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Ecopsychology Retreats

We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
Henry David Thoreau

RETREATS 2018-10-25T13:38:43+00:00


The introductory Venda Sacred Walk, an initiative of Ecopsychology Africa, took place in September 2017, in the heartland of Sacred Venda territory. The Venda Sacred Walk enabled and encapsulated both our connectedness to the land and the unreserved hospitality of the Venda people, who shared their homes, food and cultural heritage with us. An ‘unsanitised’ experience that nourished mind, body and soul in a deeply immersive way. This Venda Sacred Walk takes place on Heritage Day. For a reason- it is an authentic /fitting way to experience South Africa’s rich cultural heritage. An experience that will leave you and our hosts mutually enriched! Given the auspicious period over which we will be walking, Ecopsychology Africa have coordinated this Walk with both the Coaching and Healing professions. Professional Coaches and registered psychologists will obtain CPD points for attending. Health professionals and managerial personnel too will undoubtedly benefit from this input. The Venda Sacred Walk is a rich, immersive, unsanitised pilgrimage that touches deeply the lives of those that participate in it. A richness ultimately that transcends the value of CPD points!


JEFFREY RINK is the Founder of Ecopsychology Africa and has been facilitating Ecopsychology retreats since 1998. He graduated as a Clinical Psychologist in 1985, and is in private practice in Hout Bay, Cape Town. He is a diplomate of the South African Society of Clinical Hypnosis and has been practicing meditation since 1974. Jeffrey combines his profession as a Clinical Psychologist with his passion for ecology, conservation and meditation in his Ecopsychology offerings. These synthesize psychological and ecological principles. Participants connect with the earth, and ecological insights are made personally relevant through symbol, metaphor and story-telling.

ANDREW SWART will be a co-facilitator. He registered as a Counselling Psychologist in 1983 and is a Coaching Psychologist. He is a Licensed HeartMath Coach and credentialed as a COMENSA Master Practitioner and certified Evaluator. He is trained in Clinical and Eriksonian Hypnosis. He is currently the Chairperson of the COMENSA Ethics Portfolio Committee. Andrew was born and raised in the wilderness of the Waterberg, Limpopo and has a life-long passion for nature and life. This will be his second Venda retreat, since accompanying Jeffrey in 2003. As a lifelong educator and coach, he is convinced that the Sacred Walk will expose participants to a deeper, intuitive understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing South Africans.

GARRET BARNWELL is a clinical psychologist and budding ecopsychologist. Garret spent almost a decade working for international medical humanitarian organisations in Africa and the Middle East before opening his own private practice in Johannesburg. Time spent in communities ravaged by mining and other forms of environmental degradation made Garret acutely aware of the importance of people’s relationship with nature and place. These transformational experiences opened him up to a more ecocentric approach and view of the world – one that considers fullness of experience and our interconnection with life on earth. In practice, Garret is an integrative psychotherapist, and on the retreats he combines his clinical and formal ecopsychology training to enrich the experience. Mentored by Jeffrey Rink, Founder of Ecopsychology Africa, this is Garret’s second time on the Venda Sacred Walk and he walks with us as co-therapist.


Venda is a rural area in the Limpopo Province in the heart of the Soutpansberg Mountains, where people still live traditionally. It is mountainous, subtropical and remote, providing spectacular scenery, with small villages nestled in the valleys of this verdant region. It is home to the Venda people, who have retained their unique cultural and linguistic heritage.


Jeffrey first heard about Lake Fundudzi, the Sacred Lake of the Venda, in the 1970’s, and longed to visit it! In those days, and until relatively recently, it was not accessible to outsiders. His first visit was in about 2001. He felt so privileged to be there. Set in a beautiful valley, deep in the heart of rural Venda, this is the largest natural inland lake in South Africa. Here, people still live traditionally. Fishermen provide for the community from the lake’s resources, and cattle somehow are immune from the predations of the crocodiles in the lake – we still don’t understand how this uneasy truce works, but it does…! Crocodiles tolerate the cattle, villagers tolerate the crocodiles. Waterfowl are abundant. Fish eagles soar and call and even crowned eagles frequent the vicinity. We are close here to the pristine source of the Mutale River which feeds the Lake, passing through as it flows on to the Kruger Park and its confluence with the Luvhuvhu River, near where it merges with the Limpopo River.


Lake Fundudzi today is still treated as a sacred place. The villages nearby and their attendant headmen are the guardians of the Lake. The Lake is steeped in mythology and legend. It is believed that a white python and white crocodile live beneath the surface and sacred rituals are still performed here. Nearby is another sacred site – the Thathe Vondo Forest, sacred to the Tshidzhive Venda people. The Venda royal family are buried here and it is forbidden to enter this forest beyond a central pathway. An indigenous Afromontane forest, it is rich in mythology, and has sacred rituals practiced there to this day. It is believed that a white lion patrols and protects the forest. Included in the walk to the Lake is a visit to the spectacular geological phenomenon known as the Tshatshingo Potholes which are fed by a river- the Tshirovho River, with deep pools that we will be able to swim in. Behind the potholes is a ‘secret valley’ that few outsiders know about, having a ‘Jurassic Park’ kind of feel.


