Fair and Away

Why Groot­bos re­serve is an eco­tourism star

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - WORDS NANCY RICHARDS PIC­TURES JOHN-CLIVE

“Un­like oth­ers, the mimetes protea doesn’t die when there’s a fire – it gets burnt, but its roots are pro­tected by a corky layer just be­low the sur­face, so a few weeks af­ter the fire it’s able to re­sprout, then takes about a year to pro­duce its first flower. If you were to dig down you’d find an an­cient woody stem that could be hun­dreds of years old be­cause it's sur­vived so many fires.”

Sean Priv­ett’s bio-knowl­edge goes as deep as a protea root. He is con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor at Groot­bos, a glo­ri­ous na­ture re­serve near Gans­baai, where Na­ture calls the shots, and where back in 2006 a fire very nearly wiped out the re­serve. But like the tena­cious mimetes, it bounced back.

To take you back to the start of Groot­bos Pri­vate Na­ture Re­serve, it all be­gan in 1991 when, in need of a break, busi­ness­man Michael Lutzeyer and his dad Heiner took a camp­ing hol­i­day near Gans­baai.

Michael had al­ways dreamt of hav­ing a farm and, when he stum­bled on Groot­bos – 123 hectares of ne­glected, over­grazed, alien­in­vaded, agri­cul­tural land – he per­suaded the fam­ily to help him buy it. By 1994 he’d sold up his city busi­ness, built five self-cater­ing cot­tages, and Groot­bos was launched as a guest des­ti­na­tion.

Fast for­ward to 2018. The re­serve has grown to about 2 500 hectares of pris­tine wilder­ness, is cleared of alien veg­e­ta­tion, can sleep more than 60 in two five-star, so­phis­ti­cated lodges and a suite of pri­vate vil­las, and em­ploys about 150 peo­ple.

We’re sit­ting in the restau­rant of the wallto-wall win­dowed For­est Lodge, look­ing out at a land­scape that hun­dreds of fyn­bos species, birds, bugs, and a va­ri­ety of buck and small beasts call home. It’s a hon­ey­pot for in­ter­na­tional eco-tourists. And they’re spoilt for choice.

Over an el­e­gant lunch I can’t help but eaves­drop on a neigh­bour­ing ta­ble where guests are be­ing of­fered “horse rid­ing, quad bik­ing, hik­ing, bird­watch­ing, a flip in a small plane, a coastal trip to the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal cave or a fyn­bos tour in a 4x4.” I’m so not feel­ing sorry for them.

But in my view, you don’t turn down the op­por­tu­nity to take a tour with a man as knowl­edge­able as Sean. So, for an in­for­ma­tion dense hour we ride with him on the wind­ing fyn­bos-fringed tracks of Groot­bos as it is to­day, slow­ing and stop­ping to learn about dam­ag­ing Ar­gen­tine ants, pol­li­na­tion by ar­cbeaked sun­birds, the im­mense seed-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of the cone protea, the joy of the

Erica mag­ni­syl­vae (the re­serve’s sig­na­ture species), still mo­ments in South Africa’s largest milk­wood for­est, and the in­vis­i­ble pres­ence of a host of scut­tling wildlife. How pre­cious, how frag­ile is this.

“Aside from de­vel­op­ers, the big­gest threat is fire,” says Sean. “But de­struc­tive as it is, it’s a nat­u­ral part of the eco-sys­tem.” Man­ag­ing

what’s nat­u­ral is another story.

Botanists ap­par­ently mark out sin­gle square me­tres of land in which to re­search the minu­tiae of won­ders and it’s easy to see how you can while away hours here, ex­plor­ing ev­ery square cen­time­tre. But the crit­i­cal ethos at Groot­bos is how best to be part of the big­ger pic­ture. Michael Lutzeyer’s maxim is to look af­ter the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and its peo­ple in equal mea­sure – each de­pen­dent on the other.

