Meet Arathusa’s General Manager Vernon
It’s our great pleasure to introduce you to Vernon van Wyk, General Manager of Arathusa Safari Lodge (since 2012).
My background and history
“I was born in Johannesburg, and spent my first 25 years in the city. My interest in the great outdoors was developed at a very early age, and I would escape to camp and hike with my friends on weekends, and every opportunity I got. I loved escaping the pace of the city. I came to a life changing realisation that if I stayed in Jozi, I would always ponder on what could or would have been…….. I took time off work, and completed a 4-week field guide training course in the Kruger National Park. The rest – as they say – is history!”
“I started my nature journey and guiding career with a lodge in the Waterberg as a trainee field guide. The lodge was managed by a hospitality management group that took care of the logistics of several lodges, hotels and training institutes in Africa. I stayed within the group for 10 years, and I worked my way up to Head Field Guide in the beautiful Zululand region of South Africa. It is here that I got more involved with reserve and property management, eventually overseeing all fauna and flora as the Reserve Manager. I had the amazing opportunity to spend one year as a facilitator at the group’s Bush School.”
“I found great pleasure in the challenges of logistics and management of a lodge, leading to me completing an in-house Lodge Operations and Managements course – as well as studying for my Diploma in Hotel Management. I spent an amazing year in the Western Cape Province managing a stunning reserve and lodge in the Fynbos biome.”
The next stop on my journey …. Arathusa Safari Lodge.
“The Sabi Sand Reserve started as a dream 22 years back, when I kicked off as a trainee field guide and developed a fascination for leopards. They were elusive and very scarcely encountered. After much investigation I found that the Sabi Sand Reserve was the place to intimately spend time with and come to understand leopards. At the time, knowing that I would not be a guide forever, I challenged myself to work towards managing a lodge in the prestigious reserve. How privileged I am to have found Arathusa, which I have called ‘home’ for the past 10 years. Needless to say, a treasure trove full of memories have been collected. The leopard box has been ticked over and over, and continues……..”
What is it that makes Arathusa unique?
“Without doubt, the location. Found within the majestic Kruger National Park with its plethora of plant, bird and animal life, the diversity of our location makes every day a unique day with an exciting adventure around every corner. The views over an everchanging waterhole (aka bush theatre) – from the complete tranquillity of hippo chilling to the excitement of antelope sniffing the air and scanning the tree lines, as predators eyes gaze for an opportunistic meal. Night time brings the excitement of hyena, lions, hippos, frogs, owls – and much more – contributing to the audio experience of the theatre. Hyena skulking past our dinner venue sniffing for any table scraps serves as a stark reminder that we are in Mother Nature’s garden.”
“The simple formula for a successful safari is comfortable accommodation, great sightings, tasty food and warm service. My focus is on keeping our guests’ experience ‘Arathusa Authentic’ – not overly complicated, creating a pace and environment that is conducive to full relaxation and a ‘homely’ feel. I know our job is done when a guest departs and says “Arathusa feels like home!”. This is what I most strive to achieve every minute of every day – THE BEST POSSIBLE AUTHENTIC HOMELY, WELCOMING EXPERIENCE.“
What still has the capacity to move you after all of these years?
“The magic that never dies is seeing the impact the bush has on visitors – the amazement etched on their faces when seeing an elephant, leopard or any special sighting for the first time, and coming back to the lodge to share the experience. When some guests leave and they shed a tear or two because the experience they have had at Arathusa has been so life changing for them in so many positive ways – THIS is, and will always be, priceless to me!”
What are the elements of a successful safari?
“The main element, in my opinion, is not a check or tick list of animals – or even how many of the different leopards can be seen in 3 days…”
“A successful safari is when you take the opportunity to spend time in one of the most diverse eco-systems in the world, and you use ALL of your natural senses to truly experience it all.”
• Smell the difference between the crisp morning air and the evening breeze as the sun sets
• Hear the small creatures who influence this complex eco system, just as any of the big dominant forces do
• To not only see, but to truly witness the behaviour and interactions between animals in their natural surroundings – there is always a story unfolding
• Taste leaves, fruit or flowers (and if you’re brave enough, spit a dung ball at a sundowner…) – YOU WILL NEED GUIDANCE FROM YOUR FIELD GUIDE HERE!
• Feel a tree’s armour (thorns), or a rhinos rubbing post that has been polished to a marble finish
“Mother Nature tells a complex story that takes appreciation and deciphering – enhanced with the pleasure of using your senses. This is how you ENJOY your time in the bush.”
Your Top 5 pieces of advice for Arathusa visitors?
1. Challenge your guides – ask questions. They have a deep appreciation and passion for the bush, and they want to share the not-so-obvious aspects of nature.
2. Do not leave without having some new knowledge of a bird, insect and tree.
3. Don’t forget about nature when you return home – learn about your native fauna and flora (if you haven’t already).
4. Remember to appreciate the night sky!
5. Mother Nature is therapy – soak it up, rejuvenate your soul.
*A tribute and great appreciation to my dedicated team, and transparent directive from the ownership of Arathusa Safari Lodge.
Vernon van Wyk