The hum of the wilderness that called me back

 
 
 

This is the last truly wild region of the Eastern Cape. From steep slopes to rushing rivers, the Groendal Nature Reserve is lush and untamed. It’s the only legally proclaimed wilderness area in the province. Within the large park is an abundance of trails teeming with life. Each step leads visitors further along paths of awe. For John Coetzee, it’s what called him home after years abroad. “I think Groendal was everything I had missed about South Africa,” he says.

Away from the buzz of daily life, the call of birds, chirping insects, and trickling streams fill the air. “The closer you get, the more chilled you feel,” Coetzee says. Hiking through the woodland brings small details into focus, from a reptile camouflaged against a tree to the soft brush of leaves. “Being in Groendal is an explosion of senses because everything is clean, the air is clear,” Coetzee says. On these trails, he has the time to notice the rich surrounds. These moments of stillness are revitalising. “When I’m here, all the trouble just fades away,” Coetzee says. “A few hours of hiking and I feel completely energised.”

The reserve lies below the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, 20 kilometres outside of Uitenhage. These hills are a reminder of our relationship with the landscape. Walks through the wilderness reveal views of the extensive Groendal Dam, as well as ancient San art etched on the rocks. “We forget how much nature forms a part of our world,” Coetzee says. Here, we can embark on a journey of coexistence.