Activities / Western Cape

Grootvadersbosch – 15 reasons to visit this last patch of indigenous forest

Updated Friday, 6 September 2019

Right at the end of a dirt road that begins somewhere after the little village of Suurbraak is the largest remaining indigenous forest in the Langeberg.

The forest is almost engulfed by the ravine into which it descends, barely visible from the top of the mountain fynbos-clad hillsides of the Grootvadersbosch reserve. This isolated pocket of Afromontane forest, in a pleat of the Cape fold mountains, is known by few yet there are a myriad reasons to visit …

The bird life

Paradise flycatchers, redbreasted sparrowhawks, Knysna woodpeckers, forest buzzards, narina trogons, orange-breasted sunbirds, wood owls, crowned and black eagles and Cape siskins are but a handful of the 196 different bird species found in the reserve – see them early morning or evening, or from September to early December.

Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve


Reminiscent of Bambi with their white spotted thighs, these shy animals tend to avoid human contact (although we caught sight of two driving up through the forest) as they have an acute sense of hearing, sight and smell. Their elusive behaviour is so that they remain hidden from leopards and crowned eagles (a threat to their young). Their loud, hoarse call is often confused with the bark of a baboon.

Lichens and bracket fungi

The forest is full of extraordinary examples of old man’s beard and bracket fungi. I learned that lichens are a new structure made up of an alga and a fungus; a symbiotic relationship in which alga provides the fungus with sugars (food) and the fungus absorbs water and minerals and protects the alga; gives it a ‘house’ in which to grow (only under a microscope can you see the alga is contained within the body of the fungus). The fungi in the form of brackets, however, grow on trees or trunks in the process of dying – they help break down organic matter.

Bird hides

Within Grootvadersbosch forest are two wooden bird hides set in amongst the forest canopy. Both are ideal for spotting unusual birds and conducive to spending hours gently waiting for the calls and sightings of birds. Both are beautifully crafted and a joy to look at. Both are high up in the trees.

The trees

Of the types of trees typical to a forest, Grootvadersbosch has most of the thirty-five, including stinkwood, yellowwood, red and white alder, cheesewood, Cape beech, bastard saffron, white pear and ironwood. But there are also camphor, Australian blackwood, bluegum, ash, and oaks.

The Californian redwoods

Whilst a forestry station Grootvadersbosch was planted with a number of exotic trees. Among them are a series of giant redwood trees. Here since 1907, they are over 100 years old. The tallest redwood is 40 metres high (the biggest redwood in America is 100 metres tall and 8 metres thick!). Whilst they are alien to South Africa, in North America they are endangered.

Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

The unusual

A unique forest emperor butterfly and a subspecies of the Cape ghost frog live only in Grootvadersbosch. Spot them if you can…

Genets and leopards

Grootvadersbosch is home to both the large-spotted genet, or Cape genet, and the leopard. Despite the assumption that it is a small wild cat, the genet is actually a relative of the civet (which look a lot like cats or otters) and tends to remain up trees or in other animal’s abandoned burrows until night, when it either climbs or leaps from tree to tree feeding on small rodents, birds, spiders, scorpions, fish and fruit. You will be lucky to spot a leopard as they only come out at night. Camera traps at Grootvadersbosch have spotted them recently.

The hiking

Grootvadersbosch is wonderful to explore. There are two major hiking trails, but in reality it is easier to simply wander down paths as they present themselves. The routes are well marked and the trails easy to follow. The Bushbuck trail (called such as it meanders predominantly through the forest) is a series of smaller trails – Stinkhoutsirkel, Bosbokrand, Saffraandraai, Fonteintjiesbos and Melkhoutpad. The Grysbok trail is on the other side of the reserve, through mountain fynbos, away from the forest.

The cycling

Some of the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy’s cycle trail falls within the reserve; only 12 cyclists at a time may use the route. Get your cycling permit at the reserve office.

Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

It doesn’t have to end here

Grootvadersbosch is not very big – 250 hectares – but it borders Boosmansbos Wilderness – a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 70 km of unmarked trails open to only 12 hikers at a time. One can access the wilderness from the Grysbok Trail. Grootvadersbosch is also part of the Greater Grootvadersbosch Conservancy – a collection of 14 farms that conserve roughly 760 hectares of forest, renosterveld and silcrete fynbos. The area is one huge conservancy – nothing in sight, bar the odd farm building.

The rivers

Two rivers run through the reserve – the Duiwenhoks River winds through the forest, whilst the Grootvadersbosch River is present to the west of the reserve.

The stillness

You can hear a pin drop…

No cell phone

no reception (yes!).

Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

The views

Over the Langeberg.

Don’t rush it.

Book an overnight stay in Heidelberg or find accommodation in Swellendam in the Overberg.

Grootvadersbosch Bird Hide