The Wilderness Leadership School (WLS) was founded over 50 years ago as the vision of Dr Ian Player and his friend and mentor, Magqubu Ntombela.
The WLS offers learning opportunities through experiential education – by offering varying levels of outdoor experiences in wilderness and natural environments. The aim of these experiences is to provide the trailists with the opportunity to rediscover the relationship between their cultures and nature through the experience of their natural heritage: wilderness areas, national parks and protected areas as well as their immediate natural environments.
To date, the school has taken over 60,000 participants on a wilderness trail. Its headquarters are situated in Durban, on the east coast of South Africa, in the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve. Wilderness trails are not, however, limited to the Kwazulu Natal province; they are conducted in various wilderness areas throughout South Africa.
The Wilderness Leadership School (WLS) is a non-profit organisation which falls under the management oversight of the Wilderness Foundation, and is part of the Foundation’s experiential education programme. The school fits in well with the Wilderness Foundation’s vision to protect and sustain African wilderness and wildlands through integrated conservation and education programmes - benefits of which support biodiversity and cultural, scientific, economic and spiritual values.
Listen to what founder of the Wilderness Foundation and Wilderness Leadership School, Dr Ian Player has to say about the role of the school in the future:
What is a trail?
A wilderness trail is a guided walk through wilderness areas with environmental facilitation provided by experienced wilderness guides. Trails offer a unique experience - a chance to exist for a period in the original, primitive atmosphere of the wilderness.
No two trails are the same, each one is determined by the dynamic of the weather, the group, the animal sightings and the natural habitat.
Although many of the trails occur in big game areas and magnificent sightings are recorded, the experience is not focussed on interaction with the wild animals but rather as a means of reconnecting to the natural world.
The trails are designed to have little or no impact on the environment, and are therefore limited to 8 participants. Age ranges from 15 years old up, and is open to all individuals fit enough to maintain a reasonable walking pace carrying a backpack.
Equipment in the form of a backpack, sleeping bag and bedroll are issued to trailists and these and the provisions for the duration of the trail are carried by the trailists. Trails are not an endurance feat and the pace is set by the dynamic of the group.
Night stops are selected by the guides.
Philosophy of a Wilderness Trail
A wilderness trail serves to connect the trailists to their natural environment. This connectivity is often accompanied by a shift in consciousness which enlightens the individual to the interdependency of natural life and the need to lessen ones footprint on this planet.
Duration of a trail:
- Trails are normally 4 nights, 5 days. However, 10 and 15 day trails are also offered
- Corporate trails may be tailored to suit a company’s requirements and can be offered as a 3 night experience
- Corporate leadership and team building trails are also offered
- Day-long trails conducted for school groups as entry level experiential education include: Pride of Table Mountain, conducted in the Table Mountain nature Reserve in the Western Cape, and Pride of Stainbank, in the Kenneth Stainbank Reserve in Durban, KZN
- WLS also offers a facilitated, transformative leadership Rites of Passage for 12-15 year olds in wilderness areas
- Trails are run at a minimum capacity of 6 participants and a maximum of 8 participants.
Accommodation and Facilities:
- The headquarters of the Wilderness Leadership School are situated in the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve some 20 minutes from the Durban City centre. This 253 hectare ‘green lung’ is reputed to be one of the last remaining nodes of coastal bush and carries a variety of antelope species, zebra, abundant birdlife and butterflies.
- Accommodated in a building that was once and old barn, the WLS facilities have been upgraded to provide a unique conference and training facility that seats 50 comfortably in cinema style and is a perfect venue for more intimate workshops or training groups.
- 12 shared ablution rooms are available to sleep 16 guests.
- Adjacent to the venue is Coedmore Castle – the old Stainbank family home and now a museum. This, coupled with day walks in the reserve, provides an interesting break in the conference day.