Sean de­scribes him as a vi­sion­ary whose ideals are in­fec­tious. He also talks with rev­er­ence of Michael's fa­ther Heiner and his con­tri­bu­tion of record­ing and pho­tograph­ing a data­base of all the 800-odd fyn­bos species here. “He died a year af­ter it was pub­lished.”

Sub­se­quently they founded a Walker Bay Fyn­bos Con­ser­vancy that stretches over 20 000 hectares to Cape Agul­has and cur­rently has 17 mem­bers. Among other things, this en­sures the sus­tain­able har­vest­ing of flow­ers.

But to ce­ment their com­mit­ment to a so­cial­nat­u­ral bal­ance, in 2003 Michael and Sean es­tab­lished the Groot­bos Foun­da­tion, an NPO com­pris­ing a se­ries of projects that build, grow, nur­ture and re­spect the peo­ple work­ing here and the com­mu­nity from which they come.

It’s no sur­prise to hear that Groot­bos is fully Fair Trade Tourism cer­ti­fied for its re­spon­si­ble ap­proach, and that it’s also a mem­ber of

The Long Run, an in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mit­ted to the four Cs – con­ser­va­tion, com­mu­nity, cul­ture and com­merce.

Next on our list of re­serve ex­pe­ri­ences is the Liv­ing the Fu­ture Tour, and we hop into foun­da­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­ager, Ruth Crich­ton’s car. First stop, Siyakhula, the or­ganic Grow­ing the Fu­ture gar­den. We’re greeted by a ca­coph­ony of cluck­ing chicks com­fort­ably slurp­ing, burp­ing pigs (pro­cess­ing ki­los of kitchen waste), fruit­ing trees, pot­ted po­ta­toes, tun­nelled herbs and olive, honey and cor­dial bot­tling in the new ex­per­i­men­tal kitchen.

Pontsho Chiloane, head gar­dener orig­i­nally from Lim­popo, shows us round. From here come most of the eggs and a large por­tion of the food used by ex­ec­u­tive chef Ben­jamin Con­radie and his team up at the For­est Lodge. Re­spect for our el­e­gant lunch rock­ets.

We drive down to the Green Fu­tures com­plex, a multi-pur­pose en­gine room in a for­est clear­ing, where project plans are made and tracked, an indige­nous plant nurs­ery is open for busi­ness and, in a class­room full of this year’s in­take at the Green Fu­tures Col­lege vo­ca­tional and oc­cu­pa­tional train­ing, heads are down writ­ing a test.

The cur­ricu­lum, ex­plains lec­turer Shar­lene de Vil­liers, cov­ers a range of skills in­clud­ing com­puter lit­er­acy, adult ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, and hos­pi­tal­ity train­ing as the new­est mod­ule. With room for only 12 on the an­nual course, no ma­tric re­quired and no charge, places here are highly sought af­ter.

To spread the growth net fur­ther, a com­mu­nity farm has been es­tab­lished in Masakhane town­ship, just out­side Gans­baai. Here peo­ple come to work on the rows of door­sized gar­den beds as and when they can on a vol­un­tary ba­sis – for some the train­ing is an up­skilling step­ping stone.

Project man­ager and fundraiser, Lily Up­ton meets us at the en­trance where clumps of crisp and crinkly sout­slaai are grow­ing at ran­dom.

She of­fers us a nib­ble. “It’s one of many tra­di­tional, indige­nous plants we have here. There’s also dune spinach and sea pump­kin,

and the lodge chefs are get­ting very cre­ative with them.” De­spite the seem­ingly ca­sual na­ture of the Masakhane gar­den, they pro­duce an im­pres­sive 50 to 60 ki­los of food a month.

