Reflections of a first-time tree festival goer 

May 2023

Heading out of Cape Town on a three-hour road trip with a friend to attend my first eco festival, I realised I had no real, preconceived ideas about Reforest Fest. While I’d been following the event on social media – and had worked in environmental conservation for years – I’d somehow never made it to this wildly popular annual event. Until now. 

Arriving on a rather wet Friday evening

Not all tents are created equal

As if on cue, the skies opened just as we arrived at the festival base camp and started assembling our tents. But not even the mud and rain could dampen our enthusiasm for the days ahead! While there were optional upgrades available – both to “Kartents” (pre-assembled carboard tents) and fitted-out bell tents for glamping (which we eyed with lust) – we had decided to rough it in our traditional camping tents to enhance our connection with the earth. 

Creating a tree-mendous legacy of biodiversity

While I may personally be a late adopter of Reforest Fest concept, the event began already in 2011 as a mass tree planting action to contribute towards Greenpop’s Uilenkraal Forest Restoration Project. This project is restoring degraded pockets of indigenous forest at the Platbos Forest Reserve and Bodhi Khaya Nature Retreat, with more than 110,000 trees planted to date. The project is also restoring the natural habitat of a myriad of native wildlife species, encouraging flourishing, rich biodiversity.

Reforest Fest has established itself as firm favourite of a colourful and eclectic crowd of earth warriors and everyday, ecologically minded folk, spanning from young families to alternative music festival goers. And this is what makes this Greenpop event unique: it’s difficult to stereotype the participants, but all are united in a strong desire to get their hands into the soil and take physical action towards a more regenerative future. 

The whole event is a well-executed, hands-on lesson in living more lightly and giving back to the earth. The commitment to making this a zero-waste event is evident everywhere, from the call for participants to bring their own cups and plates, to the huge variety of nourishing, plant-based meals on offer at food stalls. There are also carefully considered waste-sorting stations and composting loos. 

The author (right) and her friend at the arched entrance to the festival base camp

Getting down and dirty

The festival ran over a long weekend, delivering a packed programme of activities, the highlight being the massive tree planting event on day two. Armed with weapons of mass reforestation (aka spades) and enough gees (“good spirits”) to (renewably) power a small village, teams of festival goers marched through to the tree planting site, passing through the milkwood forest adjacent to base camp, while chanting “war” cries, waving flags and dressed in creative colour code. It was impossible not to get caught up in the revelry. 

Making our way to the tree planting site

Greenpop has learned, from more than 12 years of experience planting trees across Sub-Saharan Africa, that planting a tree is not to be taken lightly. It was made clear to participants that we were there to plant a future forest. And to ensure the highest possible survival rate, we received a thorough briefing and demo, while the team from Platbos Forest Reserve provided a good variety of trees for planting. This variety will help build the future forest’s health and resilience and turn it into a functional ecosystem. While the planting process was taken seriously and full of valuable learnings, it was serious fun too, with a healthy dose of team rivalry. 

Three hours later and 5,001 trees in the ground, we headed back to camp, our backs a bit broken but our spirits soaring. 

Team leader Hanno delivers the education brief and demo

Planting begins, after careful preparation of the hole

Ongoing entertainment keeping motivation and spirits high

Let the music play

The afternoon was for chilling out to mellow live music, with livelier bands taking to the stage as the sun set. The star-studded line-up of musicians included a local favourite, Majozi, and also co-founder of the Greenpop, Jeremy Loops, who has achieved cult status in Cape Town and global fame too. We danced late into the night – the music, merriment, and glowing embers at campfires the perfect remedy for weary bodies. 

Chilled afternoons at the base camp

Food for the soul

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to feeding the mind and body, with enough activities on offer to satisfy every whim. Think laughter yoga, Qi Gong or meditation classes; guided forest walks; talks on ecology, microbiology or biomimicry; workshops on easing eco anxiety and nature communication; demos, craft workshops and wine tasting; and a secret sunrise gathering. The young eco-warriors were equally enchanted with creative art activities, face painting, story time and an early morning Easter egg hunt.  

Festive, al fresco dining, with an abundance of food stalls to refuel hungry earth restorers

More than just a tree planting festival

So, how to sum up my Greenpop Reforest Fest experience? In short, a celebration of life and life-giving forests. But also, so much more. There’s something about being at a mass gathering of like-minded people. It makes one feel less alone in the fight against climate change and deforestation. A little less anxious about the future. And more hopeful that we can still turn the tide on planet degradation. Greenpop’s vision is, after all, “a Treevolution – a world where people and nature thrive together.” 

New connections being forged around cosy fires

As I drifted in and out of conversations with new friends around the fire boma late into the last night, I realised that while everyone comes to Reforest Fest on a personal quest, all leave with a collective sense of gratitude and belonging and feeling part of something much greater than oneself. It is a joyful happening for the healing of place and people. 

Greenpop’s 2024 Reforest Fest takes place from 29 March to 1 April.

Part of the Ecosystem Restoration Communities movement, Greenpop is working to restore ecosystems and empower environmental stewards through reforestation, urban greening, sustainable development, and environmental art projects across Sub-Saharan Africa. Read more about Greenpop.