Skyline at the Retreat at Groenfontein


Calitzdorp (and The Retreat!), is situated more or less in the middle (from east to west), of a new conservancy that was officially established in the Little Karoo in 2011. The Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR), covers an area from the Swartberg mountains in the north, to the Indian Ocean in the south; and from Uniondale in the east, to Montagu in the west.

It aims to co-ordinate the protection of three international, biodiversity hotspots that overlap in this region, that form part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom. There are currently thirty-four biodiversity hotspots recognized around the world, protecting viable populations of about 60% of the world’s plant, bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species.

Rock Pools in the Groenfontein conservancy
The three that we have here in the Western Cape – the Fynbos, the Succulent Karoo and the Valley Thicket – are unique, in that they are the only place on the planet that is home to an entire floral kingdom, with the greatest concentration of plant species anywhere on earth (9 000 species), almost 70% of which are found nowhere else.

Of course, this is conservation at a refined and elegant level. There’s no rugged, big-five experiences here. To really appreciate the beauty, the wonder and the survival strategies of the proteas, legumes, irises and succulents – and to see Nature’s ecosystem-services at work at a sophisticated level – you need to get down on your hands and knees and look closely. But the rewards of doing so are enormous.

Cape Rock-thrush
The mountain stream running through The Retreat’s property, which eventually feeds into the Gouritz River, is home to a number of species of indigenous fish – such as the slender, red-finned minnow and Cape galaxia – a fish that was here before the ancient super-continent of Gondwanaland broke up and drifted apart. So, if you take a dip in the sparkling pools of our river, you might be lucky enough to have your toes tickled by the descendants of a fish that was swimming in these waters 120-million years ago!

In keeping with the setting, The Retreat itself has a low carbon footprint, even though we offer all the modern amenities and comforts of home. Our water (mountain champagne!), comes from our crystal-clear, mountain stream; most of our electricity comes from the sun; we recycle almost everything, or make compost to enrich our own organic veggie patch.

House at dusk
At a time when more and more of us are realizing that human activities are having a dramatic impact on the extinction of species, and in general, on the world’s biodiversity, it’s good that the GCBR has come into being to help protect what remains of the flora and fauna of this region, and to rehabilitate, as much as possible, what has already been damaged. The Retreat is proud to be playing its part in these efforts with the conservation of the environment and heritage of the Groenfontein Valley.
Lush valley in the Groenfontein conservancy
Malacite Sunbird
Rock pools