In a shade-cloth en­clo­sure, su­per­vi­sor and fa­cil­i­ta­tor Zokhanyo (Zozo) Bekani is busy tend­ing to rows of oys­ter-mush­room pots. She gives me a quick les­son and de­scribes their flavour in evan­gel­i­cal terms. Zozo her­self was a Green Fu­tures stu­dent some years back. The ‘putting back’ sys­tem clearly works.

Fi­nally, spread­ing a net of a dif­fer­ent kind, there’s the soc­cer story. Ten years ago, Groot­bos started a Foot­ball Foun­da­tion. Lily takes us to see the full-size, FIFA-stan­dard pitch sit­u­ated on the edge of Gans­baai.

It was spon­sored by the English Pre­mier League, and ev­ery week about 2 000 kids from all com­mu­ni­ties ar­rive for multi-dis­ci­pline sports ses­sions, as well as a full pro­gramme of other train­ing – life skills, lead­er­ship, nu­tri­tion, health, etc. In terms of en­er­gis­ing the fu­ture, this is prob­a­bly the jewel in the crown.

Back at For­est Lodge, we spend a bliss­ful night in a se­cluded suite in­side a milk­wood spin­ney, with a din­ner to re­mem­ber. To be sure of the whole ‘fair and re­spon­si­ble’ story, next morn­ing we se­cure a mo­ment with sus­tain­abil­ity of­fi­cer Re­becca Dames, whose role it is to mea­sure the Groot­bos car­bon foot­print. No small task, given that ev­ery last unit of en­ergy and fuel used in the run­ning of the re­serve has to be counted.

“Per guest per night on av­er­age it was 76 kilo­grams for the 2016/17 year – roughly half of that used by many other reserves, but we still have a way to go,” ex­plains Re­becca. “Two so­lar plants re­duce our de­pen­dence on Eskom’s grid, but wa­ter is where our en­ergy is fo­cused right now.

“We have 26 wa­ter me­tres, we’ve started re­cy­cling thou­sands of litres of black wa­ter for use in the nurs­ery, and we pu­rify and bot­tle our own wa­ter from our six bore­holes, which means we don’t bring in plas­tic bot­tles any more. The foun­da­tion of­fices run ex­clu­sively on har­vested rain­wa­ter and we have stor­age tanks all over the place for rain, in case of fire.”

When the fire of 2006 raged through Groot­bos, tak­ing out the new For­est Lodge and sev­eral chalets, mirac­u­lously they were re­built and re­opened within a year.

Given the wa­ter short­age and nat­u­ral cy­cle, who knows when it might strike again – but this is one des­ti­na­tion where they have made ev­ery ef­fort not only to fire­proof them­selves but, as far and fairly as they are able, to fu­ture­proof as well.

Map ref­er­ence G2 see in­side back cover

ABOVE: Lay­ing as many eggs as are re­quired for guest break­fasts is thirsty work for the noisy chick­ens at Siyakhula. ABOVE RIGHT: The farm pigs make short work of pro­cess­ing the kitchen waste to pro­duce first­class ma­nure for the veg­etable beds.LEFT: All ma­te­ri­als used to re­build the For­estLodge af­ter the fire are as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble. RIGHT: Vol­un­teers Heather An­drews and He­len Charlotte bot­tle olives in the new ex­per­i­men­tal kitchen.

LEFT: Asvelo Nom­ban­bela (left) and Sa­belo Lin­dani tend to the bonny indige­nous plants for sale at the Green Fu­tures com­plex. BE­LOW: A cam­era in the for­est cap­tures all sorts of usu­ally shy pass­ing crea­tures great and small.

ABOVE: The Foun­da­tion’s Ruth Crich­ton in­side the green­house where the achieve­ments of all the projects are on dis­play. RIGHT: The Masakhane gar­den is a train­ing ground, a play­ground, a green lung and a haven, as well as a food source in the com­mu­nity. BE­LOW RIGHT: Zozo Bekani, for­mer stu­dent at Green Fu­tures col­lege, is now su­per­vi­sor and oys­ter­mush­room queen.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.