The drive is mesmerizing, winding through a 2-lane road that hugs desperately to the coast, every turn bringing another breathtaking vista. The approach to Hermanus, one of the world’s premier whale watching locations, is something special. But as we get caught up in the beautiful nature around us, we are keeping an eye out for a sign, a sign that simply says “Grootbos Private Nature Reserve”.
The nondescript sign is there, take a left and we are moving down a small road, the beauty of the coast behind us and just deep, deep greenery in front of us, as far as the eye can see. We don’t know what to expect as we enter the gates and follow the signs to “Garden Lodge”. After parking our car and being met by the wonderful Ruuwan (our exceptional guide for the next few days), we are led up a cobblestone path to the main reception area. Through the main door and the first thing that hits you is the view. I am fortunate to have travelled to many parts of the world, but certain places hold a certain aura, a certain energy that is indescribable.
Grootbos (meaning ‘big forest in Afrikaans) and deservedly rated by Condé Nast as the Number 1 lodge in South Africa, is a hidden gem in the true sense of the word. Off the Hermanus coast, deep in the lush greenery of the surrounding mountainside, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is a true testament to the fact that if you build something based on a vision, it becomes more than a hotel and resort. Meticulously laid out over 3500 hectares of land, owner Michael Lutzeyer has done a remarkable job in creating a first-class resort that utilizes its unique location to provide customers with an experience that they will soon not forget.
The resort has 2 sections, Garden Lodge which is where we are staying and primarily for families and Forest Lodge which caters more to the adults/couples' segment. Both lodges are managed separately with their own pools, spas, lobby/reception and restaurants. Both facing the beach and both owning the same incredible view.
Ruuwan has to drag us away from the view and gently coax us towards our room. A Guide (personal butler) is dedicated to each family/ villa/room and heightens the personalized service. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve works on an all inclusive package, so other than alcohol and outside activities, everything else, and especially the dining is available throughout the day. They even have a cheeky corner of the lobby area, next to the raging fireplaces that contains all kinds of candies, cookies and drinks – enticing not only all the kids but all the adults that are kids at heart.
Our first port of call and abode for the night is the two-bedroom family suite – a home away from home that literally feels like you could move in! The crackling log fire, a beautiful terrace with an old extinct fig tree growing through the middle, that the kids immediately scrambled up, sets you up nicely for that gorgeous view again and a feeling that life is just divine. The bathrooms are generous sizes with a walk-in wardrobe, double sinks and large shower and bath in both en-suites. The master bedroom has a wraparound window going across two walls that provides a postcard view of the incredible Hermanus coast and beach while at dusk, nature goes to work and puts on a show, breathtaking sunsets with powerful color explosions of pink and orange that can only be experienced and that no words can do justice.
The next night we were invited to stay at the 4- bedroom villa, one of the 2 premier accommodations on the entire property. This was uber luxury at its finest. Like its neighboring 6-bedroom villa, this is all open plan exquisiteness, large swimming pool going across the entire garden, a fantastic art collection spread cross the entire property, cinema, wine cellar, gym, sauna a large kitchen and dining areas that bring the outdoors in.
Fully intoxicated by the ‘sunset show’, suitably warmed up by the log fires, we are ready for our 5 course evening meal. Superbly crafted by the chefs, the attention to detail in every dish is worthy of any recognition while the use of the surrounding nature to attenuate your taste buds is masterful. While mum and dad are sufficiently sated, the kids also work their way through the kid's menu. Our only gripe, which was put to us by our kids, is that there could have been more choices on the kid's menu – although the chefs were again versatile and open to making things off-menu.
The coup de grace for any activity in Hermanus is whale watching; it is literally considered The best spots in the world to watch these incredible animals. Due to its wide coastline and deep waters, whales have made Hermanus a key spot in their annual travel and in particular they use the Hermanus coastline to give birth. A couple of years ago we visited Hermanus in the March time and literally watched whales giving birth on the coast – it was incredible to witness.
Whilst Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has many internal activities (horse riding, cave exploring, flower & bird safari, botanical tour,fat biking etc), whale watching is a customer favorite, so they have teamed up with one of their touring company partners to provide the “Marine Big 5” experience. Jump on a specialized touring boat, get warm, get the binoculars out, head out into the waters for 3-4 hours and you will be presented with the incredible experience of watching up close and very personal, sharks, seals, African penguins, dolphins and whales (in particular the humpback and the southern right). While the expert “watchers”, some with 20 years of experience look out for the various sightings, an expert onboard marine biologist keys you in on all the data and information you could ask for. But this is nature, anything is possible, so go in with an open mind and you may just encounter something magical. Magical like 2 enormous whales breaching the water literally a few meters away from you, so close that you can see the scratches on their skin, the awe-inspiring sight leaving you totally speechless as you witness nature at its rawest beauty. We must have seen around 20 whales who came close to the boat. As one whales tale lifted in front of us, it was like he was saying goodbye and then they disappeared.
Another unique way to experience the whales is by going on a helicopter tour; this is also thrilling as you get a Birds Eye view of these majestic animals.
Fun Fact: one of the tagged whales went to Australia and came back to Cape Town in 3 months!
One of the other activities we enjoyed was horse riding through the fynbos and fauna. The children loved visiting the stables and farm which is very close to the rooms, so the children went and visited the horses often.
As the property is emerged in so much land, the hiking trails are amazing.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is an experience onto itself. Some resorts have that special “it” factor where everything aligns, the story sells itself and you just have to ride the wave were luxury meets nature.
Anyone that believes in sustainable conservation, wants to get out in nature, experience some truly magical encounters with some of our earthly co-habitants, and do all of this in a luxurious, uber-comfortable and peaceful setting, than Grootbos should be high on your list. I have to say, having stayed at many incredible properties around the world, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is certainly in my top 5 destinations and I believe me, I would visit again in a heart beat, but this time stay for at least a week.
To book your stay, with special offers, contact Unique Family Travels.