The retreat is situated between Stanford and Gansbaai. The access road of approximately 8 km past Stanford is fairly rough and tough going - preferably suitable for vehicles with a higher clearance. The magnificent display of fynbos along this route at this time of the year is simply mind-blowing. Over 800 plant species have been recorded in the Grootbos Nature Reserve and Flower Valley Conservation Area. However the main purpose of this outing was to explore the possibilities of the venue for a future midweek or week-end BirdLife Overberg outing. To date over a 100 bird species have been recorded here.
Aletta, Anita, Lee, Melanie, John, Jos and Frank and Annie left on Wednesday morning full of enthusiasm for the trip in spite of very negative weather forecasts for the two day period. The main house offers ample and comfortable accommodation for 11 people with a view of a lovely natural pond hosting several water birds and a resident Burchell's Coucal. The previous day some White-backed Ducks were also spotted. Extra accommodation is also available in a smaller 6 bed cottage.
We did a short hike around the pond and then settled down in front of the huge fire-place. Later on after some delicious pizzas we dashed outside to listen to a pair of Fiery-necked Nightjars calling to each other. The plan was to do a 5,5km hike the following morning - mainly for the purpose of seeing the magnificent display of pincushions and the forest by the water fall. Not an easy hike at all with very steep inclines and to me rather frightening declines. Billy Robertson, the resident manager is extremely knowledgeable about the flora the birds and the environment. The party was very interested in the great variety of fynbos species. All the time in the background we were aware bird calls and good sightings of mainly fynbos birds. Various Sunbirds, Cape Sugarbird, Klaas's Cuckoo, Cape Grassbird, Southern Boubou, and Sombre Greenbul were abundant.
At the top of this hike there are beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding valleys, the Uilenkraal's river estuary and in the distance the blue, blue sea and Pearly Beach. However, ominous clouds were building up on the horizon. After a brief respite at the waterfall where Aletta saw a Rufus-chested Sparrowhawk we gathered together our somewhat depleted courage and challenged our weary muscles to tackle the hike back to 'camp'. The highlight of this walk was the calling and sighting of three juvenile African Fish-Eagles high up below the ever increasing and darkening clouds. Needless to say we were all very relieved to be home and dry to at last rest our weary bones in front of a glowing fire-place. Very soon after this the skies opened up and it started raining and pouring incessantly until 10 o'clock the next morning.
However our spirits were not dampened - in the evening we had a lovely braai under the covered patio in all but freezing conditions but the glowing coals and smell of sizzling meat warmed us all and the general ambiance of good company and shared experiences highlighted the evening and optimized the end of a companionable and most enjoyable experience. All in all we counted 39 species which is not too bad considering the weather.
Although there are many tributes to be sung about this beautiful part of our beloved Overberg, the restriction in terms of the inaccessibility and isolation of this retreat to other nearby birding spots could be a hurdle, in as far as a truly rewarding birding experience is concerned.