Tag Archives: marine guides

The Magic Of The Elephant Coast

I am often told, how lucky I am to live where I live, and do what it is I do for a living – I am sure people in similar positions, also often hear this and over time you really get use to being told how privileged you are from someone else’s point of view- so much so that I have developed a pretty standard response – I smile, and then agree with them not thinking about it too much.

After all it is what I do every day, if I had to articulate the way I really feel about this place called the Elephant Coast- I would not know how as it triggers an emotion so immensely strong I can barely control myself and in that moment words become meaningless and the only words I am left with, sound a little something like this..

“It left me speechless”

I write this today, although I have been writing this in my head for the past 5 years, forever letting it linger until I can find the  perfect words to be able to formulate a sentence, never mind string them into a story for anyone else to share into this experience, and too be sincere I am not sure I would ever find the right words to describe the impact the  Elephant Coast has had on me, this is one of those “see it to believe it” cases and I highly recommend that you do.

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The Elephant Coast is a narrow stretch of land, touching home to the vast warm waters of the Indian Ocean & multi diverse Zululand (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa). It is here where you can come to feel the breath of the Sub tropical, it is here where my words become buried so deep beneath the history that these soils contain and spread so far across the floodplains and into the open ocean. The only place in the world where you can come to witness so many different ecosystems, vegetation structures, and climatic character variations flow together in perfect harmony earning the right to be classified under its own biome, namely the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt.  A pure example of outstanding ecological processes, superlative natural phenomena and scenic beauty, and exceptional biodiversity and home so many threatened species.

How does one even begin to explain something so diverse, unique and endemic in simple forms?

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 It is in these sand forests where the last remaining herds of ‘Big tusker’ elephants roamed for centuries and left their mark on the very tips of our tongues. It is here where coral reefs have formed on remains of ancient sand dunes creating one of a kind reefs, home to over 1200 fish species, including the Coelacanth, a fish species thought to be extinct but still lurks in the depths of these waters – described as The Living Fossil. It is here where the largest estuarine system on the African continent, you can come to see the largest population of hippopotamus and crocodile share a space with the Bull Shark that follow the high tide in to feed on any juvenile life hiding among the aerial roots of mangrove trees that stand as guards along the edges of our coastline, giving chance for other habitats to develop, it is here where King Shaka’s right hand man fled to after fearing he too would suffer the same fate and be assassinated- found himself emerged deep in the beauty of the flat, vast and open land with many lakes in 1828– It was the home of the Tsonga people, then known as Tembeland – Upon arriving, the beauty that overwhelmed him set the core for the naming of this region, the name so perfectly chosen for this region ‘iSimangaliso’ meaning miracle and wonders remain as true today, as it did almost 200 years ago.

Magical.

Once it lures you in, it has got you for life. I cannot recall the exact day I fully grasped the magnitude of the words “You are lucky” meant for me. I was raised in the guiding industry, both my parents are guides and passion driven people, passion not only for the natural surroundings, but for creating a community of like-minded people to create, spread and share more moments of magic.

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A passion, I guess you can say it is in my blood.

I was born with it and so I will continue to grow with it every day being reminded through a series of moments- like the first time I got to witness a loggerhead turtle emerge from the comfort of her  aquatic environment to lay eggs in the coastal dunes of Bhanga Nek, Kosi Bay. That moment upon realizing that this turtle has survived the odds, living through natures natural process and unpredictability, that realization of “Here I am, in her presence, watching her… what a rarity” , even walking back up the beach, with every step brighter than the next as my feet shuffle and awaken the bioluminesence hidden beneath the surface of the faintly wet sand. The first time I ever got to witness a Humpback Whale and her calf swim right by me while diving a spot called Pinnacles in Sodwana Bay, sharing a momentary glimpse of each other as one tail movement sent her meters ahead of me and within seconds they were gone again and just like that, an appreciation for these waters I find myself in. I am quickly reminded that these are not only the breeding waters for whales, but some of the most unique reefs dominated by soft coral and marine life so diverse, significant that with every breathe fueling your lungs as you sink down deeper you become almost instantaneously humbled.

It is in these moments when it becomes clear, how lucky I truly am.

The Elephant Coast captured my heart and became my home and my office – Privileged to share the stories of the past, determined to keep a sustainable present and looking forward to many more once in a lifetime experiences, never failing to appreciate any moment whether I find myself under a blanket of stars on a clear night or even just hearing the rumble of the ocean on a windy day.

Speechless is the only way to describe the feeling one gets upon realizing that every day you get to live and breathe in a place of miracles, a literal heaven on earth, a sacred place.

There really is no place, like home.

By:Nicole Panos

Whale out of Water by Laila Rouhani

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Waking up to the sound of the waves crashing, the wind rustling through the trees are the best sounds to wake up to.

This is the second year the Bhejane Nkonkoni group have been privileged to be assisting in the Mammal Research Institute with their whale monitoring in Cape Vidal. The aim of this research project is to track the Humpback Whales on their migratory paths from their cold feeding grounds in Antarctica to their breeding grounds up north in warmer tropical waters.

