FGASA QUALIFICATIONS ( Nature Level / SKS Birding )
NATURE LEVEL 3.
2006 TO PRESENT: Safari tour guide taking people on extended tours through the Kruger National Park region and other parts of Southern Africa, on birding, wildlife and photographic safaris.
1999 TO 2006: Guiding in Sabi Sands and Addo Elephant National Park amongst others. .
HOW AND WHY DID YOU BECOME A SAFARI GUIDE?
Almost by default! After graduating from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a four year degree in Geography and Social Sciences I took up a 'temporary' job as a barman at a lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, just biding my time before the official graduation ceremony in April of 1998.
Once I saw what the guides were doing however, I decided that I would like to be a guide, for a few years anyway. So I made my wishes known to management, and nine months later I started guiding guests.
While I was fortunate to have a lot of pre-existing natural history knowledge, instilled by a family interest in all things wild, I still had a lot to learn! But I completed about two years of guiding at that greater Kruger National Park lodge successfully, and then set off to the UK for something different.
A few months through a winter in London got the better of me however, and soon I was back to guiding, this time at a new concession lodge within Addo Elephant National Park.
From there I moved to two other lodges before I realised that, while I loved the guiding part, the insular lodge-life didn't suit me, and eventually I landed in the right nest with the safari company I'm at now.
This combines guiding and bush-time with a settled home life, and it suits me to a T.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD SAFARI GUIDE?
There are all the usual qualities associated with being a good guide - punctuality, neatness, a willingness to serve, knowledge and enthusiasm.
These need to be backed up by a genuine fondness for people, as it's really about creating relationships.
One needs to be interested in one's clients and invested in creating the best possible experience for each and every client.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING GUIDING MOMENT?
Back to the top of the page, where I said I still had a lot to learn… I think it was my very first game drive as a fully-fledged guide, and we came across a group of White Rhino standing around a small mud wallow.
Great way to start off, and one client asked me if Rhino's lie down.
At the time I actually hadn't seen any lying down, so took a chance and said 'No, they don't', but of course they do, and as I finished answering one of the animals proceeded to lie down. Epic failure! But that was back in 1998…
MOST MEMORABLE SIGHTINGS?
Samson and the Lion - an epic 45-minute battle between a Warthog boar and a Lioness during the floods of the year 2000.
It's hard to narrow it down! But the most excitement comes with the five big mammalian predators - Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Wild Dog and Spotted Hyena.
Finding them is always a thrill, and they can make for the most exciting moments on a safari.
But fortunately, in my specific guiding niche, they aren't usually the yardstick by which clients will rate their safari experience.
I do a lot of Kruger National Park birding safaris, so the big predators are usually considered to be a bonus and not the whole point of the exercise. But I also guide tours with a focus on these big predators now and then, and I like the challenge of going out to find big predators.
The rewards when you do find them can be extremely high.
GUIDING AREA OF SPECIALIZATION?
Birding is my main area of specialisation.
THE MOST INTERESTING ANIMAL BEHAVIOR YOU'VE WITNESSED?
I'm sure there are many examples, but one I would like to find out about is a particular kind of beetle, like a large Jewel Beetle, that I've seen feeding on the hides of Hippo's at Sweni Bird Hide in the Kruger.
They seem to even stay on if the Hippo submerges briefly, and that's the only place I've seen this interaction. More investigation is required.
The saying goes that variety is the spice of life, and this is proved to be true when it comes to the wildlife you can see in this fantastic reserve.
Apart from the so called 'big 5' animals comprising lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino, there are also a multitude of other predators and plains game to be seen.
Cheetah, wild dog, spotted hyena, black backed jackal, civet, crocodile and genet are some of the hunters that feature and giraffe, zebra, kudu, impala, wildebeest, duiker, steenbok, hippo and warthog are regularly seen browsers and grazers.
Collectively there are some 150 mammal species, 500 birds, 340 trees, 115 reptiles, 50 fish and 35 amphibians in the Kruger National Park.
There are places to stay here that suit just about every style and budget, from camping and caravanning to rondavels, huts, safari tents, bungalows, family cottages and very high end private luxury lodges.
Accommodation can be found in twelve main rest camps namely Berg-en-Dal, Crocodile Bridge, Letaba, Lower Sabie, Mopanie, Olifants, Orpen, Pretoriuskop, Punda Maria, Satara, Shingwedzi and Skukuza.
Five bush camps with the names Bateleur, Biyamiti, Shimuwini, Sirheni and Talamati and three bush loges called Boulders, Roodewal and Pafuri Border Camp.
Additionally four small camps, Balule, Maroela, Tamboti, Malelane, two overnight hides, Sable and Shipandani and a rustic camp site called Tsendze.
A grand total of thirteen private luxury lodges complete the places to stay in Kruger.
Don't let the climate put you off visiting the Kruger National Park because game viewing is good all year round.
Situated in a summer rainfall area, October to March are historically wet and hot months when the vegetation becomes dense and lush, making it a little more challenging to spot wildlife.
During the winter months (May to August) there is little rain, so vegetation becomes sparse and animals cluster around water holes and rivers.
Summer temperatures average 19 °C (min) to 33 °C (max) and in winter you can expect 8 °C (min) to 27 °C (max) average temperatures.
Size & Distances
The Kruger National Park is situated in Mpumalanga, South Africa and is around 2 million hectares in size, which is a little meaningless until you compare it to something else, like maybe Hawaii, which is roughly half the size, or Wales which covers about the same area.
The distance from north to south as the crow flies is 356 km (221 mi) and the longest distance from east to west is 94 km (58 mi).
There is a very well developed road network in this park made up mostly of gravel but a fair amount of well maintained tar on the main routes too.
In total there is more than 4000km (2485 mi) of road which is a good thing as going off-road is strictly prohibited.
There are two options when it comes to flying to the Kruger National Park...
The first is to fly to the Skukuza Airport from either Johannesburg or Cape Town, the big advantage of this being that you land right inside the park itself, and then can do a game drive to get to your accommodation.
The disadvantage for overseas visitors is that this isn't an international airport so there are no direct flights from outside of Africa.
The second option is to fly directly to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport which is situated just outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga and then transfer to the park via the closest gates, which takes about an hour.
Mosquitoes and Malaria
The park is situated inside a malaria area, so it is important to take precautions when visiting in the form of medication and bite prevention strategies.
Consult your physician before traveling regarding the medication because it's only available on prescription.
To prevent being bitten apply an insect repellant directly to the skin such as Peaceful Sleep or Tabard, and wear long clothing that covers as much skin as possible, particularly if you are outside at dusk, during the night and dawn.
Accommodation has mosquito netting on the doors and windows to prevent mosquitoes getting inside, and some of the lodges have nets that cover the beds.