Experience what it's like to be on a safari guiding course!
In this week’s Safari Stories podcast episode, Jomi and Hadley talk about the safari guiding courses they did—what the courses were like, what they learned, and what the courses are like today. Since Jomi and Hadley did their initial safari guide training, nearly 5 and 10 years ago, lots has changed in the safari guide course industry with lots of new courses becoming available across a number of different countries.
Today, anyone can pick from a wide variety of course/experience options: 1 month Trails courses based at luxury accommodation, 1 month Trails courses based at a primitive trails camp where you fully unplug and reconnect with nature, a 55 day vehicle-based safari guide course, a 1 month vehicle-based safari guide course, and a number of other courses of varying lengths designed to immerse you back into nature. These courses are held in a number of countries, predominantly South Africa, Botswana, and Kenya.
Hadley did her safari training in 2015 at NJ MORE Field Guide College in the Marakele National Park in South Africa. She did a 6-month FGASA Level 1 course which included FGASA Level 1 and FGASA Trails Guide Back-up training and assessment.
Above: Hadley lived in a tented room that sat on a raised wooden platform.
During the course, the two head instructors (Massimo Rebuzzi and Henry Parsons) covered a number of different topics including birding…
Above: Preparing for a test on bird calls...Some topics were more interesting to study for than others…
Above: The students were given the opportunity to observe the reserve manager (and wildlife vet) Andre Uys dart buffalo for blood tests to make sure they were disease-free.
...Advanced Rifle Handling—a qualification needed before you can become a qualified back up trails guide.
Above: Hadley goes over some technique adjustments with her ARH trainer and assessor
...Ecology and biology
Above: While out on a walk with Bruce Lawson, Hadley’s trail came across a large elephant skull. They got the chance to examine the honeycomb bone structure of the skull, which reduces the weight of the skull.
...Tracks and signs- What started as incomprehensible marks in the soil, turned into understandable clues about which animals were moving about and what they were doing.
Above: On one of their first game drives, their instructor Massi stumped Hadley and the rest of the students by asking them what animal left this long winding track. (Any guesses?!)
Above: With time and training, identifying tracks and signs became much easier (although still challenging!)
Above: Taking in the magic of the Milky Way! There's no place in the world where the stars are as beautiful as they are in Africa...
Above: Students learning how to use a wide variety of cameras and lenses.
...4x4 Driving skills
Above: During the rainy season, it can be hard to avoid getting stuck, despite lots of training!
Above: Jomi and Hadley working to change a flat tire
...Trails guiding (walking safaris)
Above: Jomi and fellow back-up and friend, Sarah Nurse, explore the fever tree forest of Makuleke while walking on a trail.
and Primitive Trails
Above: Hadley packed and ready to head out for a sleep out in the bush. There's nothing quite like sleeping under the stars listening to the sounds of nature.
Some of the professional guide courses offer six month placements or internships where students have the opportunity to build walking hours or to work at a lodge shadowing the guiding team. Jomi used his placement to work at an Ecotraining Camp in the northern Kruger National Park (Makuleke camp). There, he logged 100+ hours walking in the bush with students who were doing their first trails courses.
Above: While leading a trail, Jomi examines the carcass of a small crocodile on a sand bank.
For Hadley's placement, she joined a guiding team at Marataba Safari and Trails Lodge in Marakele National Park. There, she had the opportunity to back up trails with guests as well as to join the guides on countless game drives. She found this an incredibly valuable way to gain more information about the bush and to learn more about different guiding styles and techniques.
Above: Hadley would shadow a different guide every few days. When she took the photo above, she had joined Jomi on a game drive with his guests. Joining the guides (especially Jomi! ;) on game drive was Hadley's favorite part of her placement. It was such an incredible way to learn how to guide.
When Hadley and Jomi look back on the various courses they have done over the years, the thing that sticks out is always the people they met along the way. To this day, some of their best friends are people they met on their courses. It's a special experience to be fully immersed in such a beautiful, natural environment surrounded by people who share your passion for wilderness and wildlife.
Above: Students on an NJ MORE course at Marakele National Park. Connie, Ally , Russell , Happy , Annouchka , and Hugh. Many of the students are still in the guiding industry.
Above: Hadley and her classmates during her level 1 course helping out at the bar at the nearby safari lodge!
Above: 5 years after their course, Hadley meets up with her classmate Tovhi (now a senior guide at Lion Sands in the Sabi Sands) and Aidan (a former student of NJ MORE who Hadley trained during his Level 1 and Trails Course)
Above: Jomi during his course graduation with friend Steve Mepstead (left) in 2014.
Above: Jomi and Steve (now with their ladies!) exploring Namibia 5 years later
Above: We love our instructors as much as our fellow students! Jomi and Hein came to visit their former instructors (Massi and Henry) who were then the head instructors on Hadley's 2015 course.
Above: Jomi, Massi, and Hadley birding in Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town 5 years later!
Above: Friends that guide together...stay together! Jomi and Hadley with some of the Marataba Safari Lodge guiding team.
Above: ...and go on holiday together! Here, Jomi and Hadley explored the Central Kalahari in Botswana with a number of bush pals.
In case you can't tell from the many pictures, we have formed some of our strongest friendships while studying, working, and exploring in the bush. Many of these friendships began a number of years ago during our safari guiding courses, but have continued on throughout different jobs, holidays, and explorations. Here's to many more years of getting up to all sorts of antics while exploring Africa's many hidden gems together.