I’ve never had a gap year, and I honestly didn’t think I’d missed out on anything, but at the age of 30, after leaving a full time job to pursue my dream career in conservation I decided to start off with an adventure, and that adventure was UmPhafa.

interns--spottingAny anxiety I felt about travelling alone was quickly and efficiently quashed by the unique and personal way that the trip was organised by Colchester Zoo’s staff in the UK. I knew that I would be safe and well looked after every step of the way, so I packed my bags, waved goodbye to London, and embarked on a journey that was much more than just a trip to South Africa, it was an inspiring journey for me as a person, and an experience that will stay with me forever.

I was met at the airport by the smiling face of Jandre, and upon arrival at the reserve had the warmest of welcomes from his wonderful wife Sarah. There was so much for me to take in, an exhilarating sensory overload, but the first thing to strike me was just how breathtakingly beautiful this place was. Like a scene from Wild at Heart, sun scorched grasses, dotted with acacias, views up into the hills and beyond, and beautiful animals all around me.

giraffeI stayed at the reserve for a month, but within days UmPhafa felt like a home from home for me, all of the game rangers and staff were so kind and welcoming. Waking up early was never a chore, to drink my morning cup of tea on the stoop, with a perfect panoramic view of the reserve, and to be greeted by a passing Ostrich or Warthog family was just magical for me. Each day was full of excitement and no day ever the same, as a passionate animal lover not a second passed when there wasn’t something beautiful or fascinating for me to see or learn, whether it be walking through the veld in search of game trails to set out camera traps, and coming across a tower (herd) of Giraffe; taking a ride up into the hills in the 4×4 to check on the newest arrivals (it was lambing season) and finding leopard tracks; or hiking across the reserve, passing through its gorges and investigating scorpion burrows – there was never a dull moment!

UmPhafa is like no place I’ve ever been, it’s a truly special place, where animals can thrive without worrying about external threats, and all because of the endless care and protection they are given by the reserve staff and managers. The team at UmPhafa are some of the most dedicated and knowledgable people I have ever met, I not only had a wonderful time, but learnt so much more than I could of imagined, and in addition to the amazing time I had whilst in Africa, I have truly made friends for life. It’s been over a year since my visit now, but thanks to modern technology we still keep in touch regularly, and I eagerly follow the progress of the reserve.

sceneryI can recommend this unique experience to anyone who has an interest in conservation or a love of animals, and if you have any shred of doubt, just go for it! Visiting UmPhafa was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and at the end of my visit, I didn’t want to say goodbye… Africa really has found a safe place, nestled within my heart, and I will without doubt return to UmPhafa in the future.

Sandra Peelo UmPhafa Intern 2013

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