In Jeffrey’s words, “I have probably, at a guess, visited this region about 20-30 times over the years – I don’t keep count! The topography of the area, and its rich spirituality, culture, and musical heritage inspired me to create the Venda sacred walk along the lines of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. And at last this ‘Sacred Walk’ has come to fruition, albeit in a much shorter form than the Camino! This unique walk focuses on Venda’s rich spiritual legacy – a legacy that lives on here in the daily lives of the people and places we will encounter”.

Our walk will provide work for local people, people who are not on any tourist track. We will overnight in their huts, eat local food, and experience seriously good music – extraordinary music- quite unique! Tshikhona music particularly that is quite surreal, hauntingly evocative, and entrancing! Musicians up to 100 strong playing flutes and pounding huge drums! Our evenings will be combined with story-telling as told by the elders of the villages in which we meet. Our backpacks will be transported. Our senior guide Nelson Mpaha, won the Lilizela award as South Africa’s top cultural guide. He has a deep knowledge of Venda culture and tradition. Jeffrey has known and worked with Nelson for many years.


Sunday 23 September 10h00: Meet JHB (ORTIA) Airport. Travel to Mukambani. This village is high up in the Soutpansberg Mountains. Our campsite is close to King Kennedy Tshivase’s royal homestead. We stay here in relative comfort – in a traditional hut with beds, linen and an en suite bathroom. Catering is provided by a community project started in 2003 by Soza, (the then camp manager), and myself.

Monday 24 September- Heritage Day: Walk to the village of Makwarani, where we stay overnight- about 10 km. That night we experience traditional Venda music and dancing. We then walk to Tshatshingo Potholes, a couple of kilometers away, where we enjoy and explore this astounding natural phenomenon.

Tuesday 25 September: We walk to the village of Tshidzivhe, where we spend the night. Chief Netshidzivhe, the headman, is the guardian of the Thate Vondo Sacred Forest. Here, we experience Tshikhona music – the musicians here are quite superb!

Wednesday 26 September: We are transported to and then walk through the Thate Forest. We learn about the forest and its significance to The Venda. We will meditate too in the forest. Then we walk on to Tshitangani, the chief here being a co-guardian of Lake Fundudzi with the Chief of Tshiheni. We stay in the most beautiful traditional huts here,with our affable hosts. A village elder tells us stories of Lake Fundudzi that night.

Thursday 27 September: With our guides- present as always we explore the Lake environment the next day. Always a privileged adventure. We meditate here- awesome! And circumstances permitting, swim in the Mutale River at it’s confluence with Lake Fundudzi. We then continue our walk to our next village- Tshiheni. Both these villages have views of the Lake and are closely connected to it as the guardians of the lake.

Friday 28 September: Our transport fetches us and returns us to Mukambani for our last night in Venda. Mukambani too has excellent musicians and we will experience other forms of Venda music here, including Marombo music- Venda spiritual music. Awesome singing, trance inducing drumming and percussion. Hauntingly evocative! Our night here will be in relative luxury.

Saturday 29 September: Leave Mukambane Depart for JHB (ORTIA) Airport. Please book your return flight from 19h00.


We will sleep in five villages en route to and around Lake Fundudzi. Our group will consist of about 8 persons. We will sleep in traditional huts. Water will be provided for facecloth bathing in basins. It is suggested that you bring a supply of ‘wet wipes’ too! Toilets will be ‘long -drops.’ The long-drops are all clean and hygienic! You will need your own sleeping bag and pillow, and a sleeping or yoga mat is essential-ground floors are hard! Bags will be transported from village to village. There will be streams and rivers along the way we can swim and bathe in! All food will be provided including a lunch snack while we walk. Pack your own ‘snack-pack’ for the daily hikes. A natural fountain supplies water in each village! Water in each village- tried and tested, is excellent!

PLEASE NOTE: This is the ‘planned’ itinerary. A tour transfer company will transfer us to and from Venda. We are often going to be off- road in remote areas. Weather – good or bad can impact on our arrangements.

ETHOS: This trip is about experiencing Venda life as it is. There is no ‘intervention’ at all re preparations. We will eat and sleep the way the local people do. Specific dietary needs will however be catered for. This walk is not about comfort. There is no luxury. It is about authenticity and experience!

MEDITATION: Meditation will be taught to the group and we will practice meditation in places both special and sacred. Participation is voluntary!

FLIGHT HOME: Please book your return flight for after 19h00 on Saturday 29 September, 2018.

QUESTIONS? Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries. Email: shrink@tiscali.co.za