I belong to a group of friends who together, in 1996, bought a piece of land in mist-belt rainforest, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, called “Mahlatini”, Zulu for ’in the forest’. Its other name is “Absolute Elsewhere”. Most of its eighty acres are covered in indigenous forest, and the rest is grassland. Our dwellings are dotted about on the steep hillside, and encircled by forest-covered hills.
In the early years we all lived in what we call the old main house, a fantastical structure of five levels going up the side of the hill, built of stone, mud, wood and thatch, with spectacular views over the forest. Slowly, people started building their own homes, and there are now eight dwellings on the property. The old main house eventually fell into disrepair, and it was decided three years ago to pull it down and make the site available for someone to build on. A fellow shareholder persuaded me to join him in saving the parts of it that could be saved, and we embarked on the project together, but a few months later his papers unexpectedly came through and he emigrated to Australia. With the help of a Zulu neighbour who works for me on weekends, I have kept the project going, and we have halted the disintegration of this wonderful house, but there is still much to do, and progress is slow, as I am not here all the time. I, like other shareholders, have needed to move away in the interests of making a living, and educating children. I did run a small school here for four years, but it was not financially viable, and in 2012 I took a job at the Waldorf school in Hillcrest, an hour’s drive away, where my daughter has started school. I come to the hill on weekends whenever I can, and in the holidays, and we are living in what used to be the spacious communal kitchen of the old main house. It has large, old windows on three walls, and is a beautiful, comfortable space.
I am hoping to attract a volunteer with experience in building, and practical skills, and preferably woodworking skills too. (And if you have some knowledge of Feng Shui, I would believe you were heaven sent!) You would need to be someone who is happy to spend time alone, and able to work on your own. There are always at least two people on the hill, a sculptor and her son of twelve; her partner is fairly often here, but is also often away working; an organic seed grower is often here, but also often not when his daughter, schooling away, needs him; two families of four come to the hill regularly on weekends, and quite often visitors pass through, but for a lot of the time you would not have company. If you are someone who loves being alone in beautiful, natural surroundings, as I do, then this would suit you well. You would also need to be happy to cook for yourself a lot of the time.
The old main house was for many years a legendary communal space, and the kitchen, where I am now living, holds rich memories for many of countless wonderful meals and gatherings and music sessions and conversations. The grand vision is to restore this space to some communal purpose, and I have fond fantasies of one day running a guest house-cum-meditation retreat. I do have plans to build my own house a little distance from the old main house, and I even started levelling the site, but I feel I need to completely resolve this space before moving on to that. And I absolutely love the space where I am living right now. I have no doubt that you will love it too!
DIY and building projects
• Four hours per day.
• Renovation and building in natural materials; woodwork.
You will stay in a small house a little distance from the old main house, on the side of a hill, with beautiful views down over the grassland and onto the forest on the opposite slope. There are basic cooking facilities, and a water source outside, but you would be welcome to make use of the kitchen in the old main house, which is well equipped with running water, gas stove and wood stove. I would provide you with all the basic provisions you need, and there is a large vegetable garden, so organic vegetables are readily available. We would need to share the kitchen in the main house when I am here on weekends.
The Byrne Valley is just over one hour's drive from the Indian Ocean, and about an hour from the Drakensberg, a vast mountain wilderness area, a paradise for anyone who enjoys walking in the mountains. There are many caves with Bushman paintings, and endless magnificent walks. The city of Durban, 80km away, has an interesting mix of Zulu and Indian culture, as well as an extensive beachfront area.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Can host families
More than two