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Amidst the mountains, woods and sea

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

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Text and photography
Iris van den Broek

The tip of South Africa is a truly unique place. Not only is this the end of the continent, but it is also where two oceans meet. The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve lodges are located in this fascinating area. iFly reporter Iris travelled to this beautiful part of South Africa.

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Ruaan is a forest guide at the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, where you can enjoy a luxury stay, but in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. National Geographic has even proclaimed it to be one of the most unique lodges in the world. And even though I’ve just arrived, I completely agree.

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“I never tire of the view,” says Ruaan. I’m staring through the large windows of the Grootbos Lodge and can easily see why. The ocean roars and breaks far below, the hills are covered in green vegetation (the so called fynbos), I can see bright white sand dunes and, in the background, the majestic Olifantsberg rises out of the ocean mist.

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Milkwood Forest

Thousand year old trees

The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (Grootbos is Afrikaans for ‘Large forest’) consists of two parts: the Garden Lodge, which is more family-oriented, and the Forest Lodge, located in the heart of the Milkwood Forest and where I am staying. Ruaan takes me on a tour through this enchanted forest that is more than a thousand years old. He has a story to tell for every tree and I’m fascinated by the numerous unique ecosystems that coexist here.

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When he pulls off a branch from a bush and rubs it between his fingers, a delightful aroma is emitted. “Confetti bush,” he laughs. “We have lots of plants here with unique properties and use them both in our cuisine and in soap and bath products.”

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Serene tranquility

Waking up in this wonderful nature reserve is an amazing experience. When I slide open the doors of my villa in the morning, all I hear is the sound of the ocean, wind and countless birds. And the aromas! Grootbos is truly nature’s perfume collection, spicy and energetic. I’m tempted to spend the entire day in my private swimming pool, enjoying the serene tranquility, but the magnificent surroundings call out to me and I’ve signed up for an ocean safari.

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From the boat, I can see the pure chaos. There are so many that it’s hard to fathom the sheer number of them. On land, the animals are almost stumbling over one another and the water is full of flapping fins and tails. These seals give ‘crowded’ a whole new meaning.

Dyer Island

Dolphins, sharks and 60,000 seals

A short trip by car brings me to Gansbaai, where my boat is departing for a trip to Dyer Island, a small island just off the coast with an amazing amount of wildlife. Along the way, I see dolphins, copper sharks, whales and even a solitary penguin. My boat guide tells me that the African penguin is threatened with extinction. A large colony used to live on Dyer Island, but few remain. However, an enormous group of 60,000 seals inhabit the adjacent Geyser Rock.

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Walker Bay

Sea caves from prehistoric times

In the late afternoon, Ruaan takes me to Walker Bay Nature Reserve, the bay you have such fantastic views of from Grootbos. It stretches from Hermanus to De Kelders, where there are numerous sea caves. One of the largest is the Klipgat cave. “People were living here back in the Stone Age,” says Ruaan. While the sea crashes against the rocks, I try to imagine life here 85,000 years ago. This cave is literally a window to prehistoric times.

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Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Grootbos cuisine

A day on the water works up an appetite, but fortunately Grootbos has everything I could possibly want. Not only do they have fantastic breakfast buffets full of superfoods, fruits, nuts and fynbos honey and a fabulous three-course lunch, but I’m also treated to a superb five-course dinner. From juicy tuna to mushroom risotto and from shrimp curry to mouth-watering steaks, every meal is equally as sophisticated and provides quite the visual spectacle.

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Naturally, the dishes are prepared with local ingredients as much as possible. And the water served with every meal is extracted from sandstone using a solar-powered pump and bottled on site. This is one of the eco aspects of this lodge that makes it so unique. I enjoy the sunset while eating. After all, this view is what makes Grootbos so popular and attractive. Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch or dinner or simply relaxing in your villa, the light is always different, with different colours and a different ambiance.

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Cape Agulhas

The southernmost tip of Africa

When I check out in the morning, I’m sad to leave. This is such a wonderful place to stay. Fortunately, I have something to look forward to. The southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, is a little more than an hour away by car. This is where the last little section of Africa crumbles into the ocean – literally. Or, rather, two oceans, as this is where the warm water of the Indian Ocean meets the colder waters of the Atlantic. The closest continent to the south is Antarctica, ‘only’ 6,800 kilometres away.

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I see pointy rocks rising out of the sea in every direction. Cape Agulhas translates literally as ‘Cape of Needles’, an accurate description. Looking out over the vast ocean, I realise that I’m literally standing on the edge of a continent – a magical place to end this journey.

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