People often go into booking a trip to South Africa with the misconception that it’s all about going on safari. But South Africa is a richly ecologically diverse country, as well one with vibrant cultures and impactful history.
Grootbos: Luxury Sustainable Tourism for Nature and Wine Lovers
Situated in the middle of the fynbos- a distinct biome unique to the Western Cape- Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is built entirely around helping preserve nature through high-end ecotourism.
The Grootbos Resort was created to support the Grootbos Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of the Fynbos biome as well as supporting the communities of people who live around the reserve. They support sports programs, HIV/AIDS awareness, and female empowerment programs. They also provide training and education that help the mission of the foundation, letting local people have opportunities for careers in eco-tourism and conservation. In addition to all of this, the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has also been certified carbon negative since 2018. It is truly a pioneer in sustainable tourism.
While this is a sustainable tourism success story, it is also a dream destination for luxury adventures who enjoy being surrounded by nature. The resort offers a variety of different experiences to help you explore the Fynbos. You meet with your guide at the start of your stay and plan out your activities. Hiking is categorized by different routes and level of difficulty. One gorgeous hike to a waterfall through the Fynbos mountains has your guide pointing out different species of flora and fauna, explaining all about the things that make the Fynbos so special and what Grootbos is doing to help preserve it. If a big hike isn’t quite up your alley, there are shorter trails throughout the resort area you can do yourself, just outside your room.
Grootbos also has family-friendly suites, as well as some activities perfect for families. A highlight is to spend an afternoon “Fatbiking." A guide takes you biking through the sand dunes on the shore of the ocean on bikes with big tires, to distribute the weight evenly to make biking on sand possible. While it may seem a little daunting, for the most part you can choose whether you want to speed down the dunes or ride around them at a more leisurely pace. At the end, guests bike back to the van along the ocean as the sun sets. There’s truly nothing like it.
Another highlight of Grootbos is the food. Ingredients are all locally sourced from its organic farm– and made from scratch. A team of experienced chefs are always working on innovating and refining the menu for the best culinary experience possible. As is appropriate in an area of the world renowned for its wine, there is also a varied selection of fine wines at Grootbos. Focus is on South African wines, with food and wine pairings available for different courses at dinner, and sommeliers guests can consult about the qualities of different wine options. Many wines come from wineries right on their doorstep. Overall, it is a dining experience that rivals high-end big-city restaurants.
Art Lovers Cape Town
Street Art in Woodstock
Just outside Cape town, art lovers will find a remarkable street art tour of Woodstock. Old warehouses and factories have been converted and reclaimed, with galleries and creative businesses coming in to the area. The area holds regular events and competitions promoting the creation of street art in the area where you can walk through with your guide. The art is incredible and the guide provides understanding of the cultural contexts of some of the pieces making it a truly unforgettable experience. On weekends, end the tour at the Neighbourgoods Market, which has stands for all sorts of delicious street food bites from different cuisines of the world.
Also in Cape Town is the first major museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa on the African continent. The museum is housed in an important historical landmark– the old grain silo. Opened in 2017, the waterfront had been seeking a use for the historic silo building for years. A British architect, Thomas Heatherwick was tasked with maintaining the history while designing a space for a remarkable collection of art. The museum houses 100 galleries spread across 9 floors.
A Deeper Look at South African History
A trip to South Africa is incomplete without devoting time to understanding its history.Apartheid is something many South Africans today grew up with, or in the aftermath of. And there are several museums around Johannesburg that help you get a thorough and meaningful understanding of this very recent history. Complimenting the Apartheid Museum are two smaller museums situated right where the history took place, bringing it to life in a unique and compelling way.
Located just outside the city where gold mines were first discovered, The Apartheid Museum details the history of racial dynamics in South Africa since the arrival of European powers in the mid 17th century. Patrons can understand the unique colonial history of South Africa as well as the decades-long struggle of the native African population to reclaim their rights in their homeland. South African Apartheid lasted from the 1930s to the 1990s, so it’s something fresher in the minds of the population than, say, the US Civil Rights Movement. Many people working at these museums were directly involved in the fight themselves.
Complimenting the Apartheid museum is a visit to Number Four at Constitution Hill, which served as a non-white prison during Apartheid years, and the Hector Pieterson museum, which commemorates students who were killed by police during a peaceful student protest in 1976. Constitution Hill imprisoned both Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in its time as a prison. Tours explain the roles of those two figures at the prison as well as the daily life of all the people imprisoned there. The conditions these people lived under were horrific, and the museum helps patrons understand who really made up the population — many of these people were political prisoners like Gandhi and Mandela, making the conditions of the prison even more sobering.
Photo courtesy of Constitution Hill
The Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial is located in Soweto, the township where black South Africans lived after housing was segregated by the Group Areas Act in 1950. The museum focuses on a police attack on a student organized march protesting black South African schoolchildren having to learn in Afrikaans, the dutch colonizer language most of them did not speak. The protest was brutalized by police and over 170 schoolchildren, including twelve year old Hector Pieterson, were murdered. This is probably the most upsetting museum of the three, but it showcases an incredibly impactful and historically important moment in the fight against Apartheid.
Only an hour away from Johannesburg, Pretoria is where the Afrikaaner descendants of original dutch settlers moved when the British first took over Cape Town. The British, in control of the country at that point, had abolished slavery, which the Afrikaaners still heavily relied on. After years of war, Afrikaans and British powers came to an agreement and established a government that recognized power for both groups. Left out, of course, was the majority population of native Black africans. Pretoria has many beautiful colonial buildings and statues, with controversial political background, as much of it celebrates figures from this time, and from the Afrikaaner parties who would go on to establish Apartheid. This few hour tour can give you insight into this unique history. A day in Pretoria is a great thing to squeeze in on a last day in South Africa, after leaving the Safari lodge but before your flight home.