We’ve been staying at the Wild Spirit Lodge in Nature’s Valley for the past few days. It’s on the border of the Tstisikamma National Park in a beautiful remote part of the forest. Hard to believe it’s only 25 minutes from Plettenberg Bay.
We were a little unsure what to expect from this place at first – the reviews mentioned’tree-hugging’ a few too many times and we’d heard that the place used to be a hippy commune. It’s still a working farm nowadays but the ‘community’ element has been replaced with a backpackers lodge.
The main dining area is in a tree house style deck outside of the lodge with the most incredible panoramic views over the mountains and forest. Food is served out on the deck family style, delicious hearty portions of homemade butternut soup and lentil curry.
There’s a big campfire, a stash of didgeridoos and a secret waterfall (ice cold, Jamie braved it but I wimped out). The whole place just has this magical, fairy tale, enchanted woodland feel to it.
We’re staying in one of the pre-pitched safari tents – so much better than a normal room and great value too. Every night we fall asleep to the sound of insects chirping and monkeys calling in the distance and in the morning the birds make such a racket that we’re up by seven. The only downside is that the forest insects clearly aren’t too happy that we’ve invaded their territory and keep trying to claim it back. Both of us are now covered in mosquito bites and I’ve seen some very suspicious looking spiders.
But the most interesting thing about this place is the people it attracts. We’ve met people from all around the world here, some just passing through and others staying longer to work or volunteer on the farm. One guy is hitch hiking all the way from South Africa to Mozambique and has picked up some fascinating stories along the way, another is a video game designer who is preparing to leave Cape Town on a boat for four months of isolation in Tristan Da Cuhna (?!). Mariella, a lovely German girl we met here, has been staying on the Wild Coast for the last few weeks where she found and adopted an abandoned baby chick. It was a case of raise it herself or leave it to die, so she’s now taking it along on her adventures with her.
But most interesting of all is Jenny, Wild Spirit’s owner, who told us her story one night after dinner. In the eighties, aged 26, Jenny was preparing to emigrate from South Africa to Scotland to join a community farm. In her own words, she couldn’t cope with the apartheid era and felt she had done all she could as a young white woman to protest. The day before she was due to leave, she was having her hair cut and her hairdresser told her about this beautiful deserted farm in the heart of the Garden Route. He told her he had an uncanny feeling that she would own the property one day. Despite never having had any intention of running a farm, she went to view it, fell in love and told the sellers that, one day, when she had enough money, she’d buy it.
She left for Scotland anyway, but always had the idea of buying the farm in the back of her head. A year later, she raised enough money and returned to buy it. Since then, Jenny has built the place into a successful working farm and ‘travelling community’. Over the years, it’s been everything from a hippy commune, a secret meeting for anti-apartheid groups, the headquarters of a campaign to save the Garden Route from over development and, now, a thriving backpacker hostel and volunteer/conservation centre. It’s also home to five dogs (two puppies, yay!!), five cats, two horses and a chicken who sits on the counter of the communal kitchen and keeps an eye on things.
The whole place is also influenced by the people who’ve come and gone over the years. One of the tables in the restaurant is a beautiful gruffalo themed mural painted by one of Jenny’s friends, interspersed with paw prints from the cats when they were kittens. A French architect who was staying at the hostel is helping Jenny design a new six metre high, multi-level tree house.
Pierre, the architect, was also given the more unusual task of designing a portable chicken coop.
Jamie, myself and Leila, an American girl we met at the hostel, were heading out for a full day hike. Mariella, the German girl with the baby chick, wanted to come too but couldn’t find someone to ‘chick-sit’ so Pierre created her a portable box and the four of us, plus chick, headed off on our hike. Not sure it would have been the chick’s first choice activity, but, given it refuses to be left alone, Mariella thought it could probably cope.
The hike itself was absolutely beautiful. Jenny described it to us as the ‘garden route in a nutshell’. We started off winding our way through the fynbos in the dry heat at the top of the mountain, before slowly working our way down to the stream at the bottom of the valley. along paths lined with huge, ancient Yellow Wood trees. The path emerges into a lagoon, takes you across a wide, sandy, deserted beach, over some rugged black rocks and down into a beautiful little cove where we had a short swim to cool down (short because Jenny told us it was a shark feeding area…eeek!).
Six very hot, very beautiful hours later we climbed the mountain again and got back to Wild Spirit.
When we got back we were treated to a trip out to Sun Rock, a large flat rock right on the edge of a gorge overlooking the sunset. The guys from the hostel took us out and told us it ‘wasn’t too far, around 1km’. Twenty very bumpy minutes and one very muddy car later we arrived. The views were stunning and we all settled down with a beer to watch the sunset (spoilt slightly by the fact that the bridge and height were giving me pre-bungee nightmares). The beautiful sunset quickly turned into an absolutely incredible lightning storm. Too far away to bother us, but close enough to provide an epic backdrop to our evening in the middle of nowhere.
A truly magical place and hard to tear ourselves away but the temperature was picking up and the coast was calling.. on to Jeffrey’s Bay!