It can be amazing how many people don’t look up when they walk into the Great White House. So when they do, you can see the surprise on their face as they look upon Suzie, a 14m 1,5 ton Southern right whale skeleton hanging above them.

There are not many restaurants or certainly none the Great White House is aware of where you can enjoy a meal under an incredible specimen such as this, enhanced by baleen plates, a made up eye/ear with nerve path and soon even a heart replica. Suzie is real – she was a whale washed up in the area in 2007. Many years of preparation went into this display and she took three days to position correctly with enhanced steel structures in the roof. Quite remarkable but even more so is showing guests how she has finger like structures in her pectoral fins. Suzie has been recently joined by two bottlenose dolphin skeletons.

Anyone who missed the skeleton who walked in was obviously eyeing out the warm fireplace straight ahead, the only place to be on a cold wintery Gansbaai day. Especially when there is wifi available, hot chocolate or your favourite tipple and a vast menu to choose from. The restaurant is fully licenced and serves light meals, traditional fare, fine wine and is well known for its seafood platters.  There are very few places where abalone is served as a special permit is required yet this delicacy is available here providing an ideal opportunity for guests to experience this unique flavour of the sea. There is of course the usual tea, coffee and cake and it would be wrong not to try the caramel topped cheesecake.

At the Great White House there is never a dull day. Visited by thousands of international and local tourists every year, this establishment is a central meeting place in the great white shark hotspot of the world, Gansbaai.  The Great White House is close to the Kleinbaai Harbour where whale and shark viewing boats depart and is the home of Fair Trade certified and award winning operators Marine Dynamics Tours and Dyer Island Cruises and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. There is even a dedicated biologist’s office sponsored by Volkswagen, the Trust’s official corporate sponsor.

A curio shop is on premises offering unique gifts, books and clothing. Many of the items here are from local artists and there are also some more unusual souvenirs such as the fossilised shark teeth. There is an exclusive range of sunglasses and even go pros on sale.

For guests staying over, there are three chalets on premises, in the style of luxurious fisherman’s cottages taking you back in time to experience the authentic style of living. Nothing but peace and tranquility and a great idea if one is on a boat trip the next day.

The Great White House also believes in making a difference and employs locally as well as supporting studies crucial in upskilling staff. Local industries are supported from wine, beer and even the fynbos flowers decorating the tables. Majority of the vegetables and herbs are home grown. It’s the small things that add up – a recycling project for plastic, glass, paper, metal and organic waste; a solar geyser; energy saving light bulbs; bio balls in the washing machines; grey water for the lawn; minimal packaging-no sugar sachets and jam or butter; and a constant desire to ensure the carbon footprint of the business is reduced. There is a commemorative display to remember the sinking of the Birkenhead on the Gansbaai coastline and every February a special evening is hosted in this regard at the Great White House.

There are a few key places to sit – one of the favourites is the outside area, especially on a sunny day, where a birder will be in paradise as various bird species visit the feeders. Some bold Malachite sunbirds in their colourful green are a particular delight. You could also choose to sit in the front terrace with a view down to the harbour. And not a bad idea to have a final beer or sundowner at the Southern Right bar. The Great White House has hosted conferences, private functions, wine tastings, musical evenings and hosts a regular monthly marine evening presented by Marine Dynamics. The Great White House has also had some interesting visitors from film crews, conservationists, and some very famous faces so you never know who you could bump into. If you are in Gansbaai do stop in and see it all for yourself.

words Brenda du Toit / pics Great White House

Check out the article in Responsible Traveller digital mag…