Oh, sweetie, you’ll need better shoes than that,” warns the white-haired, sweaty hiker, still panting having just exited the rainforest.
I look down on my Birkenstock sandals, “I think I’ll be fine, it’ll only take 30 minutes.” I’ve got this, Old Lady.
Along South Africa’s famous Garden Route is The Khoinania Farm, home to Wild Spirit Backpacker’s Lodge. A stopover for travellers around the world, the lodge is surrounded by indigenous forests, beaches and high mountains of Tsitikamma National Park, Nature’s Valley and Plettenberg Bay. Staying here means you’ll have access to their private nature trails, one that starts right from their Tree House Deck past their fruit farms to end at a waterfall.
The word is there’s a palpable sense of spirituality in these woods – “you just feel it, y’know?” – that the location falls within the “ley lines” of Earth. Hmm, okay, I just want to go for a nature hike. (For the less informed, this means alignments of earth’s land forms that create magnetic fields in vibrating a mystical sense of spirituality in people – let’s call them earth’s chakras or ‘energy lines’.)
After some days of pitter patter – which I’ve loved after weeks of scorching heat in Africa – today, the sun’s finally out to play. Namaste! It’s waterfall time.
Into the woods I go, admiring the whimsical painted rocks and arrows pointing me in the right direction. I feel like a character in a fairytale book, a woman of the woods with my bright, long golden skirt flowing behind me as I frolic and hum about never-ending slithering tree roots that make up parts of the path.
The trek abruptly descends and I unexpectedly find myself practically crawling to get down the craggy river valley.
Yet I can’t help but notice: the deeper I travel, the more beautiful the surroundings become, as if I’m lured in by sirens of the forest. Sky high trees are completely covered in greenery of all textures, like a flamboyant haute couture dress that’s too big for a model.
By now, I’ve stopped elegantly spreading branches out of my way with my fingertips and instead need to intensely grope tree trunks pushing and pulling myself, squatting underneath fallen logs, even sometimes squinting like a princess when invading countless glistening webs. My body shivers each time hoping a creepy crawly didn’t just land on me. The sandals have come off as I’ve now reached a slippery creek, my skirt with pulls from thorns and my tripod suddenly becoming like an explorer’s staff.
Each step a conscious choice, even if it’s a millisecond of examining the near future following each placement of foot on algae-covered rocks, a bed of crackling leaves or the sometimes uncomfortably slimey surface beneath the water to determine the best track.
Then it’s learning to read the rocks by using one foot to test the waters (pun unintended) by tapping them to see if it’s stable enough to be my stepping stone (pun also unintended, but let me have this one). I guess in everyday life, we’re all just trying to do the same thing.
And sometimes we slip. I fall over. Once, then twice, grazing my knees and stubbing my big toes. It’s certainly not the most dangerous trek but gosh, Old Lady was right.
As a solo traveller, when you’re hurt, no one’s there to ask “are you okay?” or lend you a hand to lift you up.
I wonder why it is that most of us say “ouch” only when surrounded by other people, as if to communicate ‘I want you to recognise I’m in pain right now because you should feel sorry for me’ – but it’d sound a bit silly if we said “OUCH!” when no one’s actually watching. When you’re on your own, the pain is entirely your pain, no one else’s.
It’s been an hour.
The rustling of plants, chirping birds from high above and the trickling creek is interrupted by… BZZZZZZZZZ.
Two fat, fuzzy bees zap towards me! I squeeze my eyes shut, my arms swiftly crossed over my face trying to bring my fastening breath inwards to keep my chest still. (Mind you, although I’m outdoorsy, even butterflies and the way they zig zag about make me anxious – don’t ask. The flash-packer, they call me.) Patience. After a dreadful half-minute that felt like five, I slowly open one eye. Clear. Let’s continue.
I haven’t seen those yellow arrows for a while… But these somewhat beaten passageways indicated by unnaturally broken branches and what appears to be footprints every now and again give me hope. It’s a constant push and pull of acknowledging ‘the further I go, the further I need to go back and start again… so maybe I should just turn back now before I’m too far’ and feeling optimistic with such glimpses of hope that energise me to keep going: ‘you might not be on the designated track but you’re on a track’. It’s just a little tough – but only because I didn’t expect it to be.
At what point does a person know their chosen path has reached an end and can’t/shouldn’t continue?
To feel the pressure of the too-big-of-a-risk on the brinks of severe danger knowing its safer to turn back. To drop their ego and accept their failed decision. Or not dropping it at all and power through with optimism – or exhaustion.
Firstly, I don’t like the word “fail” and I think there should be another word for it. Secondly, I think a traveller’s spirit knows the only restriction to reaching the exciting unknown is the mind itself and only the freest of free spirits feels no time is wasted and there’s nothing to lose. They embrace all that is beautiful, confusing and challenging of the entire journey. Maybe there’s no such thing as returning to square rock #1 – just changing course with enlightenment. Or at least never returning as the same person anyway. So the free-spirited traveller follows their intuition and chooses to notice the birds, bees and butterflies along the way – you might as well.
I snap out of nature’s allure and finally admit I indeed took a wrong turn somewhere. Hot, tired and sweating, I gush down my bottled water and look at my watch – urgh. It’s been almost two hours.
I stop for a second and look up and around me.
