Meet the Author
Did you have a book in mind from the beginning? No, I just wanted to explore and document these places, to be present in the wilderness. Laurens van der Post writes: “It seems that the footsteps are extremely important and that, if I look after the footsteps, the miles will take care of themselves.” I tried to stay focused on the moment and let the bigger picture take care of itself. As my work gained momentum, some people took notice and offered to help me put a book together.
There are 30 wild places featured. How did you choose them? I included all 19 national parks by default. The remaining 11 protected areas almost chose themselves because they’re so photogenic.
Who do you think will enjoy the book? Anyone who loves South Africa and who loves nature. Or someone who simply needs something heavy and stable to put their cup of coffee on!
People often romanticize travel journalism. Did you have any frustrations? For sure. Mostly with myself. Travelling alone for long periods of time can be challenging. You’re forced to confront a lot of things about yourself. If you’re having a bad day, you’ve got no one to moan to about it (except yourself, which gets boring quickly). Many times, I longed to share a special experience with friends and family.
Why is wilderness important? Wilderness is our original home, it’s where all humans came from, it’s the foundation of our psyche and it’s why our bodies and minds work like they do. If we lose wilderness, we also lose ourselves. I think our national parks and wild places are the most valuable things on the planet – even if they are incomplete fragments of what once existed.
Best wilderness moments? Keeping watch around a fire after midnight in the iMfolozi Wilderness Area, listening to lions roaring on both sides of our camp. And shortly after, seeing a leopard’s eyes reflected in my torchlight. I also slept alone on a cliff in the Drakensberg halfway up Tugela Gorge. The following morning I woke to a grey mist that slowly cleared to reveal the basalt cliffs of the Amphitheatre. Then there was camping in the Kgalagadi, in Mabuasehube, alone in summer, while a thunderstorm tore the sky apart all night long. I doubt I’ve ever been happier.
Why did you choose the picture of the lone elephant bull for the cover? It’s a photo that symbolises the beauty and precariousness of our continent’s wilderness areas. The bull elephant is crossing the White Imfolozi River, which is in the oldest game reserve in Africa, founded in 1895. And it’s alone… Once there were millions of elephants living on the continent. Today, elephant numbers – and wildlife numbers generally – have dropped dramatically. All because of us.
Which photos in the book are your favourite? The aardvark in the Tankwa Karoo was the first I’d ever seen. I wasn’t sure who was more surprised – me or the aardvark! Another special image is the one that shows a herd of elephant crossing the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers in Mapungubwe. I’d been to that lookout point about 40 times previously, during several trips to the park, and I’d always got the same clichéd sunset shots. Until that day. Best photo tip? Photograph what you love. Like any craft, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. There’s no substitute for hard work.
Wilderness expert and author Ian McCallum describes your book as an “inner journey” as well as an outer one… I had everything that most people dream of: a good job, a loving family, a so-called good education. Yet something was missing. I tried to fill the gap in my heart with more work, more stuff, relationships, religion… Anything that gave me some sense of purpose. None of it worked. My travels to wild places in Africa helped me get to know who I am, and to recognise what I love and believe in. The sheer beauty of the natural world is tremendously healing.
Plans for the future? I’m continuing my work as a conservation photographer and writer in Africa. It’s what I love doing. – Erns Grundling
South Africa’s Wildest Places is published by Love Wild Africa and costs R950 (free delivery in South Africa). Order at lovewildafrica.com