Wilderness, the town that really lives up to its name in South Africa!

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Wilderness: [wil-der-nis] a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert, uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals. 

I have to admit, I came to Wilderness based on the name alone. I needed a destination to help break up the trip from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, and with a name like that, the destination practically jumped off the map.

Wilderness, the town that really lives up to its name in South Africa!

Maybe it’s because we came here with no expectations, maybe it was the wonderful hospitality shown to us by our new friends at the Wild Farm, or maybe it was the combination of lush hiking trails and wide open beaches. Whatever it was, Wilderness turned out to be one of my favourite places of my South Africa backpacking trip.

Now let me show you how I spent my days in this little wild slice of paradise:

Canoeing in Wilderness, South Africa as part of our adventure travels

Canoeing and hiking the Giant Kingfisher Trail

On our first morning in Wilderness, Sam and I decided we would go on a little canoeing and hiking excursion. We made our way down to Eden Adventures, where we paid 280 rand (roughly $22 USD), for a canoe to paddle up the Touw River.

I had been on a double kayak with Sam before (a very wobbly experience!) so I was a bit worried about ending up in the water on this outing, however, the river was incredibly calm and the canoe also offered some extra stability.

Canoeing the Touw River in Wilderness, South Africa.

Going hiking in Wilderness, South Africa.

At 10 in the morning we were the only people out on the water, save for the company of a few ducks and birds who seemed undisturbed by our paddling. We travelled upstream until we couldn’t go any further, and then we left our canoe on a pebbly beach. This is where we got on the Giant Kingfisher Trail to continue the journey on foot.

From there, we set into a lush forest that yet again shifted my perception of South Africa. Prior to travelling here I assumed that the landscape would be quite dry and barren, yet here I was surrounded by moss covered trees, a carpet of ferns, and the sounds of chirping birds. Could South Africa be any more diverse?!

Into the woods walking on a trail path in Wilderness, South Africa

The hiking footpath on the Giant Kingfisher Trail, South Africa

The trail eventually gave way to a wooden footpath that we continued to follow until we could hear the sounds of a waterfall ahead. This is when we realized we probably should have packed a bathing suit because there was a beautiful pool of water just above the waterfall and a few hikers were already enjoying a swim.

The waterfall at the end of the Giant Kingfisher Trail in Wilderness, South Africa

I have to say, this was my favourite day in Wilderness! We didn’t do anything extraordinary, but sometimes all you need is a relaxed day in nature

Following the train tracks to the caves outside Wilderness en route to a hidden cave

Following the train tracks to Kaaiman’s Grotto

The following day we decided to explore Kaaiman’s Grotto – a place that locals couldn’t quite find the words to describe, yet insisted that we needed to see.

It’s a cave…but it was a restaurant…and it was abandoned after the train tracks were blocked…but now it’s a homeless shelter…and an interesting man lives there…and so do a whole bunch of other people – it’s super arty, you should really go visit!

We weren’t quite sure what to expect of this remote cave-restaurant-shelter that can only be reached on foot, but curiosity go the best of us and we decided to go see for ourselves.

The train tracks to Kaaiman's Grotto in Wilderness, South Africa

The views along Wilderness' coast in South Africa

Sam and I followed the tracks until we reached a section were the mountain had collapsed, then we went around and reached the mouth of dark tunnel carved into the face of the rock. This is where I hummed a little tune as I walked into the darkness, reliving memories of my train derailment inside a Thai tunnel and hoping I wouldn’t encounter any bats, rats, or strange characters.

The tunnel that leads to Kaaiman's Grotto, the caves outside Wilderness.

And then we saw it – the magnificent cave-restaurant-shelter that people had struggled to put into words.

Ahhh, that’s what they meant!

The shelter in Kaaiman's Grotto, Wilderness, South Africa

I approached the cave tentatively and that’s were I met Clifford, the man responsible for all of this. He was sweeping the floor and tidying up when I arrived, but he offered to show me around, so I followed him through the maze he has created. After showing us around, we sat down to chat and he told us the story of how this all came to be.

He told me that God brought him to this place to help the homeless, so he built a shelter to help those who have fallen on hard times and to assist them as they try to get back on their feet. His only rules being: no drugs, no alcohol, and you must actively search for work.

Decorations inside Kaaiman's Grotto, Wilderness.

The entrance to Kaaiman's Grotto, Wilderness, South Africa

The cave had single rooms and even family rooms with bunk beds. There was a living area, a small kitchen, and a room for prayer which he called ‘Father’s Room’. At the time I visited there was one guest staying there, and a second had recently moved out. It was certainly unlike any shelter I had ever seen before.

I asked him where he found all the things inside the cave – the dolls on the coffee tables, the furniture in the bedrooms, the masks, plumes, butterflies and flowers – and again he told me that God had provided every item inside the cave. Some items came as donations from his brother’s church, others he found unwanted on the side of the road, and a few were gifts that former cave dwellers had brought back.  He told me that when he first came here there was nothing, so he started collecting sea shells to try and turn this into a beautiful place where the homeless would feel valued and special. (There was even an article written about him on the Washington Post if you’re interested.)

