When you think about an African safari, what springs to mind is driving a Land Rover around the veldt with a guide and tracker, looking for lions, elephants and giraffes. However, Grootbos offers a different kind of adventure experience altogether: a marine safari. Grootbos means “big forest” in Afrikaans, and this five-star eco-lodge in the hills above Walker Bay, a two-hour drive south of Cape Town, is indeed set in a forest of fynbos (shrubland vegetation) and ancient milkwood trees. These gnarled trees can live for more than 1,000 years and their crooked branches extend every which way with long mossy beards blowing in the wind, making it somewhat surreal to walk from your suite to the main lodge at night.
This is the place to experience the marine Big 5 – whales, dolphins, great white sharks, penguins and seals. Gansbaai is one of the few places in the world that can offer this extensive range of marine wildlife in one place and Grootbos is situated right on its doorstep.
The resort partners with a local ocean-guiding company whose comfortable boats ferry you out to meet these magnificent “locals”. I had never seen so many whales in one outing – mothers and calves, and so much breaching.
Top of my must-do list in South Africa was to see a great white shark up-close with a cage dive. The shark cage company makes sure that the experience has the least impact on the sharks and although I was a little nervous at first, once I was in the water getting my first view of these beautiful animals, it was exhilarating. They seemed so peaceful as they glided by the cage, definitely not the ugly man-eaters they are portrayed as in the media. It was a highlight of my trip, without a doubt.
Grootbos is actually two lodges in one. The Forest Lodge is more for couples with its 16 freestanding suites with fireplaces and heated bathroom floors. All have panoramic views of Walker Bay from their decks – and also from the spacious beds and bathtubs. It’s tough to tear yourself away from watching the waves roll in and whales blow in the bay. The Garden Lodge has 11 freestanding suites and is easier for families, with a children’s playroom near reception and the petting zoo and horse stables close by. If you have a big group or family, take the ultra-luxurious villa – with six suites, it caters for 12 guests. There is a private pool, plus your own private butler, guide and chef. The walls are adorned with an art collection featuring the works of South African painters such as William Kentridge and Walter Meyer.
The food is of a high standard and the staff genuine and welcoming. Guests can choose from a range of activities that are all included in the room rate. Horseriding, guided nature walks, 4WD flower safaris, guided coastal and cave tours are just a few of the adventures on offer. Take a tour to the Overberg wine region for some of that famous South African wine. Or the lodge can simply give you a ride down to the beach for a walk, collecting you later. The weather won’t stop you enjoying the spectacular outdoors as the lodge provides ponchos with warm liners, and blankets during a horse ride or a 4WD trip.
Grootbos is a staunch advocate of responsible tourism, which involves sustainability and social responsibility. The resort grows as much produce as possible and keeps free-range chickens and other livestock for guest consumption – the food is guaranteed to be fresh. The beehives produce a pure honey that is some of the best I have ever tasted.
Michael Lutzeyer, CEO, part-owner and founder of Grootbos, is passionate about responsible tourism. The non-profit Grootbos Foundation was established in 2003 to run the resort’s environmental and social development programs. The conservation trust presently owns approximately 2,500 hectares of unspoiled land and various social programs help the local population with education and sports activities.
The Green Futures project was established in 2003. It runs a Horticulture & Life Skills College training up to 12 unemployed young locals each year. Some of the graduates go on to become Grootbos resort employees.
Gary Allen crosses one off his must-do list – swimming with great white sharks | Gary Allen
Q&A: Michael Lutzeyer – CEO, part-owner & founder of Grootbos
The foundation’s focus is on conserving the amazing biodiversity of the Walker Bay region, as well as skills development within the local community through our Green Futures conservation initiatives, Football Foundation sport development and Siyakhula social enterprise program. You’ll find more information at
How does a Grootbos guest contribute to the foundation and development of the local community?
There’s a local unemployment rate of 50 per cent. Grootbos creates 127 jobs, providing employment to the local community. It supports the foundation (which creates a further 24 permanent jobs) strategically by providing board leadership and connection to key donors; and tactically by buying produce from the Growing the Future organic farm, which supplies the lodge with herbs, vegetables, organic eggs and honey; by buying plants from the Green Futures nursery for landscaping on Grootbos; and by supporting the foundation through its enterprise development initiatives, which include a candle-making enterprise and bottling water for the resort. In this way, Grootbos helps the foundation to be self-sufficient, decreasing its need for donor funding. A guest can support the foundation by planting a tree, buying a product such as our Field Guide or honey, or by making a direct donation.
What are the biggest threats to the Walker Bay region?
Grootbos is situated in an area of exceptional biodiversity, with 765 plants identified on Grootbos alone (six of them new to science). The main threats to biodiversity are agriculture, invasive plants and development. All of our projects have an environmental education component and we try to educate the Grootbos guests with regard to the value of the fynbos by taking them for flower safaris, walks and horse rides and excursions to caves to teach them about the local history.
Grootbos was one of the founding members of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy (WBFC) in 1999, and works with a group of 23 landowners, covering 13,928ha to achieve common conservation goals by looking at fire management and alien vegetation control holistically. We are working with the WBFC, Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative and Department of Environmental Affairs to clear our area of alien vegetation, and are currently in our second year of a three-year clearing project, which creates 24 to 48 job opportunities within the local communities and supports between four and seven local contractors, depending on funds available.
Who visits at Grootbos and what feedback do you receive?
The majority of Grootbos guests are international travellers who want to experience responsible tourism.
What’s next for the Grootbos Foundation?
We are rolling out a food-security project, which will create 120 to 200 home gardens, enabling our local community to grow their own food, improve nutrition and gain access to better-quality organic vegetables. We will also be setting up a community garden with a training/enterprise development centre to train the home gardeners how to grow their own vegetables for sale. Phase 2 of the project will focus on further entrepreneurial training. This year will also see the expansion of our organic honey production and the launch of a new range of personal product made with Grootbos honey and fynbos oils.