Meet the Au­thor

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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 lovewil­

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