If you want to buy into ‘Green Tourism’, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, about an hour and a half from Cape Town, should be on your list. It has been winning Responsible and Environmental Tourism awards since 2000.
When the exuberant owner of Grootbos, Michael Lutzeyer, told me the story of how he slowly but surely acquired pieces of land he couldn’t afford, to create his own spectacular, ocean-facing, private nature reserve, I was inspired. It made me wonder if I too could kick-start my dream in the same way and find my own piece of paradise. Then I realised I would never have sufficient hyperactive energy, such a driven work ethic, or the ability to talk my way into or out of anything, in the way that Lutzeyer can and does.
Individuals like Lutzeyer, who see no barriers and are prepared to risk all, are few and far between. They tend to succeed or fail in a big way. In this case, he has succeeded in creating one of the most beautiful nature reserves in South Africa.
When I arrived, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve was swathed in the kind of mist that hangs in grey strands, just like the old man’s beard dangling from branches of four-hundred year old Milkwood trees.
The forests were magical, almost speaking with stories of ancient feet that had passed this way. There is so much unique, indigenous flora of the Sixth Floral Kingdom – Fynbos – that an intensive survey found 307 different species in five sample quadrants. Thirty-two of these were Red data species and one Erica was new to science.
I think you get the picture of how special this reserve is, which at the time was blooming with proteas and wild pelargonium. In the stillness, a subtle but insistent hum entered my consciousness from a world of insects, while frogs and birds made their own music.
Until the mist cleared, I had no idea that Grootbos Nature Reserve has a staggering view of Walker Bay, I could even see whales! My visit was in late November, at the very end of the whale season, but this part of Walker Bay is the nursery for late developers.
At least twenty Southern Right Whale mothers were suckling their enormous babies in the warmish waters, until they were strong enough to journey to the Antarctic. One of the activities included in the Grootbos accommodation package is a guided excursion to the coastline of De Kelders, a spot renowned for close-up whale sightings. They don’t rush you either, and I spent a good hour sitting on the rocks watching whales spy hopping, tail bobbing and travelling across my line of vision. I didn’t even need binoculars to see the callosities (roughened patches of skin) on their faces. I even saw one wink at me – honest!
My first few paragraphs of a review are always about the things that most move me about a place; in this case, it was the nature. But I could have just as easily started with the Grootbos restaurant (think spicy prawns, black truffles and chocolate savarin). Or I could have talked about the long lounge or pool with a fabulous view and the spacious accommodation at Grootbos.
There are actually two lodges within this reserve; Garden Lodge, aimed at families, and Forest Lodge, which has a quieter, contemporary appeal. Forest Lodge was completely burned down in a raging bush fire just a couple of years ago, but in his inimitable way, Michael Lutzeyer made sure it rose from the ashes to live again. The long open-plan space of the main lodge, is filled with light and sweeping, picture window views down the slope and across the bay. The length is subtly divided into lounge, bar and restaurant, with extra function rooms for African weddings.
The small open-air wedding ceremony that was scheduled to take place on the rain-filled terrace was hastily re-organised for the wine cellar. The darkness was illuminated with a multitude of candles, as white against the blackness as the meringue dress worn by the African bride. Her Caucasian bridegroom completed the contrasts of this happy wedding in Africa.
Of the accommodation, the bathrooms are huge, with a hint of sports locker room about them, mainly because of the long slatted bench, giving plenty of room to discard clothes and towels without making the place untidy. It has ‘his ‘n hers’ sinks and a bath and shower for two (yes I tested them both). Beds are big and the lounge is like home. Before the bush fire, the rooms’ private balconies had views similar to the main lounge. But after-fire rains created a new burst of growth and the flora is now taller and more prolific than before, with triffids crowding around my balcony blocking the view.
Now to the food; instead of describing it, I am just going to show you a couple of photos and a dinner menu and let you drool….which is exactly what I did. Once again the food was good enough to ask for a recipe; Shitake papardelle with black truffle cream. Too delicious for words. I only ask for recipes that are truly tantalising, and I have been pondering on the idea of adding a safari lodge recipe book to my portfolio of titles (currently standing at six books; 3 guide books and 3 coffee table books.
Click on the links to see a couple of them: http://www.struik.co.za/Travel%20&%20Tourism/book.book.detail.action?id=2278&curcat=91
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Amuse Bouche (translation from French: Amuse your mouth).This is any morsel of deliciousness in one-swallow or bite) .
Smoked duck breast with falafel and orange salad -or- Shitake papardelle with black truffle cream
Soup of the day or Hot and sour Tom Yum soup
Sorbet palate cleanser
Beef tournedos Rossini with braised spinach and Madeira jus -or- Grilled fillet of line fish with beetroot polenta and citrus beurre blanc -or- Potato gnocchi with gorgonzola Napolitana sauce
Chocolate and cinnamon savarin -or- Berry, banana & hazelnut praline baked Alaska -or- Cheese selection & homemade compote
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I know I should leave you with these thoughts to amuse your bouche, but there are some other things you should know about Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. They started the Grootbos Foundation in 2005 for all the right reasons; to engage people – who normally probably wouldn’t care – in conservation and protection of the natural environment, through education, training, and employment in an self-sustaining indigenous nursery on the reserve.
I saw the fruits of this foundation in our tour guide, Ally Msweli. He is a graduate of the Green Futures college at Grootbos, who showed great promise in both horticulture and guiding and has been taught to drive, so he can conduct all the tours offered at Grootbos. One of which goes into his informal settlement, where Ally proudly shows off his tiny ramshackle home made of odd bits of wood and tin where he lives with his wife and child. He may not have brick walls, but he is one of few people in the area who owns a car, that runs!
Grootbos also offer horse riding, guided walks, spa treatments and scenic flights (which I can highly recommend). Then there’s wine tasting at nearby estates, golf excursions, shark cage diving and boat trips, plus whale watching and shopping to the old whaling village of Hermanus. There are children’s treasure hunts, excursions to the beach and rock pools, nature walks and pony riding, plus special menus and babysitting.
Take a look at their website.