Lowveld Online Publication Get It recently ran an interview that they conducted with Londolozi Head of Guide Training Kate Imrie. We present it here for your enjoyment:
Kate Imrie and her husband Tom “temporarily” gave up life in the city for game-ranging jobs to get a change of scenery. Eleven years later, they still live and raise their children in the Londolozi Private Game Reserve. She shares a bit of this unconventional life…
How was life before Londolozi?
I grew up on the outskirts of Johannesburg on a five-acre plot with horses and was an aspiring showjumper. I taught horse riding and ran a stable yard. I really loved teaching, but I started yearning for something more and foolishly stepped into the corporate world.
I realised that I was surviving in Johannesburg but not really living. There was more to who I was and I felt I needed a change to explore that. Tom, boyfriend at the time, was in a similar place and we decided to do something out of the box for a year or two. We thought we’d try to live in the bush for a while by becoming guides. We were fortunate to have been placed at Londolozi as our first guiding job and we are still here after 11 years!
What is it like raising children in the bush?
It’s awesome raising Emma (8) and Thomas (6) here. We have the advantage of being in the centre of a game reserve which is six-million acres of wilderness. We are also a couple of hours away from Hazyview, so we are able to “escape” from time to time. In my opinion they are happy, engaged kids humming along to their own song.
We are lucky to live in a family-orientated environment. There is the Varty family, and the greater community of staff and their families that form a unit in a unique way. They are both super interested in nature, and in a world of television and technology it’s marvellous to have kids that are quite content to root around outdoors.
Of course there are challenges. Being a couple of hours away from a hi-tech medical facility was a stress in their early years, especially when it came to those high temperatures in the middle of the night, the threat of malaria and the usual assortment of peanuts in nostrils and so on… Lately it’s schooling and the kids take an hour and a half to get to Summerhill Primary in Hazyview. Then again there aren’t many children who arrive at school late because 14 lions are sleeping on the main road out of Londolozi! The teen years will be interesting but that’s a challenge anywhere in the world.
You used to be head ranger. What was that like and how has your role evolved?
A typical day generally involved morning meetings to plan the coming and goings of guests, assigning ranger and tracker teams, and making sure that everyone gets the relevant information. After that it’s juggling the changes, vehicles breaking down, last-minute guest arrivals, occasionally driving guests myself, training new guides, interviews, getting the odd elephant out of camp and catching cobras to be repositioned. I did this for three years but am now in a full-time training role – allowing me to spend more time in the bush and be flexible to family needs.
People unwind and relax in the bush, but this is where you work. Do you need to break away to recharge?
Sometimes I need to remind myself not to get wrapped up in the pressure of being a part of a world-renowned lodge – but it doesn’t take much! Just looking out of one of the five main decks is all it takes to melt away.
We recharge by going to the beach or other wilderness areas and recently took the kids to the Arctic Circle in the north of Finland where we all learnt to sort of ski!
What is it like to work with your husband?
Tom is my rock. He held the head ranger position for a couple of years before me and completely understood certain stresses that went with it. He helped me look at things from a different perspective when needed. He is also complete mischief when he wants to be!
What is the most challenging part of your job, and what do you find most rewarding?
Taking raw recruits into the ranging team and building them into guides. The knowledge is a small aspect but mostly getting youngsters to be comfortable in their own shoes as guides is a process. As a result the most rewarding aspect is seeing them emerge into people who love their job and the wilderness, and who can give guests an unforgettable experience.
Londolozi has an incredible pool of knowledge. Who played a big part when you trained as a ranger?
Guides, past and present, share an enormous amount and freely give their time. However, one who stands out the most is Renias Mhlongo. When I started guiding, he was assigned to track for me, and really helped me to settle into the bush. He is phenomenal and I feel lucky to have been able to work with him. He’s in touch with incredible bush craft and astute at reading people. This is an essential part of being a guide and he would give me feedback on how the drive went, and was always open to teaching me. He has a wonderful sense of humour and we would generally laugh our way around game drives. He’s now a full-time trainer for the Tracker Academy, that was started by himself and a former ranger, and he travels the world tracking bears, among other things, as well as being an astute speaker at corporate events.
What’s it like working in a male-dominated industry?
Londolozi has had female guides for over 20 years so I am grateful for the ladies who have pushed boundaries before me. There were a few surprised faces when I pitched up to meet guests when I was pregnant though, but the industry really accepts that women rock as guides!
Share your most memorable moment during your career.
Most memories which come to mind involve the drama of a hunt, which is a tremendously intense experience. However, I will never forget the first time I saw a pangolin. I was eight months pregnant and had had an enjoyable afternoon drive with Tom. Just as the sun was setting, we spotted a pangolin curled in a ball. We got out to investigate, and were going off our heads. The guests at the time had no idea what we were on about – they were so amazed by our reaction, that they started to take pictures of us and our excitement, and not the pangolin! I have only seen one since and that was in January on Tom’s birthday.
Visitors and staff come and go. Have you managed to make any lasting friendships?
We have made lots of friends over the years, some have lasted when they have left, but most have not, sadly. Everyone has been in a situation where friends drift away due to distance, marriage, kids or new jobs. It helps you realise that your time spent with people needs to be maximised.
How long do you plan to keep up this way of life?
We take it as it comes. We’ve been here for what seems a long time but also remember arriving like it was yesterday. We’ve had different slants on our careers which has helped to keep it interesting. Our kids are central. If there are things they require that we can’t provide then that would be cause for a change, but at the moment it’s just great!
We live behind the guest area in a secluded spot. The corner of our patio roof has a dent made by an elephant that passed through. Bushbuck, nyala, warthog and lions and leopard have all paid visits. The garden is home to a netball hoop, trampoline and there are plastic golf balls all over the place! A couple of chairs stand on the lawn for conversations over wine and we dragged in a dead tree as jungle gym for the kids.
We’ve come home to baboons sitting on the couch, stuffing oranges into their mouths as fast as they can. The rest of the troop normally raid everything including sugar, flour, oil, eggs, health products… letting it explode out of cupboards and onto the floors, walls and as much furniture as possible. For good measure as they hastily retreat in a mad panic they leave piles of excrement as though to say: “Thank you, we had a good time”.
Thomas had a marbled tree snake in his bed one winter morning. We gently removed it, thinking it was a once off, however, it was back again the next day so we removed it a further distance from the house. Remarkably, waking up with a snake next to him has not made him afraid.
I normally do a big non-perishable shop in Mbombela to last us about six weeks. For fresh food if we can’t get to Hazyview, we’ll give a shopping list to someone else. We need to drive fast over the dirt roads in order to keep the milk fresh!
There is a very fit and health-conscious team of people working at Londolozi. We have a staff gym and play touch rugby. Bush runs are occasional, but we have to be followed by a vehicle just in case…
The gorgeous Londolozi cuisine
I get to enjoy the great food from time to time. The executive chef, Anna Ridgewell, is a good friend, so I often have the opportunity to taste new dishes. Too much glorious food. We eat less on holiday!
Original Article courtesy of Get It Lowveld