A magical reserve with beautiful stretches of indigenous forest
Originally known as Melkhoutskraal, the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve encompasses 250 hectares of indigenous forest in the Langeberg region, close to Heidelberg. The name translates to “big father” in honour of Roelof Oelofse who owned the land in 1723. It has only been a reserve since 1986 and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2004.
This is the most significant stretch of indigenous afromontane forest left in the south-western Cape, with nearly all of the 35 typical forest tree species, including red alder, ironwood, stinkwood and yellowwood. Visitors to this beautiful reserve will relish the opportunity to get out into the forest on day walks and mountain biking trails. This is an excellent birding destination with more than 196 bird species regularly spotted. Hikers are likely to bump into bushbuck and spot baboons and smaller mammals when out on the trails. Sighting the forest emperor butterfly and a subspecies of the rare ghost frog would be the highlight of a visit here, as they can only be found in this particular forest.
To find out more, download the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve brochure and map and view the video below.
Grootvadersbosch video and gallery images by Liesel Kershoff
How to get 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 till 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.
GPS: 33 59 08.4 S 20 49 24.7 E
Office hours: 07:30–16:00
Tel: +27 (0)28 492 0001
Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: +27 (0)21 483 0190
Built and unveiled in 2016, Grootvadersbosch has 11 family/hiker cabins that are located on a ridge, with forest on either side. The cabins are arranged in two rows, with the higher cabins having expansive views of the valley, while the lower cabins look on to indigenous forest.
Built on an existing footprint, which used to be the site of the forestry staff accommodation, the cabins were made from reclaimed materials from the site, as far as possible, and are designed to have as low an impact on the area as possible.
All 11 cabins are 4-sleepers, with two bedrooms, a kuierkamer (inside braai area), a fully equipped kitchen, and a lounge with a built-in fire place. There is also an outside braai area at each unit.
Units 1-3 are built with Universal Access in mind (approved by CapeAble) and have garages, while units 8-11 also have garages (view the map below to see the unit layout).
Bedding provided: Yes
Towels provided: Yes
Electricity: Eskom, solar and gas
Kitchen equipped: Eskom power points for all appliances including fridge/freezer, microwave and toaster. Electric oven and gas hob with four burners
Braai facilities: Outdoor braai, and indoor braai in kuierkamer. There is currently a shortage of wood and charcoal at the reserve so guests are kindly requested to bring their own along.
Bathroom equipped: Shower only. Geyser heated by electricity and solar.
LAYOUT OF UNITS (Click on the image to view a larger version – it will open in a new tab)
Please note that Scolopia cottage is closed to the public temporarily.
Scolopia is a wooden house that comfortably sleeps six guests in two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two single beds) and on a double sleeper couch in the lounge. It is located 500m from the reserve entrance on the edge of indigenous forest and near the start of a day hike. The house, named after an indigenous pear tree, has a well-equipped kitchen, bathroom and living room, as well as a shaded outdoor braai area. Guests must bring their own food, as there is no shop on the reserve. Firewood can occasionally be purchased at the reserve office but bring your own to be safe as supply from neighbouring farms is sporadic.. The water from the taps is naturally brown in colour and not polluted; however, it is advisable to boil it before drinking.
Kitchen: Stove, fridge, microwave, kettle, cutlery and crockery
Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
Fireplace: Indoor fire and outdoor braai, with grid
Disabled access: No
Pets welcome: No
There are 10 camps. Each site looks onto indigenous forest, providing many opportunities for bird watching. Communal ablution facilities are offered, as well as a thatched communal braai area with fridge, and a children’s play area/jungle gym (no children to be left unsupervised). Campsites have braai facilities, but visitors should bring their own braai grids.
Sites available: 10 campsites
Power points: Yes
Ablution facilities: Hot water showers, toilet paper provided
Shop on-site: No
Firewood for sale: Occasionally. Bring your own to be safe as supply from neighbouring farms is sporadic.
Braai facilities: Each campsite has it’s own fireplace and there is a communal braai at the picnic area
Disabled access: No
Pets welcome: No
Swimming is permitted in the newly-built swimming pool close to the self-catering cottages and also in the Duivenhoks River which is a 3km to 5km hike from the main office. Children should not swim unaccompanied by an adult. The swimming holes are located on the neighouring Brackenhills farm property, and we ask that guests please treat the area with respect.
There is a cycle trail of 6km on the reserve for all to enjoy with your own mountain bike.
On the adjacent Conservancy there are also a few MBT trails to ride. A seperate permit is however needed for those trails and is available at the Conservancy’s office.
Please enquire at our Information Centre for more information on the Conservancy.
There are a variety of day hikes as well as longer, overnight trails on offer. Regardless of the length of the trail, visitors should take heed of trail advice given, in particular the need to wear comfortable shoes, suntan lotion and a hat, and to carry sufficient water.
Hikers will enjoy the relatively easy three-to-four hour hike on the Bushbuck Trail, and also the more challenging Grysbok Trail.
Help us protect nature
No pets/no firearms/no picking of flowers or collecting of seeds/no fires except in designated areas/no horse riding.
Permits may be purchased for R40 per adult and R20 per child at the reserve office or through CapeNature Central Reservations.
Trail distance: 10km
Estimated time: 3-4 hours
This beautiful route wanders through mountain fynbos and indigenous forest, providing a shaded and relatively easy hike for all ages.The route loops in and around the indigenous forest, affording hikers the opportunity to visit both bird hides in the forest, as well as taking them past most of the tree species in the reserve.
Trail distance: 15km
Estimated time: 5-6 hours
The Grysboksirkel is a tougher hike, taking you out of the forest-covered valley, up the mountainside through the fynbos area, and on to the ridge of the hills bordering the Boosmansbos Wilderness Area. The hike is a loop and will bring you back to the reserve road.
There are nearly 200 bird species that are regularly spotted in the reserve. Visitors should keep a keen eye out for black, crowned and booted eagles, the rare striped flufftail, the narina trogon and beautiful sunbirds and sugarbirds.
The forest area features two bird hides (pictured below) which are easily accessible via the hiking trails and provide great vantage points from which to view the many bird species in the nature reserve.
The first bird hide is located approximately 500m from the reserve road along the Melkhoutpad, and provides a wonderful view over the forest canopy.
The second bird hide is located a few hundred metres from the reserve road along Bosbokrand, or it can be accessed via the Bushbucktrail. The triple story structure is accessed via wooden stairs in the interior, and provides a view of the tree tops in the middle of the indigenous forest, allowing birders views of the many bird species in Grootvadersbosch.
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve conserves a significant section of indigenous forest that has most of the typical 35 forest tree species, including yellowwood, stinkwood, red alder and ironwood. Areas in which exotic trees were planted between 1896 and 1913, including camphor, eucalyptus, ash and Californian redwood and oak, are being reclaimed for indigenous species.
The reserve is home to two species only found in this particular forest, a subspecies of the forest emperor butterfly and a subspecies of the ghost frog, as well as a host of bushbuck, grysbok, baboons and smaller mammals. Leopards are occasionally spotted. This is a birder’s paradise with 196 species recorded within the reserve, including the rare striped
flufftail, Layard’s titbabbler, francolin, black and booted eagles and the beautiful sunbirds and sugarbirds. Located in a transitional rainfall zone between winter and all-year rainfall regions,the vegetation is primarily mountain fynbos, with about 1 200 plant species documented in this region.
With pristine indigenous forest, amazing Redwoods, and remarkable vistas, there are numerous opportunities for filming in this reserve.
Located just over three hours from Cape Town, near the towns of Swellendam and Heidelberg, the reserve is conveniently located for film shoots.
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