Dudley Wessels - Tour Guide Extraordinaire: An Interview
DUDLEY WESSELS – NAMAQUALAND GUIDE EXTRAORDINAIRE AND ALL-ROUND GREAT GUY!!
Interview by: Jeanene Jessnitz.
Dudley Wessels is Naries’ Preferred Guide for the whole of Namaqualand and all our guests who’ve spent time with him, talk about their experience in glowing terms. Contact Dudley directly at 083-305-2569 to book a tour and enjoy an unforgettable experience!
1. Where did you develop the love for what you do?
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and nature, and love working and sharing with like-minded people
2. How long have you been in the conservation/tourism world?
Oh heavens, approximately 20 years full-time I think? I’ve always been into nature and completed a game rangers’ course way back in my 20’s. I worked for a mining company for many years and when it became obvious that rehabilitation and conservation were not on their list of priorities, that’s when I decided that this wasn’t for me and decided to quit and focus on what I believe is the really important issue i.e. conservation and sustainable utilization.
3. How long have you lived in Namaqualand?
Since 1992. Before that I was at the Chamber of Mines in Gauteng, and no, I have never looked back. This is home.
4. The area has been extensively mined. Is there still anything to see here?
Oh, absolutely. There is plenty to see and experience. This is such a diverse habitat. Insects, reptiles, plants – an incredible biodiversity out there, but you have to get out into the veld to see and experience it. From a car window it looks like nothing. You need to get into the veld.
5. You are quite an acclaimed 4x4 guide. I believe you are a 4x4 instructor too?
I am not so sure about the “acclaimed” but yes I am 4x4 guide and an accredited 4x4 assessor.
6. Why is it necessary to have 4x4 training? Can’t anyone just put their vehicle into four wheel drive and go for it? What could possibly go wrong?
What could go wrong? A lot can go wrong. You can kill yourself – or your loved ones. You can irreparably damage your expensive vehicle. Proper 4x4 training keeps you safe. Knowing the fundamentals of 4x4 driving will prevent you from damaging your vehicle and understanding the forces at play.
A large portion of formal 4x4 instruction is dedicated to bush-craft and conservation – to minimize your footprint in a natural environment. You’ve seen the damage that 4x4 vehicles in the wrong hands can do. Proper 4x4 training includes bush etiquette – how you ought to behave in the veld. A lot of the damage done by vehicles is through pure ignorance – people don’t even realize what harm they’re inflicting. With proper training, not only do you minimize the risk of hurting yourself or your vehicle, but your whole experience becomes far more enjoyable. One does 4x4 to take you to remote and beautiful places. You want to enjoy the trip, not spend it so stressed out or anxious that you fail to be able to enjoy the beauty around you and to leave it as you found it or cleaner!
7. Are first time 4x4 drivers welcome on your tours?
Absolutely! I will go through every manoeuvre and technique with you step by step. You won’t feel out of your depth and we progress at your pace. That’s what training is all about. When you panic, you tend to make silly, and sometimes, dangerous mistakes. We avoid those situations completely.
8. You’re quite famous throughout Namaqualand. What would you say are the traits what make a good tourist guide?
Passion. Passion for your environment and the enjoyment of sharing it with others. Compassion too – understanding the needs of your guests. A sound knowledge of your environment and the wider area.
What a great pleasure and privilege to be in a position to reveal the gems of our region to visitors and to provide them with the ultimate Namaqualand experience!
A good tour guide is strongly conservation-minded. You are the link between the experience and the guest, and there are two principles that a good guide will always adhere to. Number one, you will never compromise the environment (and yes, sometimes you get guests that through ignorance might want to do something that will go against that principle – it is your job as a guide to prevent this and to educate people at the same time as to why you will not allow it. Secondly, your responsibility as a guide is to provide your guests with the ultimate experience. You are the interpreter between the environment and your guests. You bear the interests of both Nature and your guests at heart.
Other important characteristics of a good guide would be reliability, field ethics, punctuality and of course that you are aptly qualified and have the necessary accreditation and training behind your name.
9. You’re quite a photographer too. When did you start this hobby?
Back in 1976. My first camera was a Pentax MX. I’ve been hooked ever since. My favourite is probably macro photography, but I love landscapes, children, people, and sport/adventure photography. It’s hard to pinpoint which I enjoy most. I’ve also worked as a professional sports photographer – motorcar racing, adventure sports. I still freelance for sporting events.
10. You also do specialist botany and photography tours – how do these work?
These are really exciting tours. I get to share with guests the little things that they may miss in the veld. Tiny spider webs, or succulents, or the shapes and folds in our mountains – depending on the interests of the guest. I’m also more than willing to assist people who have just taken up photography. They have the camera, but not yet the skill. Also, for many, nature photography is something new. It helps when you have someone who can “read” animal behaviour or knows when shadows will fall where and where to find specific subjects the photographer may be looking for.
11.Naries Namaqua Retreat receives regular requests for your guiding services. You take guests out for the day and return in the evening to the luxury and comfort of Naries and then head out the following day again. Is there enough to see and experience in and around Naries to keep the visitors busy for 3 or 4 days, or do is it always the same route?
Without a doubt. Naries Namaqua Retreat is wonderfully central and we never follow the same route. Different groups have different needs and desires, so what works really well is when we have 3 or 4 days together and in the evenings, we recap the day over a sundowner and plan the next day’s adventures. There is such a diversity of experiences and places to visit using Naries as the hub, no two days will ever be the same.
11. You also do cultural tours – is there really a market for this? Don’t people only come to Namaqualand for the flowers?
Cultural tourism is very popular these days. It’s a worldwide phenomenon in tourism. Visitors are no longer satisfied with only seeing the glitzy “touristy” things. They want to know how the ordinary people live, what they do, eat, etc. I know a lot of the local folks and I have developed firm friendships in many of the small local villages. Cultural tourism should always be non-intrusive and respectful of the people generously providing a tourist with a glimpse of their daily lives. It’s about mutual respect and trust.
12. What if I don’t have a 4x4 – will you still be able to show me around?
Most definitely. These are often the nicest tours because we are all in the same vehicle. We see the same things while we are out. If your convoy is too large, the last vehicles may miss sightings that the first vehicles enjoyed.
13. Anything you’d like to add?
Not really, other than the assurance that I will give you an experience to remember – whatever time of year you’re visiting Namaqualand.