Johannesburg - Keith Vincent is chief executive officer of the Wilderness Safaris group. Here he chats about his most memorable travel experiences.
First holiday memory?
My first memory was going to the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe as a 5-year-old. It was a wonderful family time (mom, dad, brother, sister) staying in the park’s cottages, braaiing every night. There began my love of wildlife. We went every year until I was 18. At 9, I told my father that one day I would like to own a piece of Hwange National Park – the rest is history.
Favourite place in South Africa?
I’m a huge fan of all wildlife destinations. My wife, Maureen, and I enjoy getting away from it all and exploring far-removed places that aren’t on the tourist map.
We love the Drakensberg and smaller wildlife areas like Addo. I’ve also been to a few nondescript camps in Madikwe that were fantastic experiences – I grew up in the lowveld so I enjoy this area.
When I do get time off, which is unfortunately rare these days, we go much further afield, such as the back end of Zimbabwe or Zambia, Botswana or further up Africa.
I love spending Christmas and New Year in the bush with my family – it’s a peaceful time when we all completely disconnect from the world.
We can also make it as relaxing or adventuresome as we want to, but as soon as the sun rises at 4.30am I am off (much to my son’s dismay) and heading out on our first game drive. We stay at one of the closed Wilderness camps in Hwange and as I have a home in Victoria Falls we can drive in ourselves. Definitely my favourite holiday of the year.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Travelling to so many different countries and meeting with various cultures has been invaluable. Understanding local culture is crucial to ensuring one is able to run an authentic and sustainable business. It is imperative to understand what the people need and to try to weave your dreams and goals together with theirs.
Ideal travelling companion?
Friends and family, especially my wife, Maureen. Being able to share what I have loved and learnt throughout my life with my family is the ultimate experience for me.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Adrenalin junkie. I have numerous stories that would keep you up all night around a campfire. But two of my favourites include canoeing down the Zambezi River, and hiking with just a backpack in Chizarira National Park – this trip became even more exciting when o ur tracker was mauled by a lion (he did survive to tell the tale). I don’t go to the beach.
Greatest travel luxury?
Not being in contact. The ability to “disconnect to reconnect” while travelling to the most remote and pristine wilderness areas is one of the greatest luxuries in today’s frenetic world – even if some travellers don’t realise this yet.
What are you reading?
I am always armed with my Kindle, reading an array of books, about three at the same time. Currently these include Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, a novel to put me to sleep The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, and a biography of a French resistance heroine.
Where has seduced you?
Africa! I have far too many favourite spots, but a few include the Zambezi Valley, areas in the Okavango Delta, and places in the Gonarezhou National Park.
There is also a majestic acacia tree on the drive from Little Makalolo Camp to Hwange Main Camp that has seduced me since I was a child – so much so that I got a painting of the tree for my 20th wedding anniversary. Every time I see it, I say, “There’s my tree!”
Worst travel experience?
My flight from Lusaka to Moscow in 1982 on an extremely dodgy aeroplane that felt like being on a public bus – a plastic bag with your own food for the duration of the flight, no catering or bathroom facilities that should definitely not be spoken of.
I have stayed at many beautiful hotels, but was extremely impressed with the service at the Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong. Unknown to me, they noticed the coffee I loved to drink in our room, and a year later, while visiting the Shangri-La in Vancouver, there was my coffee. It’s the small things that make a big difference.
Favourite walk, swim, ride or drive?
I don’t swim. Any drive in the bush. As a professional guide I spent 10 years driving for 10 to 12 hours a day through the bush. One of my favourites was in 1984 while guiding two guests from the US. We broke down near Kanyemba at the Mozambican border. It took us four days to walk the 150km back to our camp in the Zambezi Valley. I loved sharing this wild adventure with my guests – sleeping out under the stars, walking through the bush from spring line to spring line. (It was way before GPS and satellite phones.)
Best meal abroad?
Being a meat and potatoes person, it has to be a steakhouse in Austin, Texas. I can’t remember the name, but the atmosphere was great and the meal was superb. The Banana Leaf in Singapore serves the best curry.
I have a few – Austin, Santa Fe, Seattle, Singapore. It is predominantly the way of life that gets me to enjoy a city. I like street café living, so will spend time in a city that has an energy and lifestyle that grab me. I spent time in Europe in the 1980s when most cities were under communist rule.
Where to next?
The Zambezi Valley, to see our new Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools. Little Ruckomechi opens this month. I still have my guide’s licence, so I will no doubt be doing a few bush walks. I would like to go back to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast – a remarkable region, and visit Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
l Keith Vincent is chief executive officer of the Wilderness Safaris group and has been involved in nature conservation and tourism in southern Africa for most of his professional life.