Thinking back on school trips, it is often those during which you had to push beyond your comfort zone that made the biggest impact and which are remembered most fondly. The Southern Cross Schools (SCS) college recognises the value of getting outdoors, learning from nature, and learning new things about yourself at the same time. So, each year, the grade 8-11s take a week to get outside the classroom, away from school, to challenge themselves while exploring the wild and mountainous environment on our doorstep. Thankfully COVID didn’t prevent the college from organising trips this year, as it did in 2020.
For many SCS learners, the morning drive to school involves cresting the bridge over the railway and looking out over the flat, low-lying bushveld stretching to the rising slopes and proud cliffs of Mariepskop basking in the sunrise. The view from the school sports field offers an equally spectacular view. Such a sight implores exploration – for some. For others the thought of climbing the mountain brings a degree of trepidation. Anxious or excited, each year the grade 9s strap on a backpack, filled with everything they need for five days on the mountain in the Blyde Nature Reserve and start climbing. This year, the grade 9s were joined by the grade 10s who lost out on the opportunity last year.
It is a strenuous few days, but the rewards are worth it. Lush montane forests cover Mariepskop’s slopes, and our learners walk along ridges and cliffs under the canopy of Yellowwoods, Matumi and Figs draped in old man’s beard. The chorus of forest birds and the occasional echoing call from a Samango monkey provides the soundtrack. It’s a mentally rejuvenating break from screens and earphones. After spending some quiet alone time in the forest, next to the fresh, trickling streams, many learners express the wish to stay longer in the peaceful environment.
This year, the hike followed a wetter than usual rainy season, so the forest and its ground cover was thick. The three staff accompanying the learners, Mr Bradford, Mr Coetzee and Mrs Locke know the mountain well (Mr Bradford and Mrs Locke hike regularly in the area), and, panga in hand, led the way.
The going was slow from the start. Despite being dropped off halfway up the mountain on the jeep track (because the usual routes from the base of the mountain were overgrown) the route started with a steep climb on the road, through the forestry station boom, to the turn-off to the Bush Pig Trail and the remaining two and a half days in the forest.
With tender feet and tired legs, the group made camp, a small clearing on the forest floor where the Bush Pig and Loerie trails meet, as night fell. The following day took them along the cliffs overlooking Kampersrus and then a forest-covered ridge reaching away from the Mariepskop peak, towards the magnificent Klaserie Falls. Again, it was a long, slow day following a path the forest was trying to reclaim, and they had to set up camp a couple hundred metres short of the planned picnic site next to the falls. Nevertheless, there was plenty of water and Maggie-2-Minute-Noodles-fuelled camaraderie.
The group woke on the final day, achy but grateful to be dry, as drizzly weather was forecast. They headed along the jeep-track past the Reitz Grave and Klaserie Falls, to where they had been dropped off at the start of the hike, like horses headed for home – spurred on by the promise of a warm shower, mom’s cooking and a soft bed.
There’s no doubt that despite some cuts, bruises and blisters, the learners felt pride when they reflected on their hike while lying under soft linen, looking at the solid ceiling – rather than less firm tent fabric. The grumbles, like the aching muscles, will fade – what will remain are memories, a sense of achievement and confidence.
For many who go to Southern Cross, the “Grade 9 Hike” is the highlight of the school trips, but that’s not to take away from the other annual trips that are organised.
The grade 8's go to the Schoemansdal Environmental EducationCentre. The focus is on team building to encourage unity in the new grade 8class. They do numerous activities which test their teamwork and challenge them to leave their comfort zone. Amongst other challenges, they have to build and race go-carts, abseil, negotiate physical teamwork activities and complete a storeys-high high rope course before zip-lining to safety on terra firma. There are often times when trust is tested and fears are faced, but all overcome some perceived barriers and leave the camp with greater self-belief, trust in one another and a greater sense of family.
The grade 11s visit the Magoebaskloof Adventure Camp to hike and, as the name suggests, complete a number of adventurous, leadership-engendering activities, such as hiking, zip-lining and abseiling. The grade 11s are a small, closely knit group, and the trip allowed them to synergise in preparation for their leadership roles in their coming matric year. Mr Murambinda, the teacher accompanying this year’s grade 11 class, says that teamwork and genuine appreciation of one another was evident throughout the outing.
A common link joining all the Southern Cross trips is the goal of emotional, psychological and social growth. School is about so much more than academics. It’s about developing well-rounded individuals who value the environment, their peers and themselves. Perhaps this is over said – but sometimes I wonder if it can be overstated. The confidence that is fostered and the appreciation of “family” and one’s surroundings are attributes that will stand anyone in good stead as they go through life. The annual college trips are one way Southern Cross hopes to inspire these qualities in our learners.
By Graeme Wuth