Located in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, Grootbos is two hours southeast of Cape Town and just over an hour from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa. The 6,200-acre reserve overlooks Walker Bay and, on a clear day, Cape Point can be seen in the distance. The nearest population centers are the fishing village of Gansbaai and the town of Hermanus. The coast here is both sandy and rugged with caves, and the waters are incredibly rich in marine life.
Situated directly between the whale sanctuary of Walker Bay and the great white shark capital of Gansbaai, Grootbos is uniquely positioned to offer a one-of-a-kind marine safari experience. Cape fur seals, penguins, and dolphins can be spotted during boat trips on Walker Bay, and a wide variety of birds, from industrious weavers to brilliantly colored sunbirds, are easy to find on the reserve.
The Western Cape is the home of the Cape Floral Region, by far the smallest of the world’s floral kingdoms (and the only one to fit within one country). The vegetation is incredibly diverse, home to 20 percent of Africa’s plant species. The flora of this region was named fynbos by Dutch explorers who were hoping for wood and found only “fine-leaved plants.” It is not only stunning, diverse, and exotic, but also scientifically important. Of the 9,000 species of flowering fynbos plants, about 69 percent are found nowhere else on Earth. In 2004, UNESCO declared the Cape Floral Region, constituting a number of protected areas covering more than 2,135 square miles, a World Heritage site.
From caves once inhabited by Stone Age people to the shipwrecks that scatter the coast, the area around Grootbos is rich in legends and landmarks. Remains found in the nearby Klipgat Cave indicate man’s presence here more than 70,000 years ago. Jumping forward in time, other archaeological findings in the cave point to a new wave of human habitation around 2,000 years ago. These Late Stone Age people known as the Khoikhoi thrived in the area up until the 18th century when the first European settlers arrived.
During the age of European discovery and colonization, the southern tip of Africa played a pivotal role in economic and maritime affairs, as many ships sailing from Europe to India and the Far East came up against some of the world’s worst sea conditions at this notorious junction. More than 140 ships have wrecked here since 1673, leaving a trail of relics and artifacts in their wake.
Some of the earliest white settlers in the area were former employees of the Dutch East India Company who were granted their freedom and "loan farms" to raise crops and livestock to sell back to the company. These "free burghers" established a foothold in the Overberg and opened the way for further development such as the Moravian mission station at Elim established in 1824, which is today a national heritage site.
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