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Adventure begins where the tarmac ends

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

BY: Matt Foulsham

Camp manager blogs are written by our current students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week.

What separates us from the animals we see in the bush? For me, it’s our ability to use tools. And there is one tool that is probably most important to a safari field guide – the vehicle they are driving.

I used to work in the automotive industry. My week as a camp manager was like a blast from the past because as it was mainly dedicated to the 4×4 driving course we had to complete to become proficient in off-roading.

Field guides fixing a tire while on a game drive

Image: Matt Foulsham

We started off the week with theory related to the mechanics of how vehicles work and what different systems are used for. It was a lesson full of what we used to call TLA’s (three-letter acronyms). Understanding what the following acronyms mean is part of the vernacular of the industry:

  1. AWD: all-wheel drive

  2. ETC: electronic throttle control

  3. ABS: anti-lock braking system

  4. FWD: front wheel drive

  5. DIS: direct ignition system 

  6. HDC: hill descent control

  7. HAC: hill-start assist control.

So this course was a big change from learning about the leaf structure of a marula tree!

After the classroom sessions, it was time to put our new skills to the test out in the field. We learnt how to stall-start the vehicles when driving on uneven, hilly terrain. There’s something unnerving about having your vehicle stalled on an incline with no brakes and only relying on the gears before starting the vehicle.

Field guides taking tour in vehicle

It’s all about maintaining control, but it doesn’t always go as planned. On one of my practice runs, the vehicle popped out of gear and started rolling backwards. Luckily, we were only on the practice hill! We also spent some time learning the correct techniques to use when trying to recover a vehicle that is stuck, which is inevitable when working in this industry.

For our final assessment, we went to what is now colloquially known as “Big Hill”. We were asked to reverse and turn the vehicle around to face the hill, drive up the hill and stall, recover control and then reverse back down the hill. It might sound pretty trivial, but it’s a daunting experience when instead of driving a Ford Fiesta on smooth tarmac roads, it’s a two-tonne Land Cruiser full of your fellow students, on a steep and rocky donkey track.

As we draw nearer to the end of our course, it’s nice to take a moment and reflect on all of the new and unique skills we’ve learned in our short time here, and what we continue to learn on a daily basis in the bush.

I enjoyed the 4X4 course as it was a little bit of a reminder of what I was doing before starting with Bushwise. But, before I get too nostalgic, it’s time to get back to those leaf structures!

To have an experience just like Matt, take a look at our field guide courses.




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