Friday, April 19, 2013

Grootbos Nature Reserve Part 2 - Fynbos and Philosophy

This is the second installment of our wonderful night away at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. Read the first part here.

The view from our deck at dawn
Waking up in the morning to a dawn sky, soaking in the bath and watching colours change as the sun creeps over the hill behind us, listening to bird chatter in the fynbos, a magical start to the day at Grootbos
The bath tub with the best ever view
We’d planned two activities for the morning – if we’d been staying longer we would have just chosen one and had a lazy lie-in, but as it was we were at breakfast by 8 and spoilt for choice both with the buffet and the cooked to order hot breakfast.

There were cereals, muesli, yoghurt and bowls of seeds, nuts, raspberry and passionfruit puree as toppings, fruit salad, sliced fruits, cold meats and even smoked trout as well as fresh croissants and muffins. I went for a very decadent Eggs Benedict and then re-visited the buffet because I couldn’t resist the smoked trout and a croissant.

Grootbos is so much more than just a lovely five star retreat, though it does all that superbly well in a friendly and unpretentious style. I loved all the pampering, fantastic food and comfort, but it was the activities and the place itself that made the biggest impression. The nature  reserve grew out of the owner, Michael Lutzeyer’s, mission to conserve the beautiful fynbos eco-system of this region and their conservation programme has developed to an award-winning world class level. Not just that but the importance of enriching and giving back to the community here is actively recognised in two very successful social responsibility programmes.

The plant nursery at the Green Futures project

We were shown round both by Anecke, herself a graduate of the horticulture Green Futures training programme. Every year eight candidates are carefully selected from the two neighbouring communities of Stanford and Gansbaai and receive a very thorough grounding in both indigenous horticulture and basic life skills. As well as learning all about the fynbos plants and how to grow them, they learn computer skills, how to keep accounts, how to drive, language and interview skills. There is also an exchange link with the Eden Project in Cornwall UK, so every year three students get to travel there for three weeks and experience conservation  overseas.

The vegetable gardens at the Growing the Future programme

The second programme Growing the Future is aimed at local women between the ages of 18 and 35 and is a year course in growing organic vegetables and fruits. After three years this is becoming a self-sustaining initiative, growing produce to sell to the lodges, free-range chickens providing the eggs we’d just eaten for our breakfasts, bee-keeping producing delicious fynbos honey to sell in the shop and making preserves for the restaurants. Graduates from both programmes receive a nationally accredited certificate and can go on to do further training on site as guides or as lodge staff, or apply to do further horticultural training elsewhere. Many of them choose to work at Grootbos and the cheerful faces, confident and individual personalities of all the staff and guides we met are a testament to the success of the training.

Lavender for companion planting in the vegetable garden

We were whisked back to the lodge just in time to sally forth once more on our 4x4 fynbos safari with Jo, a wonderfully eccentric guide with a passion for her subject and a sprinkling of philosophy thrown in.

As we left the road and headed up a mountain trail she stopped to pick mysterious sprigs of restio, erica, protea and with hilarious deadpan anecdotes showed us so much more about how the natural fynbos eco-system works.

I’d never realised that the humble sour fig, which grows like crazy on our farm, is a vital refuge for small animals such as tortoises during fires. They can creep into its shelter and the succulent leaves protect them from the fire’s heat. I hadn’t known that restios are either male or female, that certain ericas need fire to reproduce: so many details shared in an entertaining and fascinating way. We also discovered the source of that elusive honey fynbos scent  that pervades the bush around the lodge – metalasia muricata, or its less than glamorous common name, the cauliflower bush.

Jo picking sprigs of metalasia muricata

Jo stopped the vehicle at a beautiful viewpoint for snacks, delicious home-baked cookies in four flavours, and while we were eating and chatting she wove all the plant samples picked on the way into a stunning bouquet, then turned wedding photographer to each couple in turn.

After this tour we were filled with even more respect  and admiration for how much Grootbos has done in the last 20 years to preserve, restore and protect the incredibly rich flora, gradually acquiring more land as neighbouring farms were sold, until they now have over 2000 hectares of pristine hill, milkwood forest and mountain.

The main lodge at sunset
Back at the lodge it was already lunch time, time for us to reluctantly leave, but we stayed long enough  to sample the lunch buffet, a fresh and flavoursome feast of salads with a choice of three hot mains to follow and even a dessert, though we were still too full from breakfast to make it all the way through the menu.

There were so many more activities that there just wasn’t time for in our short visit: horse riding trails through the fynbos, beach walks and picnics, a coastal cave tour, whale watching in the winter months, and of course the spa in the milkwood forest where there is no need of canned birdsong relaxation tapes, as the real thing wafts in through the open doors.

All in all I found Grootbos a thoroughly magical place to visit and the memories are sustaining me through a rather hectic week. If you get the opportunity, do not hesitate – go there and stay for as long as you can!

Fynbos bouquet

Note for my non-South African readers: fynbos is the name given to a particular type of vegetation mainly found in the southern tip of Africa. Low bushy green scrub is what it looks like to the eye, not a tree in sight. But when you look up close you find an enormous variety of different plants and flowers. Our guide, Jo, explained that to be identified as fynbos it should have four principal types of plants: proteas, ericas, restios and bulbinous plants. It’s an eco-system that supports many birds and small animals, but not a single giraffe or elephant! It's beautiful, fascinating and just as an essential item on any traveller's bucket list as the Big Five.

Disclosure: Our stay at Grootbos was complimentary, but I received no remuneration for writing this post and all opinions are my own.


  1. Glorious! I want to go there this minute and stay for a month! (Not excessive, right?)

  2. Charlotte, not at all excessive, I think you could be very happy there for a whole month!

  3. Marcheline - on a completely unrelated note... you asked for more pics of the wedding dress from last month's post. What better than a link to the wedding photographer's blog so you can see the whole thing?!

  4. I loved the link on Charlotte's Web to the male feminist article. A great post for every man for every day of the year. And hooray for the wedding.

    Thanks for the explanation if fynbos and for the great second post about it. I just love the bouquet and can't beleive she did it while just chatting away.

    I travel the world via the blogosphere and it's not often I get jealous about people visiting a place but this time I'm quite green, Kit.

  5. Sorry for turning you green, S.S.! We were also very impressed with Jo's bouquet skills. She made it in about 5 minutes, while we were all busy chatting and eating the cookies.
    If you haven't already visited the Grootbos site, do, as there is so much more information there on fynbos and the whole story of the place.

  6. Kit - Thanks for the link! Will check it out immediately. And what a wonderful post... thank you also for the description and definition of the various S.A. words, because you saved me a whole lot of time Googling. 8-) I LOVE that picture of you in that adorable hat holding the flowers! You totally have to frame that.

  7. Thanks, Marcheline, I'll save the picture for the family album that I'm always meaning to put together!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!