BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie
Disclaimer: A number of images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.
Living in the bush isn’t easy, but when you’re in the best accommodation it can add to your field guiding experience in a big way.
The longer you stay in the bush, the more you’ll learn about field guiding and the savannah environment. On Bushwise Field Guides’ Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Professional Field Guide course, you could spend almost a year living and working in the wild.
What’s it like living in the bush for so long? And what is the on site accommodation like?
Read on to find out the answers to these questions, as well as five reasons why Bushwise offers the best accommodation for aspiring field guides.
What to consider when preparing to live in the bushveld
One thing you should be clear on before travelling to take part in a Bushwise course is that the campus is in an isolated spot in Limpopo.
Bushwise’s student accommodation is located at the Mahlahla camp just outside the gates of the Greater Makalali Game Reserve. This private reserve is a 50-minute drive from the town of Hoedspruit, and is the perfect place for students to become immersed in the African bushveld.
It’s home to the Big Five animals – as well as myriad African antelope, small mammals, reptiles and insects.
A big part of the appeal of a Bushwise course is that you’ll be in student accommodation that’s in the wild. So becoming a field guide also means having the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and slow down and take in the sights and sounds of nature.
Further reading: Overcoming some challenges
What’s Bushwise’s site accommodation like?
Located in the lowveld region of the Limpopo Province, the Bushwise campus is something like an oasis in the savannah.
Driving to campus from the airport will take some time – up to six hours. But this is the perfect amount of time for you to adjust your city senses to the expanses of tall grass and rocky mountain views that will be the backdrop to your field guide adventure.
As you travel deeper into the savannah, you may start to wonder how well you’ll fare in these vast plains, with fewer and fewer buildings in sight the closer you get to your destination.
Take a breath, because the next thing you know you’ll be pulling up to Bushwise’s campus, which is nestled into the sun-baked scenery of the lowveld.
Bushwise’s on-site staff are pros at introducing newbies to the ways of the wild. They’ll start you off by allowing you time to settle into your room before orienting you to the campus and the course.
The site accommodation sees to all the essentials you’ll need while studying in the bush, including a:
- communal kitchen
- dining room
- ablution block
- fully functional and equipped lecture room
- rondavels that are shared between two students
- swimming pool and boma braai (because taking a break is important too)
- access to wireless internet.
But let’s not waste time dropping hints as to why Bushwise has the best accommodation for field guiding students.
Here are five reasons why student accommodation on the Bushwise campus is tops.
1) Bushwise has a world-class campus
Where you study to become a field guide is an important part of the credibility of your qualification, and the quality of your learning experience.
The best field guide training campuses ensure that:
- health and safety is prioritised on campus as well as out in the field
- the facilities allow for comprehensive theory and practical lessons
- student supervision and assistance is part and parcel of every experience
- you’re surrounded by nature on a daily basis
- students can work with a wide variety of African animals.
Because Bushwise partners with a reputable wildlife reserve, and has experienced and knowledgeable staff, our courses offer all of this and more.
The Makalali Game Reserve stretches over 25,000 hectares and is a registered protected area.
From here, Bushwise students get to see first-hand the type of daily activities that conservationists do. The reserve’s main aim is to try to re-establish the ancient wildlife migration routes that ran between the Kruger National Park and the Drakensberg mountain range.
They’re all about ethical interactions with wildlife that add to the conservation of African animals in the most impactful ways. So, you’ll get involved in work focused on ensuring the well-being of the animals that call this reserve home.
Makalali has also assisted in preventing the culling of animals by taking in elephants from neighbouring reserves. And you’ll be able to draw on the experiences of staff who’ve been involved in these efforts while on campus!
So where better to get a feel for African plants and animals, and the types of activities you’ll do when working as a field guide?
Working from this campus, Bushwise students continuously achieve the highest pass marks in the industry.
There’s also the Bushwise Employment Guarantee, which is only possible because of the comprehensive training and training facilities on offer at the Bushwise campus.
