De Hoop Nature Reserve
An ethereal beauty characterises William Stephens’ little patch of South Africa, nestled at the foot of the Overberg. Whether it’s Cape vultures swooping just above your head on a viewing deck perched high on Potberg Mountain, or the shoreline down at Koppie Alleen beach that is almost primordial in its perfection, the De Hoop Collection grips your soul and doesn’t let go.The Dassie Suite, set on the edge of the vlei, is quintessentially Cape Dutch. Expect deep windowsills, sash windows and a wood-burning fireplace. Let Lizo take you on a leisurely cruise and share his knowledge on the 260 local bird species with you, or take a marine walk down on the beach. The stars of the show, of course, are the southern right whales. We packed a picnic basket and spent hours on the dunes watching them play, so book during whale season (July to December) if you can.
Insider tip: Ask about the oyster shell embedded in the plaster above the dormer window of the old manor house.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
The story of Grootbos goes back to 1991, when Michael Lutzeyer convinced his father to buy a piece of land overlooking the scenic Walker Bay near Gansbaai. Those in the know will already be familiar with the Grootbos experience: unparalleled luxury equally matched with community outreach and conservation work that has been acknowledged internationally. In April Grootbos was recognised as one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, based on the dynamic model of eco-tourism that Lutzeyer and his team have pioneered. On any given day, the Grootbos Foundation is a hive of activity, with botanists, biologists, ecologists, and horticulturalists busy cataloguing and studying the unique flora and fauna found only here in the Cape Floral Kingdom. Not to be missed is the Klipgat cave walk in the nearby Walker Bay Nature Reserve, where research is being undertaken on these majestic rock formations, aiming to prove they were home to our hominid ancestors for much longer than the more famous Cradle of Humankind. It’s this profound awareness of the connection between tourism, community, and environment that sets Grootbos apart from the crowd.
Insider tip: Don’t leave without a jar of Grootbos honey, sourced directly from hives out in the fynbos.
Ballots Heights Nature Reserve
To step through the front door of Sally and Henry Paine’s villa, perched on the edge of a cliff in Ballots Heights Nature Reserve, is to be set adrift on the Indian Ocean. Here, the elements are the heroes: the sea mist drifting through the open glass doors on the veranda, the electric blue of the water that sparkles as whales and dolphins frolic in the waves below you, and the kaleidoscopic colours of the fynbos clinging to the rocky slopes surrounding the house. Sally works with environmentalists and botanists to ensure that the magic of this small fynbos biome is preserved and managed responsibly, despite the development of holiday homes on the reserve. The Bee’s Knees villa is the Paines’ response to their shared passion for this little piece of heaven. “It’s the kind of place where the houses have to make as minimum an impact as they can. We wanted to create an easy relationship between the inside and outside of the house,” Henry tells me, speaking to the ethos of his design aesthetic. Expect a bottle of wine awaiting your arrival to soothe the pains of your journey. And, as the weather here can turn in an instant, the window seat by the wood-burning stove is the place to be on rainy, windy nights as you snuggle in with a good glass of red and a book. On fine days, the winding trails that thread their way through the fynbos (in full flower while we were there) down to the bay below are highly recommended.
Insider tip: To ensure you truly disconnect, there is no wifi at the villa, so pack plenty of books, bottles, and good old-fashioned board games to keep yourself occupied.
• From the September edition of Wanted, 2021.