The secret season at Grootbos is one of the finest travel experiences in the Western Cape during the winter months.
As we earlier reported, it’s during these cooler months when the protected reserve really comes to life. Fynbos blooms, whales frolic in the bay, there’s an air of rejuvenation – basically, a new energy prevails throughout. Many would have you believe that summer is the right time to travel to the Overberg but what we have here is something special – conveniently in what is deemed as the ‘low season’ when rates are more favourable for visiting locals. This is the secret season.
But let’s start with what makes this reserve, roughly located between the towns of Stanford and Gansbaai, extraordinary. A working farm is present at the private nature reserve, its focus pertaining to green tourism. In fact, the farm, known as The Grootbos Foundation, is making giant strides with its approach to conservation and corporate social investment. Bottled water is available in both the Garden and Forest Lodges at Grootbos, sourced from a local subterranean aquifer and served in reusable glass. Up to 50% of the fresh greens used in the restaurants are grown at the foundation’s farm, where grow tents have been erected to house everything from bell peppers and radicchio to micro greens. Nearby rows of carrot, garlic, peppadew and more grow out in the sunshine, all fueled by the work of a worm farm. Already plans are underway to establish aquaponic and hydroponic growing systems, as is the construction of an indigenous wild food tent too.
This is a firm statement of intent on Grootbos’s behalf to not only provide a uniquely South African five-star experience but to make that experience as sustainable and conservation-friendly as possible. A special, one-of-a-kind product produced on the reserve is the honey, where the bees of numerous hives kept on the reserve forage on plants such as wild sage, bush tick-berry, buchu and of course the Erica irregularis, which forms the basis of the secret season at Grootbos. This flowering heath brings the hillsides of the reserve alive during the winter months with its soft pink hue, a plant so rare that it is not found anywhere else in the world. Embarking on a fynbos 4×4 excursion, you’re able to see a brilliantly-contrasted landscape of pink and yellow, the latter being the winter foliage of the Leucodendron coniferum. Growing alongside these are stands of Blombos, its white flowers smelling like buttery popcorn; the silvery shrub known as Helichrysum’ and the dainty Butterfly Bush, to name a few. The bees here are spoilt for choice and produce a terrific honey from this wonderfully diverse collection of fynbos.
Living off the land is part of the dining focus at Grootbos. Mussel foraging is an activity offered by lodge staff, where guests are taught how to pluck their bounty on the rocks at De Kelders. These are used on the menu, as are other locally foraged ingredients found around the reserve. Executive Chef Benjamin Conradie’s menu is a celebration of this fertile sanctuary – upscale dining that matches the five-star rating Grootbos has been graded with.
Another aspect of the secret season is whale watching or, rather, spotting the Marine Big Five. If you’re lucky enough, animals such as the Great White Shark, Southern Right Whale, African Penguin, Cape Fur Seal and the Bottlenose Dolphin can be spotted all in one sitting. It’s around this time of year when various whales migrate to these waters, which is perhaps best known for the presence of the Great White Shark. Along with them comes the fairly-recent migrant that is the Orca, a notorious shark hunter. Departing from Gansbaai Harbour, the journey eventually ends at Kleinbaai but not before visiting the historic site of the Birkenhead shipwreck, Dyer Island and the world-renowned Shark Alley. Aside from the Marine Big Five, other sightings may include other sea-faring creatures of the deep, such as the Humpback Whale and Sunfish while in the air you may catch a sighting of a White-chinned Petrel or Shy Albatross.
One of the best ways to see off a fruitful day spent immersing yourself in the secret season is with a sundowner at De Plaat, the coastal stretch in front of the reserve. On a clear evening, you can just make out the Cape Point peninsula rising from the sea in the distance with Devil’s Peak to its right. You’re far from home but close enough.
Where R43, Gansbaai
When May – July (Secret Season)
Contact +27 28 384 8053, www.grootbos.com
Photography Beverley Klein