wild spirit south africa
By Alicia Erickson, Epicure & Culture contributor

Welcome to Wild Spirit, a forest home and sustainable retreat in South Africa for creative spirits.

As I sat on a bench overlooking the deep green swallows of the Tsitsikamma National Forest, I breathed in the morning dew clinging to these hallowed trees one last time.

A lingering sadness hung over me that morning, knowing it was time to move on from this sacred piece of land.

At least for now.

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A Sustainable Retreat In South Africa

Over the past week, Wild Spirit, a guesthouse along South Africa’s Garden Route.

Seriously, if you’re looking for incredible places to visit in South Africa, you won’t want to miss this.

The property’s coveted wilderness had become so much more than a place to sleep.

Wild Spirit’s expansive property — abundant in paths traversing dense land and waterfalls, forest meditation spots, treehouses, and more — invited in contemplative walks, creative inspiration, and meditation and yoga practices in its space.

The quiet magic had seeped into my routine and my realm of familiarity, embedding itself as part of my ethos; serving as a place of learning and introspection.

at wild spirit overlooking the mountains
A bench, and favorite reading and sunset spot, at Wild Spirit overlooking the mountains. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson

On my first night at Wild Spirit, I sat huddled beneath a blanket in front of a roasting fire while the rain poured relentlessly outside.

Grey skies above damp forests was not the scene I had in mind for my road trip through South Africa’s Garden Route, a stretch of land spanning from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape.

The route is named for its rich biodiversity of plants and flowers, a little slice of paradise huddled between forested mountains and the Indian Ocean. When planning a visit to Africa, it’s highly recommended to add this to your itinerary.

Have you visited #SouthAfrica's #GardenRoute? This guesthouse & #retreat is a reason to visit in itself! Click to Tweet

Earlier that afternoon, after cruising through mountain passes and driving along the coast, I came across an almost-deserted lagoon in Nature’s Valley, just below Wild Spirit.

The sun reflected off of pools of water that extended out into steep cliffs, with powerful waves crashing onto wide swaths of sandy shore.

Without warning, the waves had all but swallowed up my camera.

Heavy rains soon followed, dampening my mood, as I arrived at Wild Spirit.

lagoon at Nature's Valley South Africa
The lagoon, reflecting shades of blue and red, at Nature’s Valley. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson

However, it was the rain that drew all guests into the living room on my first evening at Wild Spirit to listen to Jenny, the owner and heart of the guesthouse.

And it was this sequence of events that shifted my stay in a way I never could have foreseen.

Jenny’s presence that night had a way of captivating her audience, regardless of background or age.

When she spoke, a silence fell through the room.

A lick of fate brought these circumstances on this dreary March evening together, just as a lick of fate brought Jenny to find the property of Wild Spirit in the first place many years before.

cats at wild spirit south africa
Two of the many fury friends at Wild Spirit, lounging in the afternoon sun. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson.

History Of Wild Spirit South Africa

In the late 1970s, Jenny — an optimistic advocate with a determination to make on imprint on her country — had become disenchanted with her ability to make a substantial change as a white, 20-something-year-old woman in South Africa.

She was on her way to Scotland to study meditation when an unexpected opportunity arose.

At a hair appointment in Johannesburg, Jenny learned about the availability of a special piece of land somewhere along the Garden Route.

The week she was leaving for Scotland, she drove over 1,000 kilometers in search of this piece of land sandwiched somewhere in between Plettenburg Bay and the Crags.

With a bit of help and some luck, Jenny found the property and shortly thereafter purchased the land that Wild Spirit stands on today, along South Africa’s Garden Route.

By the way, the Garden Route is a 300-km stretch of South Africa’s southwestern coast, reaching from the Western to the Eastern Cape.

The route is situated between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean.

Lagoons, lakes, forests, and wetlands dot the coastline.

