Is this the most stunning floral display in the world?
Where is the greatest flower show on earth? The Chelsea or Floriade flower shows, Western Australia or Brazil would all be serious contenders. However, after experiencing the pride of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the correct answer has to be the natural array at South Africa’s Western Cape. This area is a haven of floral beauty.
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Spectacular flora and fauna
This stunning floral experience is called the fynbos – the word stems from the Dutch for “fine-leaved flowers” a grouping that include proteas, South Africa’s national flower.
South Afican fynbos stretches from the west coast to the south-east coast and makes up 80% of the cape floral region
The fynbos boasts over 1300 plant species per 10000 square km while the next richest, the South American rainforest, lags far behind with just 400. And, of the 9000 species found here some 70 per cent are endemic or found nowhere else on earth. It is considered so precious it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Looking across Walker Bay to the Cape of Good Hope, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is the perfect base for exploring this sweeping world of land and sea. A luxury lodge within its own 2500-hectare reserve, Grootbos is extraordinary.
The spectacular view of Walker Bay from the Forest Lodge infinity pool
Grootbos is made up of 27 suites across two lodges that operate independently plus a spectacular self-contained six-suite villa that comes complete with private guide, chef and butler. The staff appear to relish providing rewarding surprises (such as memorable waterfront sunset drinks with whales) that are the hallmark of great hospitality.
It’s also a resort well integrated into its environment in so many ways. It’s easy to cage dive with Great White sharks in the morning, tour to discover the surrounding flowers before lunch, fly from the resort’s airstrip to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, in the afternoon and be back for sundowners.
Dare to have a close encounter with the Great Whites?
Between June and December a cruise to Dyer Island, crowded with South African fur seals and penguins, requires many stops when whales come to visit.
There are hundreds of Cape fur seals on Dyer island
Look out for whales, dolphins and penguins
Grootbos is midway between the Cape of Good Hope, the traditional turning point for sailors returning from Asia and one of the Great Capes, and Cape Agulhas, recognised by geographers as the meeting place of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. As modern, cosmopolitan Cape Town attests, culturally and historically this is where East meets West.
The offshore collision of currents provides a wealth of marine nutrients. To see who turns up for the feast you only have to head out on a boat, take a flight or walk down to the beach.
The African penguin was previously known as the 'Jackass' Penguin, with it's donkey-like 'bray'
The most spectacular are the Southern right whale mothers who bring their calves to bulk up here. The most terrifying are the Great White sharks, always hungry and on the prowl. The title of most endearing is a toss up between the pod of dolphins we found surfing the shore break and the endangered African penguins swimming alongside us near Dyer Island and again at Bettys Bay.
From the verandahs of Grootbos you look across more than a kilometre of fynbos to whales breaching in Walker Bay from June to December. At the end of the day sunset turns the whole bay to copper and backlights distant Cape Point.
Spot various marine life including the humpback dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin
Grootbos is a plant paradise
Driving southeast from Cape Town towards Gansbaai and Grootbos, it seems as if the coastal heath offers little variation. So it’s a surprise to leave the road and find yourself in dense vegetation and thriving gardens before emerging at the lodge. Both Garden and Forest lodges manage to merge into their environment without compromising on either luxury or views.
The panoramic view of the ancient forest and the ocean
In 1991 Michael and Dorothee Lutzeyer bought a 123 hectare farm for their family holidays from Cape Town because they were so impressed by the views. Michael’s father Heiner subsequently used to roam the property for hours every day, discovering new plants and photographing what he found.
Today, Grootbos extends over 2500 hectares. So far 765 plants have been identified of which 112 are endangered and six haven’t been found anywhere else.
Weave your way through a canopy of intertwining branches
The free 4WD excursion to explore the vegetation of Grootbos is a must. Even outside the early-spring wildflower season when pincushion proteas paint the hillsides in orange, the tour concluded with an impressive posy of flowers, each with a tale to tell. The pinnacle of our profusion of flowers was a king protea with an impressive flowerhead 30cm in diameter.
A walk through the trail deep inside the Western Cape Milkwood forest that surrounds each lodge is a lot more like a visit to Tolkien’s Mirkwood than Dylan Thomas’ alliterative “play for voices”.
The forest covers some 60 hectares of Grootbos and while it rarely exceeds six metres in height.
The oldest trees are estimated to be more than 800 years old
The purpose of Grootbos is to preserve and enhance its environment. But, for guests, there’s certainly no sense of hardship. Each five-star lodge suite is freestanding with a luxurious canopy bed, well-equipped en-suite bathroom and an expansive private deck.
The standard of cuisine at Grootbos is exemplary and matched by excellent wines from nearby wineries.
Most of the elements of each meal are sourced locally. All meals, including the five-course dinners, are included in the rate that begins at just R2790/AU$285 per person per night (low season: from May-June) and rises to R5170/AU$529 pp in high season (September-April).
Go on a horse ride to higher landscapes and enjoy outstanding views
Guided excursions like horse riding and a visit to the picturesque coastal Klipsgat Cave where traces of human occupancy date back over 60,000 years are also included.
Grootbos has won numerous awards over the years for ecology, innovation, responsible tourism, conservation and simply as the best hotel in Africa and as one of the 101 best hotels in the world.
It’s the third side of the Cape Province travellers’ triangle: Cape Town, the vineyards of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek and the rich coast between the capes.
An aerial view of a river in South Africa
(Featured image: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve)
Are you a fan of amazing floral displays? What and where is your favourite floral event? Join the conversation below.