Over bumpy crests and around tight bends, dissecting a giant carpet of greenery, we travel in a vehicle that looks a lot like a wildlife safari 4WD. But there’s no fauna on this drive - through Grootbos Private Nature Reserve - at least not the type you’d expect to find on a more common South African ‘safari’.
In the shadow of Proteas Peak, our driver guide, Jonty, pulls over; botanical expert by day and musician by night, he leads us from the vehicle without the caution required in a safari of the animal kind.
Grabbing a handful of plants, and with contagious verve, Jonty then runs us through various types of lobelia, erica shrubs, proteas - a flower synonymous with South Africa - and other fascinating flora.
Even more recognisable flowers like geraniums (which originated in the South African Fynbos, we’re told) are seen in a new light, as our botanist guide weaves a tale about this particular specie’s special landing pads for bees.
A luxury eco-lodge as well as reserve, Grootbos is just one stop on South Africa’s famed Garden Route, which traverses one of the world’s six floral kingdoms. But it’s a significant one.
At 2,500 hectares, the park is huge. But more than its size, it is its diversity that makes this place special.
We’re told that Grootbos has 800 plant species - almost as many as there are in the UK in total; of these genera, 100 are endangered and six were actually discovered here. It’s little wonder then that Grootbos pushes its flora safaris, especially in spring, when flowers are opening up everywhere.
But for all its biodiversity, Grootbos is as much about its accommodation as anything else. And that accommodation, simply put, is spectacular.
There are two lodging options at Grootbos: the Garden Lodge and equally amazing Forest Lodge.
The Garden Lodge, where I’m staying, has seven free-standing suites, all with panoramic garden andsea views.
The size of my two-bedroom villa, which must be over 100sqm, is matched only by its sophistication. In the lower level, light floods in through floor-to-ceiling glass, exposing a stylish lounge/living room. Here, among mod-cons like satellite television and underfloor heating, an all-inclusive bar offers local wines, beer and spirits, while espresso machines with biodegradable coffee pods and loose leaf teas ensure there’s a beverage for every occasion. And then there’s the enormous deck with thoseviews.
On the upper level, a spacious master bedroom features a comfy king bed and wide-opening windows, while the luxurious ensuite - almost the size of the bedroom - boasts a free-standing bathtub, large rain shower, his/her hand basins and local Fynbos toiletries.
Together with a turndown service that includes a well-placed hot water bottle, warmed hearth and cold water - this is high-end accommodation at its finest.
A short walk from my villa, the main building is a cosy place to relax with a book, G&T with Fynbos botanical gin or a glass of local red. But there’s also a swimming pool, small boutique and large rumpus room, complete with snooker and fuss-ball tables for the grown-ups and plush toys and cubby houses for the kids.
Meals are served on the far side of the beautiful main building, and at breakfast, lunch and dinner, we're fed extremely well by Chef Ben - who’s been at the resort for 16 years. Think french toast with berry and Fynbos honey or baked bean chakalaka for breakfast, beef or beetroot carpaccio with a crispy calamari burger for lunch, and curry duck spring rolls for dinner.
Ingredients are largely locally sourced and some even home-grown. And home-grown here, whether produce or indeed flora, is mightily impressive.
What else to do
Along with its Botanical 4x4 tours, Grootbos offers guests an amazing array of things to see and do, including aquatic activities like marine safaris and cage diving (among great white sharks!), horse riding, bird watching and apiary experiences.
For the thrill seeker, there’s sand dune biking, quad biking, and scenic flights from Grootbos’ own airstrip, while for a bit of pampering, guests can enjoy beauty treatments or vineyard tours to Springfontein Winery in nearby Stanford.
Elsewhere, the Living the Future Tour gives guests an insight into the good work being done by the Grootbos Foundation.
Then of course, there are any number of hikes, the best of which is probably the Coastal Safari, which takes in the rugged trails, windswept beaches and incredible Klipgat Cave at Walker Bay Nature Bay. Tens of thousands of years ago, bushmen would dwell in this enormous hollow for weeks at a time before moving on. They were definitely onto something.
The writer was a guest of South African Tourism.
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