By Dennis Vorster
Every school sets teachers the task of balancing the intellectual, physical, cultural and spiritual spheres of students.
We are often so intent on achieving our mandate that we exclude our parents, other than to allow them to be spectators to their child’s schooling.
St Patrick’s College is a small country school in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal, in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains and we essentially serve a farming community. This lends itself to many outdoor ventures – and one that has been particularly successful has been our annual Headmaster’s Challenge. The idea was borne around a campfire in Msikaba in 2007 by the then-board chair, Steve Gallagher, who proposed a student hike along the Wild Coast. This idea was tweaked further to include a number of challenges that would have to be met prior to students being accepted to complete the hike, which has been called the Headmaster’s Hike.
To join the hike, student participants have to:
• complete a timed, open-water swim of at least 1 km (many choose to swim the Midmar Mile)1
• cycle a minimum of 20 km in a timed race (they can choose to do either an internally organised event or the 25 km Ingeli Forest Challenge)2
• participate in a chess tournament at any level
• complete the Polar Bear Swim (a 25 m dash across the school swimming pool during the winter solstice)
• summit our local Mount Currie.
The build-up to the hike is significant and, as the date draws nearer, the excitement is palpable. This is particularly true for the juniors, and funnily enough, the parents too. The hikers carry their own kit for the duration of the hike. This year, we had 64 hikers, of which 28 were parents. Once the parents have experienced their first hike, they invariably choose to return each year while their children are still at St Patrick’s College. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and hikers form small groups that change as the hike progresses. What is noteworthy is that when any of the children tire or become thirsty or hungry, or a particularly challenging section of the hike, such as cliffs or a deep river crossing loom ahead, they gravitate towards their parents for support. This is comforting to note, because we do not see this relationship during our normal school day.
The struggles and the spectacular scenery
The Headmaster’s Hike takes place along the pristine coastline referred to as the Wild Coast3 during our mid-term break in August. The most common route commences at the Wild Coast Sun hotel.4 The weather is one of the variables that we cannot control. There have been days of driving wind with stinging sand, drizzle and heavy rain, but also gloriously sunny days.
After spending the night at Mtentu, we start the next day by crossing over the Mtentu River. The highlight of the day is always going to be the lunch break spent at the Mkambati River, which has a beautiful natural pool with a 5 m ledge, off which the brave and the silly jump.
The next day we visit Port Grosvenor, so named for the shipwreck that lies offshore. Once we reach Luphuthana, the parents and senior hikers are treated to en-suite tents. This site’s claim to fame is the thunderous crashing waves that shoot 15 m straight up into the air as they hit the rock shelves.
On the final day, we pass Waterfall Bluff, which is one of the few waterfalls in the country that actually drop directly into the sea. The day ends at Mbotyi, at which point we are collected. The four-day hike is approximately 80 km but, every third year, participants who have completed at least two previous hikes are invited to hike the extended section, which takes us to Port St John’s after an overnight stop at Manteku, and lengthens the hike to 106 km.
Making the parents part of the journey
This adventure truly draws the parents into participating in their child’s life journey as they hone their life skills of perseverance, determination, patience, tolerance, appreciation and compassion.
1. See: http://www.midmarmile.co.za/.
2. See: http://www.ingeliadventures.com/#!ingeli-trail/luex5.
3. See: http://www.wildcoast.co.za/.
4. See: http://www.suninternational.com/wild-coast-sun/.
Category: Summer 2016