lounge and the wooden outdoor deck. An al fresco shower hangs off the deck near the comfortable patio chairs.
Nightly fires in the Suite lounge.
In the lounge African artwork stared from the walls and ostrich eggs spilled out of a table tray. In a kitchenette alcove are a well-stocked mini-bar and tea & coffee making facilities. The DSTV brings the intrusive electronic world into my natural setting. Overhead windows pull in more light but the heavy curtains are pulled over the door at night for privacy. One evening an angry storm cracked lightning nearby and I was snapped back into the primal elements.
Throughout the lodge and within the suites bumbershoots are kept at the ready. If there hadn’t been a little pool sign I wouldn’t have known about the heated infinity pool, unless I stepped out on the deck near the business center.
Grootbos’ Forest Lodge is ecologically sensitive.
There is Wi-Fi throughout the Reserve, but Forest Lodge also provides a small conference centre and a computer station with small library just off the reception desk.
The area is known as the Whale Coast because in May the Southern Right Whales make the journey up from Antarctica to calve in Walker’s Bay. The lodge has a spotting scope so you won’t miss the action.
The menu, please.
The Forest Lodge reception and restaurant are combined in a single towering expanse of glass and open ceilings that brought the magnificent sunlight into the interior. It was like dining outside with the bush and dune made into pointillist dabs of color by the spattered raindrops on the windows. A centralized bar abuts the fireside restaurant; I chatted with Sean, the Assistant Manger over a drink served by the multi-tasking bartender/waiter Emeril. Full board is included in stays at both lodges at Grootbos, but of course alcohol beverages are on your own account.
I enjoyed the salad buffet but I had to laugh when the waitress appeared with a large menu board for the made-to-order lunch specials. Emeril kept the sparkling water pouring, but in the evening South African regional wines were my choice as I savored a golden crusted Hake dinner that was tantalizing moist. The lodge sources its line caught fish from the nearby town of Hermanus.
The Forest Lodge restaurant.
Michael Lutzever and his family own the Reserve, and he is more than an owner, but more of a visionary, teacher, philanthropist, and farmer. Fresh eggs are gathered for my tasty breakfast omelet from Grootbos’ free ranging chickens. Michael also formed the Green Futures Horticultural & Life Skills College where students raise organic produce used in the kitchen of Executive Chef, Duane Lewis. The Reserve jump-started the Future Trees Project after the 2006 ravaging fires and guests can volunteer to plant trees is the seared ecosystem.
Chumani on the cave walk.
During the first afternoon at Grootbos my beach hiking guide, Chumani, met me at reception and we jumped into a safari wagon and drove to Walker’s Bay for an exhilarating scramble over the smooth rocks and slippery leg thick kelp strewn ashore like limp, dead black eels. As a graduate of the Reserve’s College, the Eastern Cape native was hired as a ranger after extensive training. Chumani’s name is pronounced with a little click of the tongue that made it sound like Tickman. I never did pronounce it correctly. Across wet, wooden stairs and bridges we scrambled. Chumani must have had shoes made with superglue; I slid all over the rubble field. We clambered into a huge open cavern where the University of New York was excavating the 8,000 year old remains of shellfish, oysters and clams, and other bones that no doubt proved the presence of early Bushmen. The constant breeze gusted over the swirling tide pools and churned the water gray in whirlpools and the sprays that leaped over the cliffs reminded me how far I was from civilization.
The rugged Cape coast at Walker’s Bay.
Back at the Forest Lodge that evening I had two delightful companions join me for dinner. Kevin was the Reserve’s Lead Ranger and Christoff was returning back to the Reserve after a stint with another game park. Kevin had once been at Kruger National Park and in Botswana but had grown up in the wilds of the Drakensberg Mountains. Christoff proved to be an encyclopedia of flora and fauna knowledge, which I witnessed on a birding walk the next morning and then later in the day on a motorized safari through the Great Bush.
Christoff led the birding safari.
As we walked the pathways behind the Forest Lodge Christoff explained that certain acacia bushes are of the pea family. Overhead an African Goshawk circled us in lazy spirals looking for a morning snack. Although I did photograph many blooms in the field, Christoff stated that the best season for the Flower Safari is in September, South Africa’s springtime. Other birds I checked off my feathered friends list included: Speckled Mousebird, Fork-tailed Drongo. Cape Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Prinia, Southern Boubou, Southern Tchagra, Malachite Sunbird, and the Cape Bunting. I must say Christoff’s enthusiastic descriptions of the avarian world piqued my interest in learning more. The Reserve stocks bird and nature books for sale at reception.
In another section of the reserve we crouched through overhanging fingers of bush and trees. All of a sudden a troop of about 20 Chagma Baboons caused a ruckus when we approached too closely. The dominate male boomed and hollered as Christoff worked his way up a ridge to get around them. I followed a path below the ridge lip, but the baboons out smarted us by circling around and then they were gone.
The baboons hide in the tangled Milkwoods.
A pair of Australian ladies joined us for the afternoon 4×4 safari around God’s Window, the largest mountain on the Reserve. Christoff stopped the rig for a brisk walk to a blooming King Protea, the national flower of South Africa. Across the Great Bush the sun darted through the clouds leaving moving shadows that tightened into a fist of rain. At the bottom of an arroyo Christoff spread out hot chocolate and cookies. As the rain became heavier we moved under an overstory of trees that kept us dry.
On safari near God’s Window.
The next afternoon after another morning 4×4 drive I was introduced to my pal Necker, a gentle Quarter Horse stabled near the Garden Lodge. Sam, the stable manager and female riding guide trotted out the ponies for the guests and we saddled up and hopped on for a gentle sway above the bay and through the lush bush, but again rain pelted us, but we didn’t care, because the view came with a cinemascopic double rainbow. Most of the activities at the Reserve are free, but the three hour beach horse riding adventure comes with an extra charge. We passed the new six bedroom Villa that rents for $10,000 USD per night, but it has its own chef, barman, and grand piano.
The original Garden Lodge.
There are 11 renovated family suites at the original Garden Lodge that is surrounded by three hectares of indigenous fynbos and gardens. A rock building houses administration offices. Grootbos also sponsors a Soccer Foundation that develops inner city soccer fields and donates equipment to keep kids off drugs and violence. The Reserve also has a training program for women who want to become farmers. After the end of Apartheid the government has turned back small parcels of land to the women to raise crops, but many of the women never farmed before, so Grootbos stepped in to bring about a new future for many.
A Walker’s Bay bayview window.
The Garden Lodge includes: 6 One-Bedroom Luxury suites, 3 One-Bedroom Classic Suites, and 2 Two-Bedroom Luxury Suites. The lodge has its own restaurant with terrace, bar, lounge, swimming pool, beauty salon, children play area, library, ecological interpretation and research centre. internet access, as well as an entertainment room. The Garden Lodge is family friendly and does accommodate children. One afternoon Christoff was entertaining his sister’s kids at the Garden Lodge rec room.
Grootbos is somewhat remote in geography and philosophy from many game parks in South Africa. But Grootbos proved to be a Great Bush Adventure that is well worth seeking out.
Contact African Travel Inc. for Grootbos arrangements, including airfare to Cape Town or vineyard or Garden Route Tours. African Travel Inc., at www.africantravelinc.com, knows the hidden corners of Africa, such as Grootbos, or contact your professional travel agent who works with ATI.
The Forest Lodge restaurant and reception complex.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.