Close encounters and safari firsts

In this final instalment of Matt’s three-part guest blog series, it all comes together after years of being on safari with Brett and finding his passion for being among wildlife and being able to guide his own guests one day. We revisit some close encounters and safari firsts in 2019 and end in the present day, where Matt is finally starting his career as a qualified guide, now under the mentorship of BHS.

2019 – Close encounters and safari firsts

This year was going to be the big one; the biggest safari tour I had been on and helped organise with Brett, and I knew the exact people to bring with me. For this adventure I brought along my Father, Jack, Gary, and Josh from my 2016 safari with the addition of Jack’s girlfriend, Kelly Southby, and two others that Brett knew would fit into our group dynamic extremely well. Brett was right, Piet and Zuzanka Van Rensburg fitted into the group perfectly and made the experience all the better.

So, we began our journey again at OR Tambo International where we met Piet and Zuzanka before heading up to Pafuri to start our safari. We were so surprised when Brett walked into the hotel to meet us because we thought we were meeting him at the lodge! As always, it was amazing to see him, and it was an awesome drive up to the far north of Kruger. The camp was amazing. We opted for a primitive style for the first part of the safari and stayed in tents in an unfenced camp. The trees and the wildlife all around us was awesome and the feeling of being exposed and so connected at the same time was undeniable.

There were so many great moments in Pafuri. Walking barefoot down a riverbed surrounded by high canyon walls gave us a sense of how old and pure this landscape was, untouched by man. Feeling the African sand between your toes while you watch hippos and impala enjoy the small pools of water beside you is incredible. But the most memorable moment of all was when me, Zuzanka, Jack, and Kelly were relaxing with a drink, and a big bull elephant walked right into camp and sauntered up to us. We sat very still and calmly allowed the elephant to approach. He stopped less than a meter away from Zuzanka, and we continued to hold our ground. He then calmly moved off and began to feed, and we slowly, one by one, moved away from him to watch from a safer distance. Truly, it was the most magical encounter I have ever had.

Pafuri magic – walking the Levuvhu River and getting close to an elephant who walked into our camp.

After leaving Pafuri, we drove through Kruger, spotting plenty of wildlife as we moved south through the park. For the first time I was able to see cheetahs in the wild – my favourite animal that I have been waiting to see ever since arriving in Africa. Stopping in Kruger for a night was perfect, giving us the opportunity to see all the Big Five as we moved further south. We had a great evening together, drinking and sharing stories from our past travels with Brett.

Once we left Kruger, we headed off to the Timbavati to stay at Avoca Private Camp, run by Johnno. Avoca was great – just what we needed after a week in tents up in Pafuri. We got to see the area from Johnno’s point of view, which was incredible; hearing stories of how he grew up in the same area and knowing every tree and animal that has been around for years and years. It was fantastic to spend time with him, learning so much about the environment we walked through.

2021 – New beginnings as a safari guide

This was the year in which I would change my life. This was the year that I finally moved to South Africa to become a field guide. All my adventures and support from Brett over the years have led to this moment. Without Brett to inspire me and motivate me and help me see how beautiful this country is and how generous its people are, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

After completing my training, Brett was kind enough to become my mentor and allow me to work at his brand-new lodge, Tulela, in the beautiful Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. I have had the opportunity to learn not only under the wing of a fantastic guide and manager but a life-long friend. I have been able to see how a lodge works and be privy to all the background work that goes into making a world-class lodge.

I have even had the honour of being able to drive his family around on drives and impart knowledge to the next generation, which is what I have wanted to do since becoming a guide. I cannot thank him enough for everything he has done for me.

Coming full circle and training as a Field Guide in the Klaserie under Brett’s mentorship.

I can not wait to continue to work under Brett and his team at BHS to absorb as much knowledge and wisdom as I can. I know him and I have a bright future ahead of us.