There’s an enchanting patch of indigenous forest in the Western Cape’s Langeberg region. At 250ha, it’s the largest tract of indigenous Afrotemperate forest west of Knysna. Here you’ll find trees like stinkwood, yellowwood, ironwood, red alder, Cape beech and about 30 other species. Together, they make for a beautiful dappled forest where you’ll want to get out on some of the hiking or biking trails, visit one of the bird hides. Find out why you’ll love Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.
Strangely, few people have heard about Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, and I really can’t imagine why. There’s something magical and mysterious about the forest here, a place where you might wake to an early mist that transforms the landscape into something otherworldly; a place where, if you’re quiet, bushbuck and baboons might visit the grass near your cottage for a late afternoon snack; a place where all your cares seem to melt away leaving you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve is off the R322 between Swellendam and Heidelberg in the southern Cape. It’s 45km from Swellendam and 22km from Heidelberg. Turn off the N2 onto the R322 either east of Swellendam at Buffeljags River towards Suurbraak or at Heidelberg and follow the signs onto the gravel road. The GPS co-ordinates are S 33 59’ 7.85” E 20 49’ 24.56”.
Things to do at Grootvadersbosch
Try the Bushbuck Trail (10km, 3-4 hours), which takes you past the bird hides (see point 3), a waterfall and the redwoods (see point 7). Look out along the way for markers identifying tree species like white pear, candlewood and Cape saffron.
Or hike the tougher Grysbok Trail (15km, 5-6 hours) which takes you out of the forest and into the open along paths where you can see fynbos, sunbirds and wonderful mountain views. Both these hikes are also available to day visitors but you must get a permit from the reception office first.
In the forest there are two bird hides worth spending some time in. One is along the Melkhoutpad, about 500m from the reserve road. The other is a triple-storey hide along the Bosbokrand path where you have to climb wooden stairs inside to get to the viewing platform. Both are marked on the map you get when you sign in at reception.
4. Read up in your butterfly and frog guides before your visit, so you can look out for the forest emperor butterfly and a subspecies of the rare ghost frog which occur only here in this forest.
There’s also a pool near the cottages (see ‘accommodation’ below) and another is soon to be built near the campsite and glamping tents.
There’s also a number of mtb trails on the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy next door. Either stop to get a permit at the Conservancy office just before you enter the nature reserve (although it’s not clearly signposted) or ask at CapeNature’s reception exactly where to find it.
8. Plans are afoot to construct a raised boardwalk or ‘skywalk’ in the forest to link the two bird hides and the copse of redwoods. That will extend your time up in the tree canopy and I for one am looking forward to it. I don’t know when this will be completed, but was told it’s a medium-term project, with the glamping tents and a swimming pool near the campsite to be completed first.
10. Even if you’re not staying overnight, you’ll love to spend time having a picnic or braai in the specially demarcated day visitors’ area. Come early and go for a walk in the forest beforehand.
11. Pop into the small info centre next to reception to read up on some interesting aspects of Grootvadersbosch’s ecology like the fynbos species, trees like ironwood and Cape beech (and the exotic redwoods), as well as birds.
12. Stay over for a few nights to enjoy the full magical forest experience. There’s camping and self-catering cottages, with glamping tents about to open soon. See more about accommodation below. If bushbuck or baboons – or any other animals – visit you at your cottage or campsite, please don’t feed them.
13. Remember to bring your Wild Card so that you don’t have to pay the daily conservation fee.
If you want to stay over at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve – and you really should – there’s something to suit just about any budget and travel style, from self-catering cottages to glamping and camping.
They’re spacious with lovely wooden floors, two bedrooms (each with an electric fan) sharing a large bathroom with shower. You might wake in the first pink of dawn to the sound of a nightjar calling, or see swallows swooping through the early morning air.
The five new glamping tents weren't open yet, but when we visited in March 2021 the platforms and shade roofs above the tents were nearing completion. Once the canvas tents were in place under the roofs and the site was cleared – in October 2021 – CapeNature started taking bookings. And I can’t wait to try them.
- Note that there’s only space for one vehicle at each campsite.
- Note also that only small trailer tents, camping trailers or 4x4 trailers are allowed on the campsites with wooden decks. As space is limited, rather check dimensions beforehand or consider going traditional with a good old-fashioned ground tent or roof tent.
- There are five other sites that will accommodate larger trailers and camper vans. These are currently not available for bookings, to limit visitor numbers during the ongoing pandemic.
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve lies in a transitional area between the winter rainfall of Cape Town and the all-year-round rainfall of the Garden Route. It gets an average of 1050mm of rain a year, the wettest periods being February to April and August to November. In the drier months of May, June and July, berg winds might blow through the reserve.
It can be cool in the forest at any time of year so bring a warm top even in summer. When we visited once in October (that’s summer, right?) it was 8 degrees Celsius one misty morning but warmed up once the mist cleared.
Need to know
- Don’t leave food visible or windows open when you’re not at your cottage; these may attract the unwelcome attention of baboons.
- Book via CapeNature, tel 087-0878250, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Alternatively, you can make online bookings. (Remember that if you’re looking for the senior citizen discount of 30%, this can’t be applied by online booking so you need to phone or email instead.)
- For more information, see Cape Nature’s Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve website
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