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Estate/Outdoor Classroom

Inspiring boys to get lost

Our best-kept secret.

People may know about our 150-hectare Hilton College campus, but few know about the wider 1,600-hectare school property, 650 hectares of which is a proclaimed nature reserve bordered by the Umgeni River, and home to warthog, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and six species of buck. Here you’ll find two formalised campsites with ablutions and multiple locations for improvised camping.

This is no hollow romance.

In boys, the sprawling nature reserve stirs a lifelong love of the natural world. But like the best love stories, this one is real. It’s not just about the jaw-dropping beauty – it’s about feeling the visceral sense of our interconnectedness with nature. Which brings with it an awareness of something a boy can never un-see: a responsibility to use his privilege to help preserve our planet’s wild places. The boys attending Hilton College will have the power to influence the future.

Only a handful of boys are innate eco-fanatics.

But for the rest, there is a kind of gentle alchemy that happens in the transition from boyhood to manhood on this land. Here is where boys enjoy a profound sense of downtime. A space for real recreation. And a break from the structured school week.

We like boys to get bored.

Boredom is healthy. Without a timetable to dictate his activities, entertainment to distract him, or technology to overstimulate him, there’s almost unlimited scope for wonder and imagination. No boy is too old to build forts or play hide and seek. Immersed in nature, he’ll connect with his own wild nature. Unpoiled environments have their own laws:  Encountering the unexpected makes a boy think differently, and discover a sense of himself.

Our boys go unsupervised.

Boys from grade 8 can camp up to 5km from the school campus on a weekend as long as they’re with two other boys. It’s widely documented that overprotecting kids is to their disadvantage; an element of risk helps boys grow in self-sufficiency and confidence. They organise themselves, obtaining the required permission from housemasters, arranging their food from the kitchen, signing the mandatory safety protocols, and for up to 48 hours, take responsibility for themselves. On the estate, boys teach each other as much as we do.

We don’t shy away from the sobering perspective of our impact on the land.

There are no bins here. Boys must leave only their footprints. Having to take their own litter back to campus gives them a sense of the amount of litter they create in 48 hours. We show the boys how things have changed here over time: People who’ve lived on the land for close on 60 years share stories of how they used to be able to drink from the Umgeni River. Now the water quality has deteriorated. A lesson in responsibility and our joint stewardship of the land we share.

Our conservation centre is designed to inspire boys about the life on this estate and wider ecosystems. Two passionate teachers are dedicated to coaching boys on how to get the most out of the estate and educate them on conservation. Every Sunday, every boy attends an organised estate activity, from a guided walk to writing poetry on the reserve.

Hlumelo Notshe explains about the importance of being vulnerable and what he has learnt about his fellow Hilton boys.