Shortly after checking in at Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge I sat on the tree house deck admiring the afternoon light and shadow play on the flanks of the Outeniqua Mountains. Peter asked me, “Do you see the dark places? That’s where the Mountain Men light their fires.” I was smitten.
Jen’s father Peter, almost 92, is known as Grandpa to everybody who visits Wild Spirit in Nature’s Valley, South Africa. A place built from Jen’s dream of Khoinania, communion by intimate participation. More than just a place to stay, a concept flourishes that all who visit absorb and take with them to share along their journey through life.
After Jen graduated from college she decided to immigrate to Scotland’s Findhorn. On a visit home she shared her dream with family and friends about creating a conscious community. A friend told her about a farm for sale in Nature’s Valley and when she visited knew this was the place. What started with a group of like-minded friends grew into a family operation that involves everyone in the community, resident and visitor alike.
Peter and his late wife helped buy the Khoinania farm in 1978. Jen and husband along with daughter Ola and her partner keep the motivation going along with help from many volunteers.
Very eco-minded with facilities for recycling, a cold water outdoor shower, and reduced water eco-toilets. Hot water showers also available but please use the bucket to catch the water that would go down the drain and use it to flush the toilet.
Being so close to the ocean allows for some innovative natural decorating with the gathered driftwood.
For special nights dressing up is encouraged and there’s a room with some pretty interesting selections of donated clothing from travelers around the world. You can also purchase items that you like.
More than just a place to stay
What you will find here is community. Travelers from around the world meet and mingle. I met young folks from Germany, Sweden and Argentina and seniors from France. The Baz Bus, a backpackers bus service throughout much of South Africa, stops here. You can volunteer in exchange for board and lodging for up to 3 months while learning how to give selfless service. It’s all about energy exchange!
In touch with nature
A magical place filled with positive energy from every person, plant, animal, rock and water. Several short hikes on the property allow visitors to get in touch with nature, and themselves. The Big Tree trail led me to Mama Yellowwood where I just sat for a while absorbing the ancient knowledge of this 900 year old more than a tree.
One day of my stay a steady fall of female rain kept me and most guests under cover. I sat working on my computer in the common room where WIFI is available and rejoiced in the watering of Mother Earth. I truly appreciated this restful day.
The next morning, with raindrops still clinging to the forest foliage filled with many small wonders, I hiked to the waterfall. Freshness filled the air. I took extra care climbing over wet rocks and across the little bridge. Ola advised not to be fooled by the first tiny falls as just beyond flows a larger waterfall with a pool perfect for soaking. I did get off trail returning but the little people of the forest set me back on track.
A few miles away from Wild Spirit a longer trail provides access to the beach. I didn’t make that trek this time but other visitors reported a magical experience through the forest.
Accommodations & meals
Wild Spirit offers a variety of sleeping accommodations from private room, dorm, tent space and a tree-house. I stayed in my own room with full bath in the Owl House which also had another private room downstairs, more upstairs plus a common area that can be used for four additional people and a little porch to enjoy the view of the Outenquia Mountains.
The original farmhouse has a community kitchen that includes three stoves, two refrigerators, a big table, cupboards for dry food storage, dishes and such, and a cleanup area. Guests write their names on food packaging to avoid confusion. Interesting to see what various meals are put together by the multi-cultural collection of cooks.
And if you don’t feel like cooking signup for breakfast or dinner at reception. Meals vary depending on who’s cooking. Served buffet style choices always include vegetarian and meat-eater options. I was impressed and often returned for seconds. Plus a neighbor employed as the night man brought home-made desert. Hot water, coffee, tea and farm fresh milk are available all day. What could be better than good food and good company?
The Night Owl Bar offers a variety of beverages for those hanging out over diverse conversations in many different languages as travelers share their stories.
Plus just down the road the local dairy sells fresh milk—bring your own container—and hand-crafted cheeses plus home-made jams, fresh bread, cake, rusks and frozen meat and pies. I had a toasted pesto, cheese and tomato sandwich which I’m now duplicating at home. And several times I treated myself to their milkshakes.
Wild Spirit even offers laundry services.
Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge provides a great base for many nearby experiences and shopping in The Crags. I posted a few places planned to visit and filled the little rental car with travelers who weren’t driving.
Monkeyland offers sanctuary and rehabilitation for multi-species of primates. Not my most comfortable tour between the mosquitos—only place I experienced them in all of South Africa—and the limited habitat.
Birds of Eden allows self-guide in a giant natural-habitat aviary with multi-level boardwalks and trails plus scattered benches that I wish I’d had more time to enjoy.
Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre accepts injured or abandoned wild animals not displaying the animals under rehabilitation. Although humbling to be in the close presence of African wild cats with competent guides this tour proved to be a little too Hollywood for me.
There’s also a nearby Elephant Sanctuary which I decided to pass on. Although I support rehabilitation for animals and hope the tour fees support these efforts, seeing or even being with them in cages breaks my heart. I much rather enjoy wildlife in the wild.
If you treasure local made I recommend The Mill. I made a beeline for the Mohair Shop and bought socks, a hand-woven queen-size blanket and six skeins of hand-spun mohair to mix with the African silk I bought on my previous visit. If I had more space or more luggage I could have picked out ceramics, sun-dyed textiles, leather products, beads, liquor (OK so I bought some of that) and even furniture. I did pet the goats.
I was perfectly happy just being at Wild Spirit yet my favorite time away was spent with other guests along with an employee and her daughter at the Nature’s Valley Tsitsikamma beach.
We made a deal before I ever left home, exchanging accommodation for writing/blogging/posts/links. I’d emailed with Ola. In fact I’d previously read about someone’s delighted experience staying at Wild Spirit. Now I know why. After staying three days I left to meet Jo in Knysna then backtracked to Tsitsikamma National Park at Storms River and returned to Wild Spirit for two more days. Even the rainy day was wonderful, peaceful and quiet. A fire burned in the common room. People seemed to almost walk on tiptoes. The rain brought blessing.
Wild Spirit is all about the energy, positive, exchanging and peaceful all at the same time. Dogs and cats may welcome you and if you can’t find the reception area to check in just ask anybody you see. Maybe that will be me during my next visit.
Does this look like a place you’d like to stay?
Although Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge provided my overnight accommodations at no charge I paid for meals and all the opinions in this piece are my own.
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