The walk to the whale watching towers definitely gets your heart pumping as it is a steep walk through dense forest, soft sand and torturous stairs. But all of that is worth it because once you get to the towers and see the most incredible view out over the sea through the canopy of the trees you forget about the walk up and how out of breath you are.

Stepping up into the towers and seeing the view is like seeing it for the first time every time no matter how many times you go up into the towers.

If you are doing the first shift of the day you have the pleasure of carrying up the theodolite to the towers which weighs about 10kg. You have to set up the tripod legs, mount the theodolite to the tripod and make it level. Once you have set all that up you are ready to track whales moving past.

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The main keys when spotting a whale are blows, breaching, fluking and lobtailing. If you spot anyone of these you pin point the whale in the cross hairs of the theodolite and call time. Once time has been called you read off the horizontal and vertical reading to the person scribing and they plot all that data down on a map. To make all the readings on that group more accurate we try to get five readings on each group with five-minute intervals between each reading before the group moves past.

On a clear day with perfect conditions you can see further than 15km out to sea. From that distance you can see these whales breaching out of the water with the naked eye. Sometimes if you are lucky, they will breach really close to the shore and that’s when you can see how big and strong, they are because they literally launch their whole body out of the water over and over again.

The best thing to do between shifts is to go down to the beach either to swim or to explore the shoreline.

One of the best memories I have from last years whale monitoring was seeing a mother and calf humpback whale swimming past the towers just beyond the breakers. This calf was still a new-born because it was so small and you could see that it was still testing out the waters.

As the last shift draws to an end it is time to start packing up the theodolite and all the data sheets from a bust day’s work. Before we head down, we take about five minutes to enjoy the sun getting ready to go down behind us over the dunes while enjoying the final view over the sea for the day.

Then it is time to face the stairs back down to where the bakkie is parked waiting to take us back home for the night only to start this all again tomorrow.

By Laila Rouhani

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Is this a real career option?

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How about the green hills of Zululand for a different perspective on life!

The world is changing and so are our ideas of how to prepare for a career! University training has become irrelevant and outdated in many fields – especially one as dynamic as Wildlife Tourism. This is great news for many young people that are passionate and ready to take on the world, but dread having to spend hours in yet another classroom before getting out into the working world.

“Like many young adults that loves an outdoor lifestyle, I was so overwhelmed when thinking of how to find a professional job that allows me to be out in nature every day, without having to spend years sitting in a university classrooms or being prepared to volunteer or work for free!

I have always known that I belong outdoors but finding a good -career – one that allows me to help care for wildlife, snorkel along coral reefs, drive through the African bush in an open landrover or walk in the tracks of Africa’s Big Game seemed like an impossible dream! One reserved just for a lucky few!”

This is the lifestory of most of Bhejane’s students prior to attending one of our lifechanging career courses to become a Professional Nature Guide! Despite tourism in Southern Africa still being one of the fastest growing industries, most people are still unaware of the many exciting career opportunities this industry offers to outdoor loving young adults, eager not only to play their part as the next guardians of our natural wildlife heritage but also determined not to spend their lives working boring meaningless jobs that have no bigger purpose!

Click here to have a glimpse of what being Trails Guide is all about

https://youtu.be/n8EUChlmsiw

or a Marine Guide

https://youtu.be/EBmMMpO4FVU

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Bhejane Marine Guides enjoy kayaking at Kosi Bay

Even when learning of all the opportunities, many people still feel uncertain and have many questions.  Is it really a proper career? Will I earn enough money to have a decent life, I am not the most confident person – will I be able to do this? Courses can be expensive will the return on my investment be worthwhile?

Consider the story of Pierre. Pierre arrived at Bhejane frustrated with life after struggling through school, unsure about his future options and not fitting the usual mould of those set to work in traditional careers. Not speaking English as a first language really knocked his confidence and he had doubts about his ability to finish a comprehensive education programme. What he DID know, is that he loved doing things with purpose, he loved exploring nature and sharing that experience with others gave him joy and energy!

After starting the programme and being with like-minded individuals his confidence started growing, learning to talk to people happened naturally and he found his niche! His passion for trees – to the awe of many since it is one of the admittedly more difficult fields for guides!  Today Pierre is a senior guide at a prestigious and award-winning game lodge – and the good news is that Pierre is not the exception, rather his is the story of many as 90% of students that attend a full-time career course at Bhejane Nature Training.

Our courses ARE different.

  • You do not work towards one degree or one diploma – you get qualified across a wide range of fields and get certified with a range of skills and knowledge certificates, licences and permits as required for such a dynamic industry!
  • Your ability to pass a test will NOT be the deciding factor for your success. Many people suffering from Dyslexia, Aspergers, and a range of associated learning differences reach phenomenal success on our programmes. Success comes from your passion, commitment and learning with like-minded people.

Change your life, change our world, and join us to become a part of the Zululand Conservation Legacy!

Find purpose, confidence and adventure with a Career as a Professional Nature Guide