Neil’s family moved to White River just in time for him to spend his high school years at Uplands College. Neil grew up on the White River Country Estate and his family still live there.
After matric, Neil studied for a degree in Sports Science at TUKS but realised that his true calling was the bush and its wildlife. From a young age he’d dreamt of working as a guide in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and fate presented him with the opportunity to study for a Game Ranging and Lodge Management Diploma at Damelin (now Unigrad) in Nelspruit. After two years he graduated both with the diploma and also as a Professional Field Guide and Trails Guide under FGASA.
After college comes real life and earning a living and his first job was at Bongani Mountain Lodge in a small, private game reserve near Malelane. The experience he gained there landed him a job in his dream reserve, Sabi Sand, eight years ago and he’s worked at several lodges within the reserve.
Neil lives at a lodge in Sabi Sand with his girlfriend Tammy, the camp manager. Working a 6 weeks on / 2 weeks off rotation makes the lodge their home and sometimes the close proximity with their adopted ‘family’ creates a live-action soap opera! The wildlife isn’t too perturbed by the lodge, either, and from his bathroom Neil has watched the Big 5 casually lope past. He and Tammy also raised a Genet once.
Neil’s average day starts at 5am and waking the guests up with a cup of coffee for their morning game drive. About four hours later they return for breakfast and if the guests are up to it, Neil takes them for an hour’s walk in the bush.
His day is far from finished, though, as 4pm brings an afternoon game drive then he meets the guests in the bar for pre-dinner drinks and to share stories of the day. On occasion, he is invited to join them for dinner as well. Clearly stamina and people skills are perquisite for a game ranger!
Spending his days working in places that people from across the world dream of visiting makes it all worthwhile. Neil follows wildlife on a daily basis, watching their intricate behaviours, following them as they grow and learning more about the animals every day. He admits, though, that the guiding industry means spending more time with the guests than the animals but he enjoys meeting so many different people and forming friendships with many of them. He’s been lucky enough to have people such as Francois Pienaar and his family as well as the Zuckerbergs (Facebook!) in his vehicle, amongst others.
Being part of an experience that changes people’s lives and sends them home telling tales of Africa and its wildlife is deeply satisfying for Neil. Being a guide until retirement isn’t likely but Neil will never leave the bush. His long-term vision is to own or run a small lodge, continuing to educate and share experiences with guests or to become involved in conservation and protecting our wildlife and their habitat.
Neil thinks White River is an amazing little town and a great place to grow up. “It has such a relaxed, friendly feeling to it, there is a huge amount of outdoor activities, beautiful scenery, good weather and great places to eat out,” he says. Being close to the Kruger and all the Lowveld attractions is a big positive as well. From our side, we’re delighted that a White River lad hasn’t strayed far from the fold and is so deeply appreciative of what makes White River the wonderful place it is.