GROOTBOS FOR­EST LODGE

SOUTH AFRICA

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - HOTELS -

And so, an African safari lodge of a dif­fer­ent kind. The idea here is not to track and spot the fa­bled Big Five of the bush, but to learn about the cu­ri­ous habits of cranky honey badgers, tufty-eared cara­cal cats and pol­li­nat­ing scarab bee­tles, and to be im­mersed in a flo­ral realm of about 800 in­dige­nous species, many of which are rare or en­dan­gered.

The Afrikaans word fyn­bos refers to the fine-leafed veg­e­ta­tion of the heath­land and there couldn’t be a bet­ter de­scrip­tion for the land­scapes of Grootbos pri­vate na­ture re­serve, set high above Walker Bay and the un­ruly At­lantic Ocean in the Western Cape re­gion, a few hours by road from Cape Town.

Ranged across 2500ha, this prop­erty, which oc­cu­pies just a tiny par­cel of the es­tate, has gar­nered mul­ti­ple in­ter­na­tional awards for con­ser­va­tion, com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity, and to stay here is to im­merse your­self in owner Michael Lutzeyer’s sprawl­ing vi­sion. Those guests who choose just to wine, dine and slum­ber miss a grand op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in a truly in­spi­ra­tional dream. The prop­erty was opened in 1996, par­tially burned down in a bush­fire that raged for a week in early 2006, and was re­built and re­opened the same year. Along with the re­gen­er­ated flora, botanists dis­cov­ered about 70 new species of fyn­bos thought to be long ex­tinct in the re­gion.

The mag­is­te­rial el­e­va­tion of the three Grootbos ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions al­lows for near-180 de­gree views of sea and sky from guest suites folded into nat­u­ral clear­ings. Child-friendly Gar­den Lodge, with its own din­ing area and pool, plus two new vil­las, with four or six bed­rooms re­spec­tively, are ideal for fam­i­lies and housep­a­rty groups. Just to the south, For­est Lodge, opened in 2004, has a lovely main build­ing of stone walls and high bam­boo-clad ceil­ings, a gen­er­ous pool and a lit­tle day spa set in the bush, where a Jewel of Africa mas­sage will dis­solve all known knots. For­est Lodge is the ro­man­tic shot for cou­ples, with an in­ven­tory of 16 front-row, free­stand­ing villa-style suites wind­ing like a rib­bon along the es­carp­ment, spaced well apart and an easy walk from the main lodge through arch­ing trees.

The For­est Lodge habi­tats are res­o­lutely con­tem­po­rary, even a touch Scan­di­na­vian, in style, with sep­a­rate lounge area, fire­place, mas­sive en­suite with win­dow-side tub and rain­shower, and a sec­ond guest bath­room. Full glass walls on the western side frame views of un­earthly beauty, and sun­sets of in­tense ver­mil­ions and tan­ger­ines. Clearly the in­vi­ta­tion is to bur­row and linger, es­pe­cially dur­ing win­ter months, when you could al­most grab the binoc­u­lars and watch mi­grat­ing whales with­out get­ting out of bed. There are long decks on which to loll, two suites come with pri­vate plunge pools, and there is great at­ten­tion to de­tail and con­text – in­clud­ing African beaded and wired state­ment pieces, in­stal­la­tions of lac­quered shells and witty carv­ings in the dé­cor, such as tim­ber hat-and-coat hooks styled as antlers.

I am su­per-cosy in No 27, with its white walls, sil­very-sage car­pets that echo the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings, and mos­quito net bil­low­ing over a high bed fac­ing the coast­line – all rinsed greys and smudgy blues in the late af­ter­noon, like a Ja­panese sumi-e paint­ing. It feels like an­other planet, a satel­lite, per­haps, of God’s Win­dow, the re­serve’s tallest moun­tain. If I strain my eyes there is the Cape of Good Hope, a sen­tinel hulk on the far hori­zon, where the In­dian and At­lantic oceans merge. The light be­gins to fade over Grootbos, a place of im­mense pur­pose at the very end of the African con­ti­nent. Su­san Kuro­sawa is The Aus­tralian’s travel ed­i­tor.

