News from The Northern Kruger
A Long Way Coming
Sitting around the campfire with guests while they enjoy G+T’s after their first game drive is when I am almost always asked, “What made you decide to be a guide?” I am quick to respond that I didn’t decide to be a guide but rather that guiding found me, it sounds cliché. I didn’t even know that such a career even existed when I passed grade 12 in 1997. We lived fewer than 10 kilometres from the western border of the Kruger National Park and I had never experienced a game drive or even seen a nature guide; AKA Game Ranger.
Through the foresight of the Makuleke community elders and their advisors, a training programme (The Makuleke Training Project) was started in 1996 that I would later become a part of. The programme opened my eyes to the wonder of nature and awakened a passion for things that I would never have dreamt I would do or become. The project’s programme was aimed at training young, aspiring nature conservationists and business management enthusiasts from my community. Starting the programme was the very beginning of my career. Having been a part of the programme gave me the opportunity and experience to apply for a guiding job at Pafuri Camp under previous owners, Wilderness Safaris in September 2015.
I was a vehicle-based guide for more than 10 years, and I felt that my guiding scope, abilities and skills were being limited and stifled by the vehicle. I began to yearn for the opportunity to walk guests on foot in the beautiful Makuleke region because of its diversity and scenic habitats that give Pafuri 75% of the biodiversity of the Kruger Park. I dreamt that being able to walk would afford me a hands-on and up-close experience with different aspects of nature. This would ultimately provide me an opportunity to give guests a more meaningful bush experience.
After the floods of 2013, RETURNAfrica bought Pafuri Camp and realised my aspiration to walk after I had taken the initiative to go to Eco-Training to get my Advance Rifle Handling completed (this is one of the critical and most stressful of all the walking guide qualifications). After this, RETURNAfrica offered me financial support to pay for my training and assessments. It was extremely tough for me, but I had set my mind to becoming a qualified walking guide as I dreaded returning to be a “jeep jockey”, and after my third attempt at the final examination, I had passed!
At RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Walking Trails I had ample opportunity to work while acquiring the hours and encounters that I needed to pass my assessment by Bruce Lawson on 2nd and 3rd of August 2017. My results were two stunning walks. The first walk was with a breeding herd of buffaloes at Hlagaluwe-EcoTraining that I handled beautifully, even if I have to say it myself! The second walk was with a herd of over 100 elephants at Nwambi pan in the fever tree forest. After this walk, the assessor gladly extended his hand to give me a handshake as he said congratulations. I was found capable that day. Was I ecstatic? No, I was relieved that now I could walk with the confidence that my guests would be safe.
After receiving my walking qualification, I have done several lovely walks including Mangala-Lanner Gorge river where I broke my ankle as a back-up guide in Januray 2016, walks from Nwambi stream to Nwambi pan through the fever tree forest where we had a close up encounter with four bull elephants. Our guests enjoyed the encounter as well as the whole experience.
Do I have a specific area that is my favourite? I do think so, the place in not a physical one, it’s called enjoying the moment! I can walk any place in the Pafuri region as long as I am able to make sure that my guests are immersed in the experience and enjoy every moment.