Groenfontein: A Treat of Retreat!

Groenfontein View

– Rea Borcherd

It has become a tradition in this Branch to make group expeditions to explore the flora of regions beyond our own.  In previous years successful group outings were made to  the Gifberg,  Agulhas and Haarwegskloof.   This year was the turn of the Klein Karoo, specifically the region around Calitzdorp.

With so many interesting regions in our country to discover, one is spoilt for choice when selecting a destination, but as always practicality has to rule.  Travelling time, accommodation suitability and sufficiency, and availability of local botanical expertise are all factors affecting the choice.

The Retreat at Groenfontein near Calitzdorp ticked all the boxes, so fifteen members of the Branch, plus two dogs, set off on 5 September to spend the next three days enjoying all that the area offers.

The Retreat is an ample Victorian farmhouse with wide verandas, green lawns and palm trees, encircled by foothills of the spectacular Swartberg mountains.  It is well named, because there is something particularly tranquil about a location that is literally at the end of the road, as is the case here. The 20km dirt road from Calitzdorp is itself a pleasant leafy meander along the banks of the river which flows over the road in the rainy season.

In addition to five double bedrooms in the main house, there are several suites  (restored milking and weaving sheds) on the hillside behind the house, each with splendid views. Our accommodation included generous breakfasts on the veranda watching the birds, and luxuriously served 3-course dinners and bottomless coffees and teas.

Several clearly marked hiking trails of varying length and difficulty are laid out in the immediate surroundings of the farmhouse, and provided exploring opportunities for all comers.   Two formally-guided excursions further afield were led by local botanical expert, Kevin Koen.

Kevin has his own nursery in Calitzdorp,  specialising in indigenous plants,  and he proved to be an excellent guide to the bulbs, succulents and local medicinal plants, as well as the history of the area.  This narrow valley has seen various kinds of agriculture over the years, from nuts to fruit to vines, and it was particularly interesting to be taken on a walk IN the water furrows (dry on this occasion!)  which are used for irrigating lands with water from the river.

Other attractions in the area included the option of a scenic drive along the back roads from Groenfontein to Oudsthoorn, which goes through the beautiful red hills where  one can stop for coffee or an interesting photographic or art exhibition.

Lastly, this region being famous for its port, our visit to Calitzdorp could not be complete without a sortie to one or other of the local estates for a suitable momento of  yet another delightful Kogelberg Branch group outing.

The group setting off on the Furrow Hike


Unusual aloe on the Furrow Trail