2) You’ll have everything you need
Because not everyone grew up hobnobbing with African wildlife in the lowveld of Limpopo, you may be a bit more anxious than you expected when arriving at your student accommodation.
It helps to know that you’ll have everything you need at Bushwise’s site accommodation, and these creature comforts will make settling in so much easier.
The kitchen is where Iris – the campus cook – will whip up dishes that will get you well acquainted with traditional food in South Africa. Whether it’s a waterblommetjie bredie, or a Cape Malay-style curry, what could lift your spirits more than home-cooked comfort food?
You can look forward to having two cooked meals a day in the company of your fellow students and Bushwise staff. And if you’re feeling peckish in between you can top up with the fruit, cereals, porridges, tea, coffee and bread available on campus.
Keen on trying out other traditional food in South Africa? Well, there’s always the option to take a 50-minute trip to Hoedspruit during your free time. You can get a taste for the town’s specialities at the local restaurants – which include pizzas and pastas with a South African spin.
And when you find that it’s your friends and family you’re craving instead of food, you don’t have to resort to snail mail. The campus has access to wireless internet, and you’re encouraged to bring along your own cell phone so that you can easily connect with your loved ones.
Besides moments of homesickness, you’ll keep busy on campus, and won’t have much time to feel down during your field guide training. And, after a hard day’s work under the African sun, you can unwind with a hot shower in a clean and comfortable ablution block.
Feeling refreshed? Next, why not stroll around the campus perimeter and take a whack at describing the wildlife you see using your best David Attenborough impersonation!
Round up your wildlife documentary just in time to stop off at the laundry and get your uniform in tip-top shape for the next day. This is one of the best accommodation services because it makes it easy to maintain your course attire, which you’ll need to wear each day.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether you wind down with a fire-side get-together, or leaf through a book on your bed. But you’ll rest easy knowing you have everything you need for a comfortable stay at your site accommodation while learning to become a field guide.
3) You’ll stay connected to nature
Seeing wild animals often is a great way to ground the theory you learn in a real-life context.
This will get you in tune with animal behaviours sooner, and help you gain a better understanding of the bushveld ecosystems.
And Bushwise’s student accommodation caters for just that. The campus is home to porcupines, aardvarks, birds and leopards.
Of course, you’ll be able to view them from a safe distance because the site accommodation is fully enclosed by a fence!
Remote camping is also part of the training you’ll receive as a Bushwise student. So you’ll not only get to step out of your student accommodation into the African wild, you’ll get to sleep in the wild too!
Further reading: Our first sleep out in the bushveld
This is when your first-hand animal sightings will really start to add up.
Out in the field you’ll be able to spot:
Further reading: The lessons
4) Safety is a top priority
Besides all the accommodation services that make it comfortable, Bushwise’s focus on health and safety is what takes your experience in the Limpopo lowveld to the next level.
There are dedicated Bushwise personnel on campus who know their way around the area extremely well. They’re fully capable of ensuring student safety at the site accommodation and out in the field. And these experts are the ones who will guide you through your theoretical and practical coursework.
And, because the Makalali Game Reserve is home to larger and more dangerous African animals (like the Big Five), having the campus and site accommodation outside of the reserve provides a safe space for students to get to grips with the wild.
And when you’re kitted out and ready to go, it’s just a short 4×4 ride to the reserve, where you’ll have access to amazing learning opportunities under supervision.
5) You’ll get a real feel for life in the bush
Forget just observing, or just taking notes while others get stuck into the action. Bushwise courses aim to prepare you to become a field guide with hands-on experience.
You’ll try your hand at animal tracking, 4×4 driving and navigating your way around the wild, to name but a few activities. And, you’ll work with conservationists with years of experience working in the bush.
So by the end of your field guide training course, you’ll have in-depth experience and confidence out in the field, and be a step ahead in landing a career in conservation.
And while it may not be what you lead with when telling your most epic tales of the savannah, remember that part of what made for an amazing experience was living in the best accommodation in the bush.
Take a look at Bushwise’s on-site FGASA Professional Field Guide course, and get ready to experience the best accommodation on one of the most comprehensive field guide courses out there.