Grootvadersbosch: An off-the-grid forest adventure


"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

This philosophical question stokes the imagination between thought and reality. Whether sound is subject to sensory perception and only exists as such - the very idea that your focus is your reality hits home 10-fold in the spectacular Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.

Some 250ha including the Cape afrotemperate forest of the Boosmansbos Wilderness Area - between Swellendam and Heidelberg - the focus is entirely on relaxation, back-to-basics nature and just being able to enjoy the essence of being. The only thing falling will be your stress levels.

'Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted' 

Road-tripping the N2, whether to connect with the treasures of Route62 or to head further along to the gorgeous coastal scenery of the Garden Route - can be serious salve for a busy mind.

While the endless winding of the N2 can at time be monotonous - the golden Swartland fields, rugged bends of the Overberg all the way through the endless stretches of the Eden District might be just the decompression you need to unwind your thoughts and ideas.

WATCH: The quiet recovery of Goukamma on the Garden Route

And you cannot ask for a more apt start to a true eco-friendly, off-the-grid escape. It beckons the mind to wander in the air of timelessness. To daydream. To dream…

With my two sons in tow, my aunt and her youngest son we all headed off on a two-hour road-trip adventure just outside of Cape Town to check out the new CapeNature Grootvadersbosch cabins.  

'Green-sustainability buildings amidst a green forest'

The Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, near Heidelberg in the Western Cape, now has 11 new, modern cottages built around CapeNature’s deep-seated mission to preserve the natural surroundings of this area in all its wonder.

Originally known as Melkhoutskraal, the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve’s name is attributed to Roelof Oelofse - described as a hermit, who owned the land in 1723. It now honours him as the “big father” of this special part of SA. Only declared a reserve since 1978 according to Cape Nature, it is part of the magical Cape Floral Kingdom, one of South Africa’s 8 protected World Heritage sites. But this is just one of a number of CapeNature-managed protected areas in the Western Caoe.  Others include the Groot Winterhoek, Cederberg, the Boland Mountain Complex, De Hoop, Anysberg, Swartberg, and the Garden Route complex which includes Robberg and the Langeberg complex.

SEE:  Grootvaderbosch: Following the hermit

And the ride up to the new Grootvadersbosch cabins sees you sink into a lush tapestry of green, brown and golden hues of a forest teeming with ancient yellowwood, stinkwood and ironwood trees - with the tree-house-like structures blending easily into the reserve.

Once inside this forest, which is about a 20min ride along a dirt road, you feel removed from the normal bustle of city life - with the night sky coming alive in the absence of artificial light.

NOTE: It is best to arrive early morning or afternoon as the dirt road is narrow and guide office and gates usually close at 17:00. If you are unable to, best to make prior notification and arrangements. 

READ: Tour de Braai: A 5-day gravel ride from George to Swellendam 

Each cottage includes a comfortable inside-outside room - with canvas retractable sections that allow you to make the most of this kuier kamer, which is essentially a braai room, whatever the outside elements are doing.  Added to this it runs on solar energy, with the exception of the fridges which run on Eskom power. There is also a modern gas stove.

 Over 85% of the building materials were in fact sourced from existing structures, according to CapeNature. 

While it is best to stock up on your drinking water beforehand, your shower is all the more enjoyable knowing it is heated by the solar water geyser, with the water sourced from nearby reservoirs on the mountain - 

Added to this, the cabins are all stocked with biodegradable and environmentally friendly products. 

LISTEN: Take a Hike: The podcast series for hiking and adventure enthusiasts

Magical forested World Heritage Site - highlights and things to do:

And we thoroughly enjoyed themselves, with my sons absolutely adoring the idea of tree-house living out in nature where they could just let loose with the ball and run around freely. Admittedly they struggled a little bit with no TV.  But it was the perfect opportunity for fun eco-lessons about why we should value our environment - they really did leave bit more greener for it.

Spending time in this sort of off-the-grid environment - there is literally one corner of the reserve near the entrance that has any smidgen of a cellular signal - makes truly switching off that much easier, allowing you to attune to nature’s rhythm. Here are a few highlights of things to do in and around the reserve.

Take a hike

There are 64km of paths to choose from. The circular two-day route of 27km Boosmansbos Trail is quite popular with Renowned hiking author Mike Lundy is said to consider the Boosmansbos Trail one of the finest in the country.  Comprising of 14km on the first day (about 6 hours) and 13 kilometres on the second (about 5 hours).   Mostly an old jeep track, it leads up Loerklip and back down Saagkuilkloof.

If heavy rains are experienced during the hike it is advisable to return via the Loerklip path as the Duiwenhoks River may be in flood. Only a maximum of 12 people per day are allowed. Hikers should note that all refuse must be carried out and that fires are not permitted. Advance reservations are essential.

Enjoy the secluded bird hides

There are several rare species of fauna in this reserve, especially amongst the Erica family. CapeNature estimates there to be some 160 fynbos species spread across these slopes, found nowhere else in the world. You may also spot grey rhebuck, klipspringer, grysbok, baboon - and the odd leopard or genet if you’re lucky.

But this is also a rewarding birding paradise, with some 184 species recorded by CapeNature, including “black, martial, crowned and booted eagles, redwinged and redneck francolins, blackrumped buttonquail, striped flufftail and Layard’s titbabbler”.

Tradouw Pass day-trip along Route62 to Barrydale

Thomas Baines' 16 kilometre Tradouw Pass drive, is simply beautiful and offers traditional South African mountain pass views. The name means Women’s Path  in the old Khoi language, according to, which rates it in the top 20 passes in the country. 

SEE: SA's most extreme mountain passes to take your 4x4 on a date to

From Grootvadersbosch it connects the towns of Barrydale and Swellendam, both worth a stay in their own right and if you have the time a proper cajole along Route62 is a must -we only managed to pop into Joubert-Tradouw, a relatively young wine estate but some exciting Syrah flavours being bottled here.

For our day-trip we stopped off in Barrydale for delicious cake and tea at the Blue Cow, which has become a highlight of this little Karoo town, along with the Karoo Art Hotel. The cheesecake comes highly recommended.

WATCH: Day-tripping start of world's longest wine route  - Route62, via Tradouw Pass to Barrydale

SEE: How to watch out for scammers when booking last-minute holiday rentals

What you need to know if you do go:

Cost: Each cabin is available at R950 per night, for 1 to 4 people, in both peak and off-peak season. Units 1-3 are built with Universal Access in mind (approved by CapeAble) and have garages, while units 8-11 also have garages.

To book 

Office hours: 07:30–16:00

Tel: +27 (0)28 492 0001

Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: +27 (0)21 483 0190


Getting there:

Take the N2 from Cape Town towards George. Just past Swellendam and Buffelsjag River, take the left-hand turn-off for Suurbraak/Barrydale. Turn left and continue through the town of Suurbraak and past the turn-off for Barrydale via Tradouwpass. The tar road becomes a dirt road. Continue until a T-junction, turn left and keep left at the next fork in the road. The reserve is well signposted. The road ends at the entrance gates.

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