DIN­ING

You are a cap­tive au­di­ence at this sky-high lodge, with meals in­cluded and the clos­est town a good drive away. The chefs use herbs, fruit and veg­eta­bles from their organic plots and the acreage’s seven farms. Ex­pect eggs from con­tented Leghorn chooks and pos­si­bly the world’s best fyn­bos honey ice cream, cour­tesy of bees at the Grootbos hives. The sin­gle-blos­som honey, made from the nec­tar of pink-flow­er­ing Erica ir­reg­u­laris, is also in the hand­washes and body lo­tions pro­vided in guest suites and sold at the ex­cel­lent lodge store. Dinners are six-course af­fairs and can be served in the For­est Lodge cel­lar, paired with the som­me­lier’s se­lec­tions. Much of the wine is lim­ited edi­tion, sourced from the an­nual Cape Wine­mak­ers Guild auc­tions, with an em­pha­sis on the Over­berg re­gion, known for its pinot noir.

EV­ERY­ONE’S TALK­ING ABOUT

The Grootbos Foun­da­tion en­cour­ages and em­pow­ers lo­cals, many from town­ships such as Gans­baai, where long-term un­em­ploy­ment is high, to be trained in hos­pi­tal­ity and hor­ti­cul­ture or to pur­sue sport schol­ar­ships. There are about 150 em­ploy­ees, 80 per cent from dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties, and guests can visit the Foun­da­tion’s Green Fu­tures Hor­ti­cul­ture and Life Skills Col­lege, its green­houses and nurs­ery, where en­demic plants and trees such as wild olives are prop­a­gated, and see the so­lar pumps that ex­tract spring wa­ter from an aquifer. The wa­ter, which is bot­tled on site, ap­pears at meals and in suites in re­cy­cled glass con­tain­ers. Staff serve guests with such quiet dig­nity and sunny smiles that surely the foun­da­tion is a tem­plate for best com­mu­nity prac­tice.

HOT TIP

Sun­downer drinks un­der a mot­tled milk­wood tree? Sit on fold­ing chairs in a semi-cir­cle by a camp­fire un­der an an­cient tan­gle of branches hung with lanterns and strands of tiny lights. It feels like a fairy­tale glade as wait­resses with names as up­lift­ing as For­tu­nate and Good­ness serve warm savouries, and pour Cape wines and gen­er­ous gins sourced from small-batch dis­til­leries.

STEP­PING OUT

Na­ture jaunts aboard com­fort­ably con­verted Toy­ota Land­cruis­ers are in­cluded in the tar­iff. En­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, botanists and keep­ers of lo­cal knowl­edge, such as guides Christoph and Nash, ex­plain Grootbos’s to­pog­ra­phy and quirks of na­ture. Key­stone species here are abun­dant types of protea (be­hold va­ri­eties with names as evoca­tive as sug­ar­bush and sil­ver-edge pin­cush­ion), and thatch grasses. Look, a nec­tar-drink­ing Cape sug­ar­bird; over there, an un­am­bigu­ously named rau­cous toad. There are horses to ride and trails to walk, or ven­ture to the coast, ex­plore rocky caves and gaze down upon wind-tossed beaches as Nash pre­pares a pop-up sun­set bar on the bon­net. For sight­ings of a more showy kind, Dyer Is­land Cruises at Gans­baai of­fers eco out­ings from Jan­uary to May and whale-watch­ing from June to De­cem­ber. Here you have the Big Five: south­ern right whales, great white sharks, African pen­guins, Cape fur seals and dol­phins.

ES­SEN­TIALS

Grootbos, Gans­baai, South Africa; + 27 28 384 8008; grootbos.com. One-bed­room suite at For­est Lodge from ZAR10,600 ($1088) a night for two, in­clu­sive of all meals and se­lected ac­tiv­i­ties; al­co­hol, pri­vate ex­cur­sions and spa treat­ments are ex­tra. South African Air­ways flies six times a week overnight from Perth to Jo­han­nes­burg and on­wards to Cape Town; Virgin Aus­tralia op­er­ates code­shar­ing con­nect­ing flights. Busi­ness class fea­tures flat beds and 32kg bag­gage al­lowance; fly­saa.com.

Clock­wise: Grootbos For­est Lodge ex­te­rior and pool; the pool deck; aerial view; the bar area; a bed­room suite and its bal­cony; the main lounge; the wine cel­lar

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