South Africa boasts being the best place for land-based whale watching in the world and from June through October the southern right whales arrive off the coast to mate and give birth. While Hermanus is probably the most popular base for viewing the whales (they have a whale crier who signals when whales have been spotted), I opted for the tranquility of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve a two hour drive from Cape Town. And while I came for the whales, I was surprised to learn that this was prime blooming season for the fnybos, part of the Cape Floral Kingdom one of the smallest and most diverse floral kingdoms. The reserve is comprised of 2500 hectares of land and a remarkable 765 plant species. At first glance, the scrubby bush seems rather unimpressive, but when you get a chance to walk (or in my case ride though the hills on horseback), you appreciate the diversity and beauty of these flowers. From a distance the blooms form a yellow, white, pink, and purple carpet of flowers and the colors change throughout the day depending on the light. With the ocean in the background, I could have spent an entire day contemplating the beauty of the landscape, but at Grootbos there are many activities to occupy your time, and I wanted to squeeze in as many activities as I could during my short two day stay.
I visited the Klipgat caves in Gansbaai which were inhabited by middle stone age people and are currently inhabited by bees, enjoyed sundowners while watching whales cavort, went on a Dwyer Island cruise where we saw whales, seals, and penguins, took a walk through the ancient milkwood forest, and experienced the fnybos fields on the back of Maseru, the horse. I wish that I had more time, especially to explore the the milkwood forest which I alternated between thinking was haunted with its moss and lichen covered trees or a magical place where fairies lived.
The activities were not the only draw at Grootbos. I stayed at the modern Forest Lodge nestled between the milkwood forest and the fnybos fields. The chalets were extremely large for one person with a lounge, two bathrooms, and large bedroom. From every room there was a view of the sea and in the evenings they built a fire in the fireplace. The chalet also had a large deck, outdoor show and swimming pool. If only it had been a few degrees warmer, I would have taken advantage of the outdoor shower. The main lodge was modern, open, and cosy with multiple seating areas and fireplaces. It was a good thing that my room was the furthest room from the lodge since each meal was a multi course affair and quite honestly among the best food that I have had in South Africa.
Luckily, the whales did not disappoint. In addition to seeing them off in the distance while sipping some bubbly, we saw five whales up close from a small boat. The weather was misty and at times rainy, but that did not detract from the two and half hour boat ride. The whales were incredibly close to our 24 person boat and while my photos were quite terrible (try shooting in manual mode while keeping the horizon straight through not so small waves rocking the boat) the experience of seeing whales with mountains in the background was lovely. We spent some time watching a pair of mating whales as they went belly to belly and rolled through the water. These are 60 ton mammals so it was quite an experience.