Ulusaba is Richard Branson’s private game reserve in South Africa. The name Ulusaba means 'place of little fear', so named because the koppie, or hill, on which Rock Lodge sits provided the ancient Shangaan tribal warriors with the perfect lookout point. For generations this has been a habitat fueled by the spirit of adventure, something which still resonates today with many of the Ulusaba team...
We recently paid a visit to Mahali Mzuri, a safari camp situated in the Kenyan Bush and another of the Virgin Limited Edition properties. There we heard from the trackers, rangers and guides who make the place tick, dealing with a diverse mixture of animals and guests on a daily basis.
Thousands of miles away in South Africa, those who work at Ulusaba face many of the same challenges as their counterparts in Kenya - but does adventure play the same active role in defining their day to day experiences as it does for the team in Mahali Mzuri?
"Every day is completely unique and I absolutely love that about this job, each and every morning you wake up and you have no idea what Mother Nature holds in store for you. It is impossible to say that this job is not an adventure," explains ranger Calvin Kotze.
Interestingly, Calvin also identifies a challenge faced by his profession. One that he believes is altering the concept of adventure and they way in which guides and rangers may need to go about their work.
"I do think that technology is changing the way people expect things to happen," notes Calvin. "Sadly too many people expect instant gratification nowadays, and I fear it will become even worse in the future. Mother Nature has no place for instant gratification and everything happens in her own time, this is what makes it so special."
Ulusaba sits entirely within the Sabi Sand Reserve near Kruger National Park, surrounded by 13,500 hectares (about 33,000 acres) of open bush - meaning there’s a whole lot of land to be explored. The hills of Ulusaba are spectacular as they rise above the surrounding terrain, offering a view unsurpassed anywhere else in the reserve. The opportunities to see some of the world’s most beautiful animals here are therefore plentiful, however the days can be long ones for the team.
"My day starts off with a 4.15am alarm, from there I go for a quick shower and then do a vehicle check to make sure everything is still ok. I then go up to the lodge to prepare a cooler box and the game drive vehicle. From there we head out on safari for a minimum of three hours," explains tracker John Marimane.
"Once we return I have a quick breakfast before heading back down to the workshop with the vehicle where I will wash it, get it serviced and make sure there is enough diesel. I too will polish out any scratches I can see on the vehicle. At 3pm I will go for another shower before we head up to the lodge for the next safari. We then head out for the afternoon for about three hours. The best aspect of the job is being out in the bush and following fresh leopard tracks, nothing beats it."
However much like Calvin, John also sees challenges on the horizon for the future of his profession. "The number of young kids still wanting to be a tracker has dropped considerably in the past 10 years, children nowadays want to go to school and study to be doctors or managers. Meaning this profession isn’t passed down from father to son as much as it used to be."
Despite this trend John firmly believes he has one of the best jobs in not just the entire Virgin Group, but in the whole world. "Being able to show people the things I get to see on a daily basis makes me a very happy man," he explains. "Being out in nature for a bare minimum of six hours a day is really good for the soul. Mother Nature often shows us things I have only dreamed of seeing and the best thing about it is that I get to share those moments with people who have also only dreamed about seeing them."
While for some, like John’s colleague Brandon Birch, pleasure is derived from not just the wildlife but the opportunity to spend time with people who come from all corners of the earth to share the experience of being out in Ulusaba.
"The most rewarding aspect of my job is having the privilege of meeting new and wonderful guests and being able to guide them through such an enlightening experience.
"I’m lucky to be able to spend time in beautiful and peaceful surroundings while having the chance of seeing amazing things. Every day is different and never boring!"