Field Guide Kim Le Hanie chats to Marataba’s General Manager of Operations Gawie Grobler, about his favourite spots on the reserve, his fascinating animal encounters, and more…
Kim: Where did you grow up, and how did this all start. Did you always want to be a guide?
Gawie: I grew up in Middleberg, Mpumalanga and spent my days playing rugby. I always wanted to be a farmer, but we didn’t own any farms so I worked at a chrome factory after school.
I decided that this wasn’t for me, so I enrolled to do my FGASA Level 1 (Southern Africa’s Field Guiding Qualification) at Spectra Ventures in Endeni Private Game Reserve.
After that, I got a job at Mabula Game Reserve, where I put in a lot of hard work! We junior guides were drilled properly, having to learn the Afrikaans, English, Latin and local names of plants as well as medicinal uses for each, and the same with the animals.
Kim: How did you end up as the General Manager of Marataba?
Gawie: I was contacted by Robert More, who I had worked with before. At the time I was in the Klassierie Game Reserve, running a 10 bed lodge with my wife. Rob asked that we come and have a look at Marataba.
My first response was ‘Mara-what? The Waterberg?’. We were Lowveld people. On the 28th of August 2013, I arrived with my guiding boots, jeans and my best checked shirt, and Rob offered us the position to run Marataba.
Kim: What is one of your favourite memories from your time as a field guide.
Gawie: Leopards have always been my favourite animal, even before I saw my first one. One particular sighting, however, was one that showed me the importance of awareness even when you are engrossed in what’s happening in front of you.
We were watching a female leopard on a bush buck kill with her two cubs, that were about 1 year old. I was familiar with this particular leopard. She was known to be very relaxed around vehicles.
I parked with the nose of the vehicle under a Scotia tree with the leopards above us, and then surprisingly, this leopard started growling.
And as I looked into my left mirror, I saw one of my guests standing next to the vehicle! She apparently couldn’t see and wanted a better look. We are here to make our guests’ dreams come true, but man, you can never drop your guard as you are responsible for them.
I can tell you about impala that have jumped over my vehicle, and about wild dogs running into a herd of impala and returning with red faces from having killed 4 of them.
I’ve seen 300-plus elephants at a watering hole, or afternoon games drives in 45 degree heat where you don’t see a single thing. I remember I had an important site inspection who only wanted to see cats. We saw not one cat, but instead a python who had killed an impala with hyaenas trying to steal it. Blood was splattered all over my vehicle, and not from being too close, it was just that vicious!
Renowned conservationist Dr. Gus Mills saw his first pangolin on a game drive with me. That was special.
Kim: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Gawie: My wife is my biggest supporter in everything that I do. One of my biggest inspirations in life was, and still is, Brit More. Last year was the 2 year anniversary of her death. Her passion and her drive… Everything she did was heartfelt.
She had no space for negativity. She had this way of pushing you to always want to better yourself, and surround yourself with people who make a difference in your life. She made a difference to me, and everyone else, especially in the More Group.
Kim: What is your best spot on this reserve and why?
Gawie: There is a spot that is both mine and my wife’s favourite. It’s East of Diamand Plains in a sandy section. The views are incredible.
Words by: Kim Le Hanie
Image: Ingrid Nemorin