Working in an Africa Nature Reserve
I spent three months of my gap year in South Africa, working with rhinos at the national park, Lapalala. I stayed with 11 other volunteers in a small block in the middle of nowhere; the nearest town was about an hour’s drive away and we only went there once a week. We really were incredibly isolated.
During our time there we built a boma for a rhino named Stevie (basically a huge, fenced-off area in the middle of a national park). This involved a lot of cutting down of trees and coiling up wire. This may seem arduous and dull but it really wasn’t. We bonded as a group and had many evenings of drunken pouring our hearts out and telling each other how much we loved each other.
Seeing the work come into fruition
It was all made worthwhile when Stevie, a two-year-old, blind rhino, came to stay in the boma that we made for him. It was fantastic to see him wallowing in his mud bath and crashing into the ‘sturdy’ fence we made! We fed him and worked with him on a daily basis until we left.
We had two guides, Conrad and Gerrit, who looked after us while we were there. They were two of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met. They took us on trips to the most amazing places; we went skydiving, went to a cheetah farm, saw bush paintings, slept out in the bush (surrounded by rhinos and baboons - scary) and went on many a game drive.
We even had the most amazing opportunity to do some game capturing as a wildlife relocation company was in Lapalala at the same time as us so we helped them capture zebras, blue wildebeest and even a black rhino. Words cannot describe the feelings you experience when you are being stared down by a zebra running straight towards you!
Experiencing the Botswana bush
But by far the most amazing thing we did was just before we left the placement to go travelling. We took a four-day trip to Botswana, which is possibly the most beautiful country in the world. We stayed in the middle of the bush and could hear lions in our camp at night. Every day we were up early to see the sunrise then went out for game walks and drives all day. There were elephants everywhere and the most amazing antelopes all around us.
The most astonishing thing I have ever seen happened on our last night. We split into two groups for a night drive and it was our last opportunity to see any wildlife whilst in Southern Africa, and therefore our last opportunity to see the one thing we all wanted to see but thought we never would. That was when we saw the leopard. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
Travelling down to Cape Town
When the project was finished, myself and four others hired a car and drove down the coast to Cape Town. It was a tight squeeze but so worth it. If you ever go travelling in South Africa, go to Lesotho: absolutely freezing but it’s got to be done, if just to visit the highest pub in Africa! And stop off in Jeffries Bay before Cape Town: everyone has to try sandboarding – just make sure you wear sturdy shorts; mine ripped right down the back! Even so it ended up as our favourite place in South Africa.
I have many breath-taking memories from my time in Africa. In fact, even though I spent half a year there, meeting the best people and doing unforgettable things, I sometimes wonder if it was all just one amazing dream.