Abandoned train bridge between Wilderness and Victoria Bay

After that chat it was time to get going, so we left a donation and continued on. (If you do decide to hike out to Kaaiman’s Grotto, do keep in mind that Clifford allows curious tourists like me to visit because they help keep this unique shelter running).

The Dolphin's Head in Wilderness, South Africa

The train tracks then led to an old bridge (a bit rusty and a little unnerving if you’re afraid of heights), and then continued on through the dolphin’s eye (see it in the rocks?) and towards Victoria Bay which is a popular surf spot.

The Wild Farm Backpackers in Wilderness, along the Garden Route in South Africa

Enjoying simple living at The Wild Farm

When we weren’t sightseeing, we were enjoying the laid-back vibes over at The Wild Farm.

I know when choosing accommodations most of us like to be right in the heart of the village/town/city so that we won’t miss any of the action, but in this case being a little far removed proved to be the right decision.

This old dairy farm turned hostel is perched on a hilltop and boasts incredible views of the ocean below. Sam and I got a little log cabin complete with an en suite bathrooms and a piping hot shower. The early settlers would have been proud!

A beautiful sunset on the Wild Farm in Wilderness, South Africa

The staff was super friendly so we spent most of our evenings on the property either enjoying beers in the common area or having a proper braai (South African barbecue) for dinner. They also had the cutest little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as a pet, so it didn’t take very long for me to adopt her as my own. This is a bit of blurry photo, but you can see that she even won Sam over and he is a self-professed cat lover.

Sam playing with the Wild Farm pet in South Africa!

Have you every visited a place based on its name alone?
How did it turn out?

For more info on travel in South Africa visit Travel Now Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Stephanie

    That’s so interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever really visited a place before based on its name alone, although I think I should now. Wilderness sounds so nice. What a cute little corner of the world!

    1. says: Audrey

      Wilderness turned out to be a wonderful surprise. I may start visiting more places based on their name alone… We’ll see how it goes! πŸ˜‰

  2. says: veena

    looks like a wonderful place, and i loved reading about something in south africa that is not cape town or johannesburg. i completely agree with your point about sometimes needing a relaxing day in nature — it’s one of my favourite ways to refresh and recenter myself. been loving your south african updates and can’t wait to see what you write about next!

    1. says: Audrey

      I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the South Africa blog posts, Veena! I really enjoyed visiting the little towns and villages in between the cities, and I still have a few more destinations to share. πŸ™‚

  3. Sure! Wales very much comes to mind being that Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the longest town name in the world! Also, in Wales yet again, there’s a town called Hay-on-Wye in which a local eccentric bookseller called Richard Booth declared himself King and named his horse – Waterton – as Prime Minister. Oh yes, he did!
    I’ve been to both of them and they’re pretty cool places LOL!

    1. says: Audrey

      I’ve heard about that town in Wales and like you, I’d also be tempted to visit just because of its long name! And Hay-on-Wye sounds really quirky – I’d love to go and meet the King at the bookshop. πŸ˜‰

  4. says: Sofia

    The cave-restaurant-shelter looks quite interesting! and the journey going there too is a little bit of an adventure.. imagine their little adventures going in and out of the tunnel.. that could be fun! I sure will visit this when I’m in the area. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  5. says: Susie

    What a cool day trip! The nature sites are super amazing, I love kayaking. I was touched by Clifford mission and him taking care of the homeless in such a special way. I think it made your trip even more special and touching. Thank you for your sharing your adventures.

  6. says: Rebecka Green

    Ugh, South Africa has been near the top of my ‘places to go’ list, and now I want to go even more!!! What a charming town. I agree, staying in a more remote location is often the better choice, as it’s more relaxing and unique. Though I can say I have never visited a place solely based on the name, I am now inspired to do so. Awesome post!

  7. says: Uptourist

    So many things to discover. I hope you can also share some photos while you’re canoeing. I love the waters. I did it once in Palawan in the Philippines and it is an experience I cannot forget.

  8. says: Tajirul Haque

    South Africa sounds so breathtaking. There is something about wildernesses that captivates me so much. Cool post with cool pictures. Makes me wanna go there so bad.

  9. says: Sara Bloom

    I would definitely have been drawn to a place called Wilderness as well. It’s the best when an unknown side trip becomes the highlight of a trip. And I totally agree that the best days are often the ones when you get to relax, reflect, and enjoy. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. says: Carol Jean Leisch

    Thanks to your posting with so many details I now have a possible plan for celebrating my 75th birthday in May 2018. I did not realize there was a hop on/off bus for South Africa. As a solo traveler this is ideal for my travel style. I have made note of WHERE you went and WHERE you stayed. Did you use a guide book or just information on line to choose locations and lodging?

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