Wild Spirit Backpackers
Top Pick: Eco Accommodation, Nature’s Valley
Deep in the indigenous forest bordering Tsitsikamma National Park, flanked by the Tsitsikamma Mountain Range and half way along the famous Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, lies the magical Wild Spirit Backpackers, a family-run backpackers lodge that puts the eco back into tourism.
Wild Spirit Backpackers Quick Facts
Accommodation type: Backpackers with self-catering and catering, camping and private en-suites
Where: 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.
GPS Coordinates: S 33 56 51.58 E 023 31 14.35
Sleeps: Singles to families
Rates: Dorms from R100 a night to R400 (sleeps two). Camping from R60
Safari tent R 260 a night and six-sleeper family units from R700 a night
Secure Parking: Yes
Green in Africa Eco-rating: 3/5
+27 (0)44 534 8888 or +27 (0)82 828 8008
Eco Accommodation at Wild Spirit Backpackers
Three double-storey garden cottages, shaded by giant trees, offer spacious, bunk-free, dorm accommodation for up to 8 people in comfortable single beds. Each spotlessly clean room has en-suite bathroom facilities and a sun deck for the most spectacular sunset views.
The newest addition to the family is the converted stone barn fondly known as the love barn. The first building to be completely off-the-grid, the old barn is uniquely decorated with poems and beautiful hand-painted drawings depicting peace and love, sleeping up to 12 in single beds.
Couples can choose the immaculate double and twin rooms, each with a deck to take advantage of those same incredible views and most with en-suite bathrooms. There’s also a six-sleeper family room and a Safari tent equipped with two single beds, fresh linen and lighting - or you can pitch your own tent under the stars for a more affordable option.
People care, earth care, fair share at Wild Spirit Backpackers
Apart from its location, what makes Wild Spirit special is the care of the owners. The Lawson family have run Khoinania Farm, on which the backpackers is based, for over 30 years, and Wild Spirit is an extension of the same love they have for the land.
Everything at Wild Spirit finds a home, from weary travellers to old car seats (enjoying a new lease on life as comfy deck seating).
This same care extends to the environment. With a goal of gradually going completely off the grid, Wild Spirit holds upcycling workshops and encourages guests to compost, recycle and conserve water.
I especially loved the bathroom basin - cleverly positioned above the toilet, guests washing their hands also fill up the tank, and this soapy water is then used to flush.
Many of these ideas can be attributed to Ola Lawrence, who attended a permaculture design course at the Karoo training centre Berg-en-dal, and has applied much of her skills to the backpackers.
She’s starting a permaculture garden (yes, fresh veggies for your meals) and replacing alien wattle with an indigenous food forest - which is why guests can chop alien wood in exchange for a free supper.
If manual labour isn’t your thing, you can also sing for your supper (assuming that the experience would be a pleasant one). They also take in regular volunteers, a must for the many guests who struggle to leave.
You can make your own food or enjoy the communal dinner - with tasty vegetarian options and regular meat -free nights (and trust me, the food is so delicious you wouldn’t feel like you were missing anything!).
Reconnecting with nature at Wild Spirit Backpackers
Aside from the starlight nights, an evening at Wild Spirit is an unforgettable experience, with regular drum circles, themed nights and live music.
There’s free wifi for the terminally connected, but if you really want to make the most of what Wild Spirit has to offer, put away the electronics and look around you.
There’s no better place to connect with nature - hiking trails through the forest to a translucent waterfall, an ancient yellowwood tree, the steep canyon at Bobbejaanskloof (baboon’s mountain).
A free shuttle that takes you to the Garden Route National Park for more meandering trails through forests, dunes and beaches - with the chance to spot whales, fish eagles and some of South Africa’s distinctive fynbos, while longer multi-day hikes can be arranged (including the world-famous Otter Trail).
Meditate or do yoga in the fully-equipped yoga room, canoe or kayak (free canoes for guests) lagoons and rivers, relax on the nearby beaches or get your adrenaline up with a bungee jump at Bloukrans, the world’s highest jump.
Or just relax at the lodge, mingling with the multi-cultural array of visitors and learning how best to live the Wild Spirit way - truly in harmony with nature.
What makes Wild Spirit Backpackers green?
Walking around Wild Spirit you might notice the signs encouraging you to save water or recycle, the upcycling centre and shop where you can buy crafts and second-hand goods, or the solar jars thoughtfully dotted around.
These gentle reminders serve to get people thinking about the environment and what simple measures we can implement to protect it.
There’s also the stone barn that’s completely off the grid and the model eco building. Slowly, but surely, the Lawson family is converting the lodge into a more sustainable solution.
They use biodegradable, earth-friendly products and a greywater system where kitchen and bathroom water goes straight into the garden. However, given that some guests use their own products, they’re planning to put in a reed bed to filter any dangerous chemicals.
Rainwater will be captured in big tanks made of ferrocement ( a reinforced concrete that’s super thin, low cost and carbon-friendly usually built around a chicken wire frame). They’ve even designed a biogas digester that will eat all the backpacker’s organic waste and turn it into energy!
Ola is keen to share her knowledge: “We want our guests to be able to walk around and learn about the environment, what kind of trees surround them and why they’re important, how swales capture and retain water, while allowing them to experience first-hand what it means to be off the grid.
It’s a relaxed environment: we’re not forcing anyone into anything or bombarding them with information (or hippie-bashing them), we just want to share some of our passion! And from the comments in the guest book it’s been really successful, people love that we’re just a family trying to be eco-friendly”.
Guests who are interested can also attend workshops, and there’s numerous guest speakers coming to offer healing programmes, dance, yoga, reiki, massage and gardening (one day, they’ll even offer mini-PDCs).
Of course, that’s just a small part of the vision. A donkey boiler will soon be used to heat water (burning up that pesky alien wattle), and compost toilets are being built for guest ablutions.
There’s the clearing of alien wattle and pine and establishing a permaculture food forest in its place (merging indigenous trees with fruit and nut trees for a constant source of food) and they plan to build Khoi rondavels in the forest out of wattle, clay and upcycled materials like bottles and plastic.
“Wherever you are, you can be making small steps. Whether it’s growing micro greens, sprouting and composting in your kitchen, or vertical gardening on your balcony. So start with yourself, then your family, your community and the broader environment," said Ola.
Sharing the love - Social Upliftment at Wild Spirit Backpackers
Social upliftment is a high priority at Wild Spirit, which is deeply involved with the community. The Khanyisa Life Skills Trainings is one core project, where sixteen Grade 7 learners from Crags Primary School in Kurland Village are taken camping for four weekends every year.
Here they are taught valuable life skills including conflict resolution, decision making and dealing with grief. Activities include nature walks, art and yoga and are vital for children whose community is riddled with violence, HIV/AIDS and a number of other social and economic ills.
Find out more about Wild Spirit's Projects.
Volunteering at Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge
Ola firmly believes in the principles behind volunteering and there is a lot you can do while at Wild Spirit.
In exchange for a bit of gardening, alien vegetation clearing, digging, assistance with renovations, cooking or even artwork, you can get supper on the house.
For those with a bit more time (at least a month) you can find out about the Earth Angel project - where volunteers get involved with longer-term projects such as community work, bar/reception and even kitchen work! Find out more.
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