Fireside Chats at The Last Word Kitara with Stefan
This week our Fireside Chat series features Stefan Steenkamp, Head Guide/Manager at our beautiful safari camp, The Last Word Kitara. The scene for this week's catch-up is alongside a crackling fire or, 'bush TV', in the boma (read: outdoor dining venue). Few things compare to the experience of enjoying a hearty meal in good company, on a balmy evening beneath a clear, starry South African night sky.
NC: Stefan, it is so good to see you again. And, special thanks for organising such fantastic weather that allows us to take advantage of having dinner under the stars! Tell me, Stefan, how long have you held your position as Head Guide/Manager at The Last Word Kitara?
SS: Thanks, Nicky, same here. Yes, it is good to have you here with us again. As for the weather- don’t mention it. I have been at Kitara for just over three years now.
NC: What is the favourite part of your day?
SS: That is a difficult one to choose! Enjoying a lovely cappuccino while discussing the morning game drive plans with the guests, as the sun rises over the Klaserie, is fantastic but enjoying sundowners out in the bush with the escarpment in the background is very hard to beat as well. It almost always sets the scene for exciting conversations filled with laughter
NC: Can you please tell us about Kitara's Security Heli Activity?
SS: The Last Word Kitara offers our guests the rare opportunity to sponsor and participate in a security flight that takes place in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. This flight comprises a low-lying heli flip over known corridors where poaching activity may occur. In the helicopter, one passenger is seated next to Jana, the pilot and director of Hope For Wildlife, along with two members of a security unit. The flight is technical from a flight point of view. The hour-long patrol flight covers sections of the reserve identified by the security manager as potential 'hot spots'. These known corridors are vulnerable to poachers keen to infiltrate it, the objective being to sufficiently disrupt their mission of poaching a rhino, forcing them to leave empty-handed. The Security Heli Activity is possible to book year-round.
NC: What is a unique aspect of the Security Heli Flight?
SS: Itslife-changing quality. Jana's in-depth knowledge of the subject offers vital context during the flight, placing impetus on the delicate connection between conservation, commerce and consumer. When our guests disembark, they walk away with a new-found sense of awareness and understanding of our purpose.
NC: Speaking of helicopters, what other excursions does Jana offer, exclusive to The Last Word Kitara Guests?
SS: We can book anhour-long Blyde River Canyon heli flip experience also led by Jana. An exciting excursion, the flight offers a bird's eye view of the canyon through the lens of conservation. Jana provides profound insights into the scenic area and a rare glimpse into the area's significance in South Africa's history. The option of this exciting heli flip belongs exclusively to guests of The Last Word Kitara and is ideal for those spending at least three nights with us. Remember though; there is a maximum capacity of three passengers on this helicopter.
We recommend including this incredible experience as part of your morning safari experience. Starting with a safari drive, we'll drop guests at the helipad after a short safari on the game viewer. Once the helicopter excursion has come to an end, we'll collect the guests again and continue with their game drive safari. To discover the ’Longest Vegetated Canyon’ in the world from the air is a privilege. To behold this iconic landscape from a helicopter is a thrilling adventure.
Our guest, Margaret Abbott, shared with us about her recent Blyde River Canyon helicopter flight with Jana as part of her safari experience at The Last Word Kitara.
"Our skillful helicopter pilot Jana was a dab hand at spotting game from above, so seeing herds of elephant, buffalo and even rhino put things in perspective as we zoomed towards the Blyde River Canyon. The bush eventually gave way to manicured citrus groves as we approached the Drakensberg Escarpment. We flew up the canyon, the third-longest in the world, and marvelled at its pristine lushness. Virtually impossible to explore by air, the Blyde Canyon is a microcosm of subtropical vegetation, towering Yellowwood trees, hidden rock pools, and breath-taking beauty. We highly recommend this jaw-dropping experience."
NC: What is the single most crucial conservation message you wish to give our readers?
SS: The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve (KPNR), established to try to protect and conserve the fauna and flora in the area. Thanks to the early insight of the late President Paul Kruger, the Kruger National Park and areas around it, including KPNR, is still a very well protected area where animals can roam freely over vast landscapes. Farms in the vicinity have, over time, seen the benefit of dropping their fences to create more space for wild animals to exist, creating an even bigger conservation area. My message would be for similar efforts to continue (in other areas as well). Put conservation first and help us move forward from the mentality that we are the only beings that matter on earth.
NC: Aside from the Security Heli Activity, are there any other conservation-led activities that our guests may join?
SS: Yes, another great option is our dehorning activity, Nicky. With this exciting excursion, guests make up part of the on-the-ground team. We recommend, however, that our guests take the Security Heli Flight ahead of the dehorning for a holistic view of our anti-poaching efforts concerning rhinos.
NC: Over and above the iconic five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo) what animals do your guests hope to see on safari at Kitara?
SS: The big five is synonymous with an African safari, and most guests do want to see them, but people are different and have different interests. Birding has become a trendy hobby for many. At The Last Word Kitara, our fantastic variety of bird species have attracted many 'twitchers' as this particular interest group is affectionately known. The ground hornbill is quite a popular request among them. We are happy to oblige as it brings awareness to the ground hornbill project on the reserve. The extremely rare pangolin and aardvark have come up a few times as well, and as elusive as sightings of them are, there have been some lucky ones that got to lay eyes on these gems while on safari at The Last Word Kitara.
NC: It has been fascinating talking all things' conservation' with you, Stefan. Thank you so much for sharing your insights on this critical matter. We are so lucky to have you on our team here at Kitara. As a parting shot, can you make any further recommendations for those interested in supporting our anti-poaching activities on the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve?
SS: It has been a real pleasure, Nicky. Thank you so much for your kind words, and it's great to be a part of this lovely team at our serene sanctuary, Kitara. Guests are welcome to talk to us about further anti-poaching efforts you can support through our projects in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. Aside from the Rhino Dehorning Project and the Ground Hornbill Project, we support the Tembo Project, Eco Children Programmes and, Save The Elephant Project on the reserve.
More About Stefan
Aside from our Head Guide/Manager, Stefan is also our resident photographer at The Last Word Kitara and loves sharing his amazing photos with guests and our online community. Originally from Bloemfontein, in the heart of South Africa, his love for nature and the environment helped shape his decision to become a career guide. His affinity for the outdoors and access to incredible wildlife sightings and landscapes fed his love for photography. Stefan's favourite animal is a leopard, and he has been fortunate enough to have a few close encounters with one such cat at Kitara that regularly enters the camp. Stefan is known for always being extra polite and happy to lend a helping hand.
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