I hopped out of the car to open a gate and found sheep waiting to welcome us to their patch of Karoo. The wind whipped the sand across the gravel track. We turned a corner and the farmhouse appeared, a windmill standing near a giant pepper tree on the far side. We were at Bloemhof-Karoo guesthouse near Richmond in South Africa’s Northern Cape Karoo.
The original Bloemhof-Karoo farmhouse, which lies about 25km south of Richmond, was built in the 1880s, then enlarged in the 1930s, when Italian prisoners of war provided the muscle. The Viljoen family bought it in 1911 and sold to heart surgeon Professor Chris Barnard in 1987. ‘He used to visit whenever he could, and stocked the farmland with endangered exotic species like Arabian and scimitar oryx, even bison,’ current owner Jenny Pickard told me. The Pickard family bought the farm in 2001 and Jenny turned Bloemhof-Karoo into a guesthouse in 2014.
Shelves in the passage are packed with books about Karoo cooking, Karoo stories and Karoo history, with a showing by authors like Pauline Smith, Guy Butler, Thomas Pakenham, Deneys Reitz, Lawrence Green, Karel Schoeman and Gustav Preller.
Here in the Karoo, I’d expected the wraparound porch, the windmill, the sound of hens and sheep, a sprinkling of donkeys. What I hadn’t expected was to eat so well. Resident chef Martha Adolf is queen of the kitchen, turning out delicious dishes like tomato soup, venison pie, roast lamb, and malva pudding.
We were stoep-sitting, listening to the sheep moaning in the distance, when farm manager Paul Adolf came rattling by in his bakkie. He asked if we wanted to tag along as he did his rounds. The sheep knew food was on its way and followed him as if he were the Pied Piper. There are also pigs, donkeys, horses, hens and geese on the farm.
We saw beets, carrots and potato plants just poking their heads up above the soil, but depending on the time of year there may be spinach, pumpkin, butternut, watermelon and beans. There’s a small patch under shade-cloth where lettuce and herbs grow, the general idea being to be as sustainable as possible. All the veg are organic; Paul shook his head violently when I asked if he used fertiliser or pesticide.
There’s only so much time you can spend lazing around the fire in winter or sitting in the shade of the stoep in summer. Here are some things to keep you busy.
- Help to feed farm animals like sheep, pigs, donkeys and horses. Great for the kids, who can tag along with farm staff.
- Enjoy the changing seasons. Take a cooling swim in an iron ‘dam’ behind the house on hot summer days, or enjoy a drink by the fireside on cold winter evenings.
- Bring your mountain bike to enjoy bouncing along the farm tracks.
- Ask the staff to take you (and the kids especially) on a donkey-cart ride around the farm. The donkeys, Krampie and Sheepie, will stand quietly for a photo then rattle off at a trot, kicking up dust as they go.
- Indulge in stargazing in the clean, clear Karoo air.
- Go for a game drive on the neighbouring private game reserve to see antelope like eland, hartebeest and gemsbok, as well as a motley crew of Karoo oddities like bison.
- Eat wholesome Karoo farm food, and lots of it.
- Go for a walk along a farm track, across the veld or to Kudu Rock for a view of the surrounding mountains.
- Listen to the wind in the trees, to the sound of farm animals like hens, geese and sheep.
- Visit the town of Richmond about 25km away to enjoy the coffee shops, restaurants, art gallery, bookshops and horse museum. Don’t forget the Boekbedonnerd book festival in October each year.
Note: I was a guest of Bloemhof-Karoo for two nights but was given free reign to write what I chose. I paid for all drinks and travel costs.
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