Our journey to Groenfontein
In 1998 Grant and I left the northern Namibia/Botswana area where we had spent MANY very happy years exploring, working and exploring some more. We started with some exciting years working for Okavango Explorations, developing and managing first a lodge in the Panhandle of the Okavango River and then Tsaro Lodge on the Kwai River adjoining Moremi. It was hard work but very rewarding, we had many exciting, memorable wildlife encounters and learnt a lot!
We soon realized that we wanted to do our own thing and after Namibian independence decided to look there. Friends had bought an old fishing camp on the Kwando River in the East Caprivi. We built and developed Lianshulu Lodge and then co-owned and managed it for 8 years. During that time, we would holiday and take short breaks in the neighbouring areas, Mahango, Impalila Island, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and visited some amazing places! Developing and running Lianshulu Lodge gave us valuable experience which was useful when we found Groenfontein in the Klein Karoo – a farm at the end of a road in a secluded valley, bordering the Swartberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site.
We had decided to look for a new Eden and had sold our shares in Lianshulu, to our partners. We had come down the West Coast, looking at many possibilities. We visited the Baviaanskloof, saw some interesting properties for sale and would probably have returned there if we hadn’t stumbled across Groenfontein in the Klein Karoo!
We were driving west on the Langkloof road when we saw the turn-off to Oudtshoorn and remembered that we had met during our travels, Piet Smit from Oudtshoorn who had invited us to look him up if we came to this area. We called him and he promised to show us some interesting areas the following day. That evening he took us to an art exhibition where we met the late Tim Robson, water-colourist from Calitzdorp, who invited us to visit him in C’dorp but suggested we take the road through the Groenfontein valley, which really inspired us. We asked Tim if he knew of anything for sale in the valley and he suggested we visit Jan & Eljo Potgieter, as they were thinking of selling. We did so and they were very welcoming. We stayed in one of their guestrooms and they showed us around. Picture on the left shows Jan on the beautiful verandah of the house. On the right, yours truly sitting on the steps leading down to the lawn.
We liked Groenfontein immediately and both saw the potential – we checked out the property and walked to the Northern and Eastern corners of the property, returning in the evening, hot and tired and with scratched legs! Eljo commented that we had probably seen more of the property in 2 days, than she had in 45 years! We were very happy when Jan and Eljo Potgieter agreed to sell their farm to us.
We moved onto the property in August 1999 and started extensive renovations. We intended to open with 4 rooms in the house so needed to add 4 bathrooms. We therefore built a septic tank on the southern side of the house, between the verandah and the rose garden – left picture. The below right picture shows work being done to change one room into 2 showers for the two standard rooms no’s 3 and 4.
We also converted and renovated the old ‘creamery’, where the cream and the milk had been separated and the butter made. The Potgieters had used this room as a storeroom, but locals from the valley told me the story of the cream and the butter! It is a beautiful old Victorian building and has been a very popular room with our guests. Below left picture shows doors and windows being built in the creamery and the right picture shows the creamery on the left side opening onto the patio.
We built the small swimming-pool to the south of the house and used the soil to make the terrace in front of the verandah. The pictures below show the unfinished pool and the terrace with my new rockery, before the grass and plants had grown.
We did extensive landscaping, removing a lot of wattle and eucalyptus North of the house. After repairing Jan’s top dam, we built the smaller middle dam, now popular with birds, and created a wetland where we planted indigenous Phragmites Australis reeds, where a lot of birds now nest.
We worked hard, and when we opened on the 29th of February 2000 with 2 guests, the new rockery had started to take shape – see picture below! On the right the lounge as it then looked!
It was slow and tough in the beginning, but we got a LOT of return business and many referrals, and still do!
To begin with I did all the cooking, using recipes I had developed whilst working in the bush, but adapting to the Karoo ingredients. I used local products like ostrich, venison, lamb/mutton and smoked snoek. With time I trained and taught local ladies to help in the kitchen and now I only plan menus and supervise!
In those early days we used the aluminium furniture for mealtimes, which we had bought in Cape Town, and which is now in the garden on the terrace. Pictures below.
Breakfast setting in early days for 2 guests – picture on right!
We first added a fifth room using the only bathroom in the main house. We also changed the ‘modern’ entrance to make it look more Victorian, in keeping with the beautiful Victorian house.
We have developed the property extensively, removing alien invaders, and all the fencing and have created many well-marked walking trails, some challenging and others easier.
Our rock-pools, 20 minutes’ walk along a farm road to the north of the property are very popular with guests. The dams are also frequently used, both for birdwatching, and the larger dam for swimming – it is undoubtedly the nicest place on the property to swim! There are benches at the dams, and we have also put some benches on the trails – to check 360° views in comfort!
We have just made a lovely short walk through the ‘enchanted forest’, a dense area of trees very close to the house, and leading to an old mill, which was used to make flour by the first inhabitants of the house. From there we continued a path to 3 very old oak trees at the river. We have cleaned and cleared this area under the oak trees and made a very lovely spot to sit and relax in the shade of the immense trees, in the heat of the day and listen to the gurgle of the river! We are planning a more secluded spot with a bench further along the river for enjoying the solitude, meditating, contemplating, birdwatching, just being alone with nature!