Green. A wet green with full, flaring ferns surrounding water that’s now almost to my knees – a good sign, right? Mossy rich browns, thick and thin woody vines spiralling over and under, clasping tree trunks with an attachment grown possibly over centuries. An entangled bond of nature so dense that only few sunrays pierce the surface giving this enchanting fade highlighting tiny sparkly things flying about. Stillness. And the soft orchestra of buzzing, whistling and trickling. I gulp. Nature, I think, is the world’s greatest art.
So I do what everyone else would (should?) do. I unload my gear on a big boulder, unwrap my skirt and fully remove my swimmers revealing a warm body yearning to touch the freshwater… How often are you in the middle of the jungle by yourself?
Sitting in the creek with my eyes shut, I cup my hands with cool water and run them over my bare shoulders allowing a fluid magic to fall down my tingling spine.
I take a long, deep breath. The air, I can breathe.
Then I meditate the most beautiful meditation, igniting a force field around me. Am I really saying this? Yes, I just felt utterly connected. A part of it, y’know?
If I don’t make it to the waterfall today, I can always go back and try again tomorrow. Perhaps a good idea to take someone with me this time.
After some minutes… Voices?
My ears twitch, my eyes open. I mustn’t be too far.
I continue – clothed – down my trek and finally stop at an intersecting shallow river. I turn left in the opposite flowing direction of the water as the hike slowly ascends and the gushing gets louder. These promising signs energise me more, but never once did the sceptic human brain allow the fear of becoming more lost truly disappear.
Then to my excitement… A man-made stack of rocks! A wave of relief from head to toe melts my soul for now I know I’m not too lost after all.
Never have I ever so intently, carefully placed one rock atop the pile built by explorers before me. I look at it proudly like the jenga queen, and cock my head sideways. There behind lies a small rock-pool with a wee waterfall – okay, the “fall” no higher than a metre. I quietly squeal – a reward, all just for me! I plunge into my perfectly sculptured private pool engrossed in lush foliage, like that of which five-star hotels build at the back of bungalow suites. Except this is the real deal.
Looking beyond me, I see a succession of even more pools.
The voices get louder – someone’s coming.
Bonnie and the boys from the lodge appear, casually walking around me up towards the water source.
“Hey Tiffany!” she shouts.
“Hey!” I splash out and smile.
“Um, what are you doing? The bigger one’s over there!”
I ooze myself back into my mini sanctuary and pop my head out with a grin. “It’s okay, I’ll just stay here for a second.”
I finally reach the main attraction. The 80m high waterfall is a little dried up but it’s subtly gorgeous, the way the dense forest canopy magically opens up here to let the sun drench the small lake and all its visitors below it.
I think I like my waterfall better.
I perch myself up on a log next to the crew and truly relax.
“Well at least you’ve made it!” says Bonnie, laughing about my story.
“Sorry guys, I took the scenic route.”
Walking back to Wild Spirit – the correct way – I laugh out loud at how utterly easy the not-even-20-minutes route is.
I even see the sign at the corner I missed but somehow side-tracked down to the base of the waterfall and hiked upwards instead. I shake my head and smile. Oh, Tiff.
Arriving at the Tree House Deck, I pour myself a steaming English Breakfast with fresh farm milk and stand there with soaked hair and warm palms. I take my first sip of accomplishment while looking out over the very mountains that hold my little adventure.
“How was the waterfall?” the dreadlocked ‘Earth Angel’ (volunteers at the lodge) behind the bar asks.
I turn around, “You have no idea…” I respond, describing my escapade.
“Oh, no way! That’s the trail I take our dog out hunting with a pellet gun in the mornings to ward off the cheeky baboons from here.” He laughed.
“Wait a minute… So you’re telling me… I trekked the BABOON TRAIL?” I said.
“Didn’t you notice how the passageways are only small enough to fit a…”
“Right… Those damn broken branches.”
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For more information on the Garden Route, check out the official South African Tourism page.
HOW TO BOOK
Dorms, en-suite double and family rooms are located within three double-storey garden cottages from R130-R1200/night. You can also opt for camping with your own tent (R80) or sleeping in their pre-pitched safari tents (R300). Check out their Accommodation page for more details, as well as info on guest facilities and meals. To enquire, fill out their contact form.
HOW TO GET THERE
Wild Spirit Backpacker’s Lodge is located between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth along the Garden Route.
- By Car – Many people rent cars (Avis, Budget, Hertz) to explore spectacular South Africa as it’s convenient and fairly cheap. Wild Spirit is located 3km along the R102 Nature’s Valley Road, just off the N2. The N2 junction with the R102 Nature’s Valley is located at The Crags, 13km west of the Tsitsikamma Toll Gate and 20km east of Plettenberg Bay. Once you are on the R102, look on the left for the large brown sign to Khoinania/Wild Spirit. GPS Address: -33° 56′ 51.58″, +23° 31′ 14.35″.
- By Coach – Reputable bus companies Intercape and Greyhound will take you on an 8-9 hour journey to Plettenberg Bay (R350-550), 20 minutes from the lodge. You can then arrange for Wild Spirit to pick you up for roughly R150.
- By The Baz Bus – South Africa’s hop-on hop-off door-to-door backpacker’s bus service arrives daily directly at Wild Spirit. You can check out their varied travel passes and timetables here.
The perfect base for exploring Nature’s Valley Beach and Lagoon, nature walks, canoeing and kayaking, eating at the quaint Farm Stall, and plenty more! Check out Wild Spirit’s Activities page for a full list of stuff to do.