The Evolution Of Wild Spirit

Throughout the course of my stay at Wild Spirit — which I extended from a few nights to over a week — Jenny and I exchanged conversations over tea in the living room, at dinner, on her veranda, and on swims in the nearby lagoon.

Pieces of her journey with Wild Spirit unfolded over this week as I watched Jenny in the space she had so carefully cultivated; with her children and grandchildren, her rescued dogs, with the guests, and in the abundant nature she held so dearly.

She simply is illuminated by the space around her, and in turn, she also illuminates Wild Spirit.

Over a year after the purchase of the property of Wild Spirit, Jenny moved to the property and with the help of others, opened a lodge for travelers.

Thirteen months later, the lodge fell apart, weighed down by the differences of the various owners.

Jenny spent several months on the farm alone, meditating on whether or not to keep or sell the land, eventually coming to the conclusion that she was tied to the land and would reopen the lodge on her own.

Views from Wild Spirit over the mountains and thick vegetation of Tsitsikama National Forest
Views from Wild Spirit over the mountains and thick vegetation of Tsitsikama National Forest. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson

Environmental Advocacy

Across the decades, Wild Spirit has been witness to some of the most tumultuous cycles of South African history.

Jenny has stood in defense of the land, the property, and the South African people, respecting the local culture.

During the apartheid era, all guests regardless of ethnicity were welcomed at Wild Spirit.

Before the age of the internet, the lodge’s reputation was spread by word of mouth, attracting travelers from Europe, the UK, and beyond.

During an era in which the complex ecosystems of the Garden Route were threatened, Jenny stood as a staunch advocate in defense of the protection of plant and animal species.

If you love #SustainableTravel and staying at #EthicalAccommodation, you must check out this incredible guesthouse in #SouthAfrica! Click to Tweet

Upon finding tortoises that had been decimated in Plettenberg Bay, Jenny’s role in the defense of the Garden Route deepened.

This sad circumstance was a consequence of bulldozers from international developers coming through to build new hotels and holiday apartments on the bay.

The following week, Jenny published a story with photos of the turtles, making headlines.

This event launched a three-year-long stint in which Jenny poured her energy into campaigning against the development of the region.

She went directly to the South African Minister of Environment and petitioned against the development of the Garden Route and subsequent destruction of endangered plant and animal species.

Jenny also created and implemented an educational program on environmental protection for local schools.

The campaign — on both the local and national levels — was highly successful.

Jenny’s efforts succeeded in curbing the exploitation of the Garden Route, preserving its diverse ecosystem and species, while also safeguarding it from over-tourism.

crashing waves along a hike in Robberg Nature Reserve
Views over crashing waves along a hike in Robberg Nature Reserve. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson.

Wild Spirit South Africa Today

Over the years, Wild Spirit has evolved as a business model.

The property went from being a seasonal guesthouse when it first opened, to a retreat center, and now to a hostel over the past decade.

Through the years, Jenny has hosted environmental activism workshops and environmental camps for students from different economic and cultural backgrounds.

Wild Spirit’s offerings are diverse and fluid, creating a space much deeper than a typical guesthouse.

Open land extends deep into the forest, where travelers can camp.

Simple cabins both in the form of dorms and private rooms are available, as well.

For travelers looking to stay awhile, one can join the team as a volunteer, teach yoga or meditation, or learn about farming, among other opportunities for an extended stay.

The property is plentiful with benches, tree houses, and other structures that have been created over the years as places to read, meditate, exchange ideas, and simply gaze into the surrounding forest. Small trails lead from the property down into the forest and to a waterfall.

Through these expansive areas, one is free to explore and become acquainted with the offerings of Wild Spirit.

Beyond the offerings of the property itself, one can venture down to the lagoon in Nature’s Valley, embark on longer hikes through the Crags and Robberg National Park, explore the up-and-coming vineyards in Plettenberg Bay (South Africa has incredible wine regions), and visit small community farms abundant in local produce, cheeses, and other delicacies.

