It’s not often that people get to say that the bush is their office. We’re chatting to field guides Melanie Groenewald and Lize Greef about their life in the “wild”.
The two women are proving their worth in an industry that was previously reserved for men.
For Melanie, working in the bush was a childhood dream. She grew up in Cape Town and moved to the Lowveld near Kruger National Park in 2016. The 28-year-old says she has always wanted to live and work in the bush.
One of her favourite memories as a child is having a braai wither mother and father in Cape Town’s “beautiful forested areas”.
“We would sit and chat and watch the local troop of baboons play in and amongst the trees and occasionally one cheeky one would come closer in hopes that it could steal food from us.”
The Bushwise graduate, who currently works at Senalala lodge in The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve (which has unfenced borders with Kruger National Park), says her day begins in the early hours of the morning.
“The average day in my life is up at 05:00 and set out on a three-hour game drive with my guests. We come back to the lodge and have breakfast and after that, there may be check-ins and outs but before we know it, it’s lunchtime. I host all the meals and sit with my guests. We leave for an afternoon drive and get back after sunset to a fire at the lodge and a wonderful dinner. We exchange stories of the day and marvel at what we have seen and then after dinner coffees are shared then it’s time to retire, only to be up in the next few hours for a morning drive again,” she says.
The best of her job is constantly being surrounded by nature’s beauty and seeing South Africa’s “Big 5” in action.
“I am surrounded by the big five animals and many more on a daily basis. I love showing my guests animals and the looks on their faces when they see their first elephant or lion are priceless and very rewarding to me.”
Melanie says some people are surprised when they realise they have a female guide, “but after the first drive they soon realise they are in good hands”.
Being a female field guide is not without its challenges, but 28-year-old says she is not afraid to ask for help.
“The most challenging part is probably picking up heavy things like a spare tyre when I get a flat one. Thankfully everyone is always keen to help, and I don’t hesitate asking for help. I know what my physical limits as a female are and when I need a little help and that’s okay,” she says.
Lize grew up in the Highveld in a small farm town, where she says her love for animals and nature started.
The 22-year-old is already making her name for herself in the industry. She currently manages Garonga Safari Camp, which is situated in the Greater Makalali Reserve in Limpopo.
Like Melanie, Lize says her love for nature started as a child.
“I have my mom and dad to thank for all of the Namibia, Botswana & Zimbabwe holidays I went on when I was little. I learned to appreciate the small things in life, even if it was just green grass coming out in spring. My love for animals came from my mom – even when I was little I remember she used to save every bee, bird or little lamb that we had, and went through a massive amount of trouble to get it to live,” she says.
After completing the 23-week PGASA Professional Field Guide Course with Bushwise in 2016, Lize says she did mostly front of house tasks at Senalala Luxury Safari Camp because as she was not 21 yet and could not get her PDP.
She eventually started guiding at 21 and got to work with the best in the business, her mentor James Steyn.
“Most people these days are very impressed with the fact that a woman is in a male-dominated industry – but we are changing that very quickly. Also, the look on men’s faces when you have to 4×4 is amazing when you succeed – it’s absolutely priceless!”
Lize says women thinking of starting a career as a field guide should be prepared to become a “morning person” as a field guide’s day starts very early.
“Follow your dream and I promise you will never look back, it is honestly life-changing. One of my favourite quotes is, ‘There are only two great certainties in a game ranger’s career. The first is that you will never be well off. The second – and by far the best – is that you will do things that most people only get to dream about’,” she says.
Melanie says aspiring field guides should also believe in themselves and “be fearless in the face of the unknown”.
“This job can be adrenaline filled when you bump into a grumpy elephant or rhino but at the end of the day you need to believe in your abilities and be mentally strong to deal with such things. If you are passionate and this is your dream, go for it and you will love it.”