A trail that accentuates the value of wilderness

cooking potBy Rob Symons

I am in the fortunate position to be an Organic Farmer who is very involved in the campaign to save the iMfolozi Wilderness from a coal mine. So let me digress for a while from the usual subjects of the Farm Gate and speak instead from the Wilderness.

In January I went on a trail with the Wilderness Leadership School. I was with a group of eight, some of whom were colleagues from the Global Environmental Trust, the NGO leading the fight against the coal mine. The trail is efficiently organised and well-equipped, but the part that surprised me was the food.

I was aware of the difficulties in packing decent food, to be carried in backpacks through the bush in a Zululand summer. Obviously being trail food there was plenty of packaged food that you would normally find on the supermarket shelves. But there was an unexpected proportion that was fresh.

Our guides, Mandla and Sipho, were truly amazing in the skills they demonstrated. Not only did they guide us safely through a primeval wilderness, but they made sure we left no trace of our passage – one of the tenets of the Wilderness Leadership School. The whole concept is wrapped up in one isiZulu word, hlonipa (respect).

As one walks through the Wilderness, one respects the animals, plants and land. When we made camp for the night, we slept under the stars without any structures.

All cooking and brewing of tea was done over a wood fire constructed from carefully selected dry wood. No trees were cut. The fire was made to consume the least amount of wood. That fire had to be kept alive all night. One of the features of this trail was the night watch. Each of us had to spend an hour on our own tending to the fire and patrolling the camp site. This was a profound and meaningful experience.


I had been apprehensive about the quality of the water we would have on trail. This was not the Drakensberg, with its clear mountain streams, but Zululand with the slow winding iMfolozi river. I had imagined the foul taste of water purifying tablets, but what we got instead was incredible. Mandla showed us how to collect pure clean water from the iMfolozi by digging in the river sand and letting it filter the water.

At dusk Mandla would start to prepare the evening meal. With just two pots, a small fire and humble ingredients, he produced some of the most enjoyable meals I have had. A competent cook and the Wilderness had combined to create magic. There is a quality of wilderness that cuts out all the trappings of so-called civilization and reduces experience to primal sensuousness.


By the third day of the trail all of us had remarked that our senses had become more acute. I was never unpleasantly hungry or thirsty, just more aware of my needs.

The value of wilderness is many faceted, but through this experience I realised it has immense value to our human psyche. It has the effect of humbling our perspective and leading us to appreciate the basics of life.

We cannot lose this special place. To do so would be to lose our souls.

Please support the Save our iMfolozi Wilderness campaign.

This article appeared in the ‘Farm Gate’ column, of the FOODetc supplement to the Mercury on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 and in Verdant Life.

One Comment

  1. Nice hike … South Africa truly has some special wild places!

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