Plettenberg Bay vineyards
Plettenberg Bay vineyards, around the corner from Wild Spirit and a perfect spot for a glass of wine on a sunny– or rainy– day. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson.

Events At Wild Spirit

Over the course of the year, Wild Spirit hosts numerous events.

Perhaps the most well-known is the celebration over New Year’s, known as the Festival of Friends.

This is a multiple-day, conscious and collaborative event brought to life with performance and visual artists, music, and more.

Have you heard of #WildSpirit in #SouthAfrica and its #FestivalOfFriends? Just one of many reasons to visit! Click to Tweet

On March 21st, 2019, Wild Spirit celebrated its 40th anniversary on the fall equinox. The anniversary was a time to commemorate the shift of season in the Western Cape and a time to commemorate the many cycles of life to which Wild Spirit has been the backdrop.

Above anything else, Jenny works tirelessly to preserve the dignity of the land and the people in this slice of the Garden Route.

Sustainable Living Along South Africa’s Garden Route

Her deepest intention is to keep Wild Spirit open as a home for creative individuals, bringing musicians, artists, and writers together to draw inspiration from the forest, the mountains, the ocean, and the omnipresent energy from the land surrounding Wild Spirit.

wild spirit south africa
Little details at Wild Spirit. A welcome sign to a meditation and sunset treehouse. Photo taken by Alicia Erickson

On this delicate land along the coast of the Western Cape, travelers come together to inspire, to create, to explore, and to simply be still.

And thus the ethos of Wild Spirit becomes self-evident:

A place of sustainable, low-impact, and intentional living.

Sitting on the veranda of her private home, neighboring the guest area of Wild Spirit, Jenny radiates when reminiscing on the many lives Wild Spirit has endured.

“This land is a space, a canvas from which I create and implement my life’s calling,” she muses.

Jenny has created a colorful, intentional masterpiece that continues to evolve with the ebbs and flow of time.

Have you visited Wild Spirit, a sustainable retreat along South Africa’s Garden Route?

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Alicia Erickson

Alicia grew up as a third culture kid, a lifestyle that influenced her immensely. She is currently a digital nomad based between Seattle, East and Southern Africa, and India, where she follows her curiosity everywhere from the deep depths of the ocean, to local wine farms, to remote Maasai villages. Through her love of indigenous design, she seeks to build relationships between ethical online businesses and artisans in vulnerable communities. She also plays the roles of political analyst, yoga teacher, and writer. Her insatiable thirst for travel inspires her writing and drives her to seek out off-the beaten path destinations, sustainable travel, food culture, and stories of places that have yet to be told. She’s as addicted to the stirrings of the mountains as she is to the expanse of the savannah and can almost always be found with a glass of wine in hand.

Alicia Erickson

Alicia grew up as a third culture kid, a lifestyle that influenced her immensely. She is currently a digital nomad based between Seattle, East and Southern Africa, and India, where she follows her curiosity everywhere from the deep depths of the ocean, to local wine farms, to remote Maasai villages.

Through her love of indigenous design, she seeks to build relationships between ethical online businesses and artisans in vulnerable communities. She also plays the roles of political analyst, yoga teacher, and writer.

Her insatiable thirst for travel inspires her writing and drives her to seek out off-the beaten path destinations, sustainable travel, food culture, and stories of places that have yet to be told. She’s as addicted to the stirrings of the mountains as she is to the expanse of the savannah and can almost always be found with a glass of wine in hand.

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15 Comments

  1. Very interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. Great photos.

  2. Inspirational reading! You describe an unusual trip / stay at Wild Spirit!

  3. Bernadette Shiels

    This is truly inspirational, I want to know more. I got my own ideas but like what I saw here. Let’s exchange ideas…

  4. Hi there,
    I have not stayed at Wild Spirit but I have been to South Africa – Cape Town. We went there two years ago to dive with the great whites and loved it! I can’t wait to return and do more on the east side of South Africa. Nikki

  5. it is my favourite route. Thanks for nice article

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