Alf Ngwarai grew up in Zimbabwe where his father worked as the Chief Warden of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. As a result, Alf developed a strong connection and passion for the environment and its wildlife. Since the completion of his guide training, Alf has been privately guiding for the past 20 years, mostly in Tanzania, but also in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. In recent years, he’s really established himself as one of the top private guides for families and high-end clients. Alf prides himself on his ability to establish relationships with his guests, earn their trust, and gauge how to provide the perfect experience that he can exceed their specific expectations and needs. And he genuinely loves what he does! “It’s wrong to call it work. I live my life.”
Questions and Answers
When and why did you become a guide?
After growing up in the national parks and developing a passion for the land, Alf began his 3.5-year guiding apprenticeship in Zimbabwe in 1994, which is known to be one of the most rigorous guiding programs in Africa. In 1997, he earned his professional guiding license and began guiding primarily in Kariba, Gonarezhou, and Hwange.
After a few years, Alf moved to Tanzania, guiding mostly in the Grumeti. Here, he really established himself as a high-end private guide. Alf really enjoys being a private guide because it allows him to spend more time with his guests, establish a relationship, and better gauge how to shape their experience. It’s more “holistic and fulfilling” than providing a more formulaic 2-day experience that many people opt for. Alf sees it as his responsibility to relate to the guests, read them, and give them what they want, which often takes time and therefore requires him to stay with them through the duration of their safair. He finds it a good exercise for reading people and managing expectations.
What is your most memorable experience as a guide?
“One August morning my four guests and I went out tracking Rhino in Zimbabwe at the Malilangwe Reserve. We had been at it for a good 2 hours; the tracks we were following seemed to get more and more intense giving us a heightened sense of anticipation.
We stopped for a water break and for me to check on my guests. While stopped, I noticed a crash of 3 White Rhino grazing in the distance, in an area that was hidden from untrained eyes. After we had rehydrated and regained our focus, I started heading towards the direction of the 3 Rhino.
After a short walk, I stopped to talk about the tree cover we had around us and what we would do in a situation if we had to get behind cover and stay still to avoid detection. When I had their full attention, I turned around and pointed in the direction of the feeding Rhino, and talked about our approach strategy using the Mopane trees as cover, avoiding sudden movements, and approaching with the wind blowing towards us. When we were about 120 meters from the animals we found a fallen over clump of dead trees that we used as cover. We got ourselves into the woody pile and sat comfortably and quietly.
The 3 White Rhino - a bull, a cow, and her calf - steadily grazed towards us getting progressively closer as they moved in a zigzag manner with their heads down while feeding on the crispy dry grass. Cameras were clicking and excitement was high.
The Rhino got closer and closer to our position. At this point, we stopped taking photos because the clicks were way too loud. They slowly moved in closer till they got to 20 meters from our position. All the while they kept their heads down, softly grunting and wheezing, their mode of communicating with each other. We all held our breath as they were nearly 8 meters away, still oblivious to our presence. Our woodpile was a barrier they could not cross, so they circumvented walking to one side, eventually being 6 meters away from my position.
As they got to the downwind side, they smelt our presence. This spooked the Rhino bull who snorted and wheezed, lifted his head up and started running away with his family, tail curled up like a pig. Phew! Now we could breathe again and catch the departure on camera!
There is such a sense of achievement after tracking animals in the wild African bush for 2 hours, finding them, and watching them in their natural environment.
It was an unforgettable encounter.”
What safari moment were you most thrilled to have helped a client experience?
Alf was taking a family on safari to Duluti, Chem Chem, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Faru Faru. They had yet to see a lion and were anxious to see one. Alf spotted a male lion sleeping in the distance, but decided to keep this to himself. He drove the vehicle toward the lion, all the while talking to the family and directing their attention elsewhere. He drove right up next to the lion, while still keeping the family’s attention focused on the opposite side of the vehicle. Finally, he changed their focus to the other side of the vehicle where the lion was sleeping and caught them in total surprise!
Another similar experience was when he took a family out on a night drive where he knew that a pride of 22 lions was nearby. They were driving along the road when Alf saw the glimmer of a lion’s eye ahead of him. He quickly turned off his lights so not to frighten the lions and to soon give his guests a real surprise. Alf engaged with his guests, talking about the stars and the environment. Finally, when he sensed that the lions would be near he turned his lights on and the entire pride was only 20 yards away, walking toward the vehicle on the road. Eventually, as they approached, the pride split, walking on either side of the vehicle, giving the family a surprising and really special moment of a close encounter with an entire lion pride.
Alf really enjoys the staging and presentation element of his job. He likes showing rather than telling. In doing this, he can give his guests some really memorable and special experiences. “It’s the presentation of a scenario that creates a memory,” Alf recalls.
What is your ideal safari?
Alf’s ideal safari would include the Grumeti in Tanzania because of the limited number of vehicles and the ability to drive off road. Alf doesn’t think that there is a one-size-fits-all safari. It completely depends on the group, whether they’ve been on safari before, and what their expectations are. Generally speaking, he thinks that Tarangire is a good starting place for people because there is lots of wildlife. There are also lots of vehicles, but guests don’t necessarily know that yet, especially if it’s their first safari. Eventually he would move to more exclusive areas and properties where they would have a more intimate experience. Alf says that the experience is more about sequence than specific properties, but it is his job to really shape the guests’ experience.
Top 3 favorite properties:
- Sabora Tented Camp, Tanzania
- Abu Camp, Botswana
- Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe
Top 3 favorite national parks:
- Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
- Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
- Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, Zimbabwe
Your favorite trip:
10 day safari through Tanzania: Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, ending up at Grumeti
What is somewhere you have always wanted to take guests but never have?
Katavi National Park, Tanzania
What's on your bucket list?
Etosha in Namibia, Katavi in Tanzania and Gorongosa in Mozambique
Two things you always tells your guests to bring when traveling:
Equipment - an easy to use camera and comfortable pair of binoculars. Mindset - blank canvas. I am your artist: come ready to explore, endure, experience and enjoy.
Two things you think travelers should know about Africa:
- Its imperative to have a dedicated and passionate guide. It's not work, we just live our lives this way.
- Africa has peculiar ways of presenting itself to different people, no two days are the same nor are any two experiences, every moment is to savour
Camera or binocular recommendations?
Swarovski 8 x 42 binoculars, and Canon 70 D with 80- 200 mm lens.
Do you have a specialty?
Photography and walking safaris. And I have a soft spot for elephant.