How. It. Began.
Life is an adventure full of stories and everyone has their story to tell.
This is our story and how Gonarezhou has become such a central part of our lives.
In 1993, whilst Ant was in his early teens he visited Gonarezhou for the first time on a natural history school trip. Part of the trip involved lugging heavy backpacks through the bush and camping out under the stars as they explored this vast wilderness.
Having come through one of the most devastating droughts in living memory, Gonarezhou was a Ghost Town. They saw very few animals, but their presence, especially that of elephant, was impossible to ignore. Major elephant trails, wide enough to ride a motorbike down and thickly carpeted with dung criss-crossed the landscape. Many of the Ironwoods surrounding the last remaining water sources had been ripped out by the roots and Baobab’s trunks bore testimony to the many hungry pachyderms who had gouged massive chunks of fibre out of their boles.
The few elephants they did see were very aggressive making their occasional encounters quite terrifying. Despite numerous childhood trips to the Zambezi Valley and other wild places, it was the harsh, raw beauty of the landscape which captured Ant and Gonarezhou has since this time had a very strong pull on him.
It would be four years before he next visited Gonarezhou after which his visits became more frequent with each visit discovering a little more and making him hungrier to see more.
After high school and towards the end of Ant’s apprenticeship as a professional guide, Zimbabwe tippled into a political & economic abyss which resulted in an almost total collapse in the photographic tourism industry.
In the meantime, Ant applied to and was accepted to read a Bachelor of Science at the University of Cape Town. During this time, with Zimbabwe no longer being a credible holiday destination, he had no option but to look at what business opportunities lay outside of Zimbabwe so used his long university vacations to explore as much of Southern Africa as possible.
In 2002, whilst in his final year of university, Ant started his own safari company, Private Guided Safaris, which focussed on taking small groups of adventurous travellers on safari through Namibia, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In several cases repeat guests booked safaris with him to countries he had not yet visited which allowed him to expand his horizons and learn new areas. Those first years were tough as persuading guests to trust a twenty something year-old to plan and guide their safari to wherever he felt fit certainly had its challenges. Sincere thanks to Nan and Tricia who trusted Ant’s judgement and by booking several safaris with him in those early days gave him the confidence to pursue his dreams.
With no end in sight to the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, having completed his Masters Degree in July 2004, Ant had the fortune to be offered a position to help set up a safari and sailing venture in Zanzibar. One part of this exciting venture involved driving from Gruyère in Switzerland through Italy, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya to Zanzibar. The other involved time spent exploring the East African coastline from Lamu to Zanzibar on a fairytale sailing yacht, ‘Midsummer’.
During the Sail Africa project Ant met a Kenyan girl called Rawana in England where Ant was helping with the launch of the Sailing safari company and where Rawana was working for Travel Africa magazine. Rawana’s background was similar to Ant’s having grown up in the safari industry in Kenya. Rawana’s mother Trish started a safari company with her brother Richard Bonham in the early 1980’s, calling it Richard Bonham Safaris, they later also built a lodge called Ol Donyo Wuas in the Chyulu Hills. Rawana was sent to school in South Africa and later university in England to complete a Law and Sociology degree which she soon realised was not for her when it would mean working in a city, at a desk when really, she wanted to be out in the bush.
Still on different continents a year after meeting, Rawana persuaded Ant to put his own safari business on one side in order to spend two years together managing Borana, an upmarket safari lodge located on the eastern edge of the Laikipia Plateau in Kenya. Ant got his private pilot’s license and after Borana, we based ourselves in Nairobi where Rawana worked for her mother’s safari company, that later became Bush and Beyond and Ant continued to grow Private Guided Safaris. As often as possible, we returned to and put together safaris in Zimbabwe and in 2007 we applied for tour operator’s permits for Gonarezhou and conducted our first safari – an eight day portered walking safari.
By 2010 having visited twenty African countries and guided photographic, fishing and walking safaris through many of the best wildlife areas on the continent, Ant had come across very few areas that were as beautiful or wild as Gonarezhou. With the formation of a new power sharing government in early 2010 coupled to the scrapping of the Zimbabwe Dollar in February 2009 for a stable international currency (US$), it was time to go home.
It was obvious that Gonarezhou would become the centre of our attention and not for a second have we looked back...