Attractions / Mpumalanga

A Diversion en Route to Barberton – Boondocks Labyrinth

Updated Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Stuart and I get off on the wrong foot with one another. It doesn’t help that I hear incorrectly when he introduces himself, and proceed to call him by the wrong name until he graciously corrects me when I finally shake his hand at the gate.

He bears this inadvertent discourtesy without criticism, gracefully in fact. As he does my challenging tone (I’m a little stressed and Stuart gets the brunt of it. Would it make me look a little better if I added that I don’t like talking on cell phones?).

I later laugh at Stuart’s account of what it takes to hold a telephone conversation up on the hill at Boondocks. It is nothing short of undignified and involves placing one’s head virtually inside a pot plant with one’s derrière exposed – cell phone reception is virtually non-existent, except at the site of the plant and intermittently on the edge of the escarpment. And Telkom refuse to bring in a line all this way. Not having any telecommunication or internet access forms a large part of the charm of Boondocks.

I begin to understand Stuart’s initial hesitancy when chatting to me when he meets us at the gate to his property. Getting to the lodge is a good fifteen minute drive over rough terrain and through incredible bushveld, all part of a larger game reserve formed by a number of like-minded neighbours who have brought down their fences for the sake of preservation (one of them includes a former hunter). A visit to Boondocks is not as simple as arriving and ringing the front doorbell. Obviously.

Boondocks Labyrinth is a sanctuary for the soul. There is no other fitting description for the space that lies perched overlooking the valley below. An unspoilt piece of heaven. “A lot of the visitors through here experience something profound”, admits Stuart, “relationships break up, people change their lives forever, or start doing completely new things with their lives.” One thing is certain: you won’t leave here unaffected. There is something about the place.

Boondocks Labyrinth

“Not everyone arrives here,” continues Stuart thoughtfully, “some get lost en route, others change their minds, those that do are meant to be here, and I can usually sense on the phone which ones will arrive.” Obviously we’re meant to be here, which is rather heartening after my rude behaviour earlier. After meeting Stuart’s wife, Ann, and a recurrent visitor from Johannesburg who comes so often she is enough part of the household to make us tea, and Scout the Rhodesian ridgeback, we are invited to explore.

The gardens are spectacular. Beautiful and artistic water pools lie in strategic niches on the grounds shrouded by palms, ferns and other plants that bend towards the water longingly. Boondocks has been lovingly crafted as a retreat centre. Workshops for groups are commonplace here and the naturally healing environment works on one even without a constructive workshop. There are beautiful, private ensuite rooms, their sliding doors open to the garden, their bathrooms handcrafted. I find myself wishing I had a spare month…(or two).

There is an open air shower perched on the edge of the valley, secluded spots in the garden for meditation, and water finds its way effortlessly from a spring three kilometres higher up the mountain via gravity to a tank that overflows and feeds all the various water features that play a big part in the restorative atmosphere at Boondocks. Boondocks is solar powered as like Telkom, Eskom have not set up a supply to the mountain.

We begin to move out of the gardens, heading down the slope away from the lodge towards the dam. We’re in search of the labyrinth that Stuart built with his own hands from stone, based on the Chartres Cathedral in France. Stuart laughingly sends us on our way, “there has only been one person who got lost trying to find the labyrinth,” he says, “just follow the path around the dam.”

Boondocks Labyrinth

This duly done, we are mesmerised by the views from Boondocks across the valley to the mountains beyond. We find ourselves at a little stone circle Stuart has designed, below it a series of pools. But no labyrinth. The sun has made an appearance and we’re not dressed for the heat. I admit defeat and head back up on my own to confess, somewhat shamefaced, that I’m the second person not to find it.

I’ve been battling demons all day. Their presence has soured my visit and in no small way prevented me from finding the labyrinth. I feel much like the weather, sunshine overlayed in gray clouds. And I am only too conscious that Stuart is alert to this. I feel put on the spot, but he simply removes the pipe from his mouth and sends Scout and his visitor down with me to find the labyrinth on the other side from where we have looked. I feel rather like Alice.

It’s glorious, when I find it. It lies in under the trees, perfect for contemplation and secluded time spend in reflection. Yes, it is based on the Chartres, but what makes it unique is the slight twist in the tale, for Stuart has built around the trees and, as a result, the path is adapted, hence every now and again there is a beautiful bend that wasn’t in the original and a curve cradles a tree, allowing it to remain.

It is not a labyrinth the way that some people understand it to be. Often one has it confused with a maze in which one can get lost and arrive at dead ends before finding the centre. A labyrinth, by comparison, is unicursal, a path you follow in a one-way direction until you arrive at the centre, or heart. From there you wind your way out, returning on the exact path that is, for the very reason that you are exiting and no longer entering, a completely different experience.

The metaphors are thus many. The path is never the same on a journey as it is on the return, the path is unknown and a literary metaphor for finding oneself amidst life’s agitation and complexity, the labyrinth is as much a journey within, it is a commune both with ourselves and the environment in which we stand, and this environment in particular holds its breath with me as I stand in stillness. As I know it will be shattered the minute the others catch up with me.

Boondocks Labyrinth

I don’t walk the labyrinth. This is not the space or the time to do it. I will return one day to explore the presence this labyrinth has to offer me.

Stuart and Ann give us tea on their wide veranda. They talk about how they discovered Boondocks, or it discovered them – they’re both originally from the UK. Stuart feels he was directed to build the labyrinth right where it stands today. When you build something with your own hands it is immensely satisfying, I can see that. Our conversation is interesting, the space in which we sit, quite beautiful.

We leave Boondocks, enriched for the visit, but with a sense of incompleteness. I have this uncanny feeling that I will return one day, to walk the labyrinth.

Where to find it:

Address: 4.3 kms from Kaapmuiden on the N4 between Nelspruit and Malelane, Mpumalanga.
Telephone: +27 (0)82 808-2733
Opening Hours: By appointment only

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