In the first part of our exclusive Q&A series with the team behind African Safari Consultants, we speak to Cape Town based partner Liesl Matthews about eggs benedict, where to go with your kids, the perfect holiday snap and much (more) more…
1. If a client was adamant that he/she wanted to stay at (what you considered) the wrong places at the wrong times, how would you handle that situation?
Although I always try my best to steer clients in the right direction, you are often dealing with clients who are also getting advice from their friends who have travelled before and their word seems a lot more powerful than anything I can say, if in the end, after my best persuasive attempts, the client chooses not to take my advice I just graciously accept it and book the trip for them the way they want it. We are slaves to our clients after all!
2. What five adjectives would you use to describe yourself? And your business?
Myself: Caring, loyal, effervecant, attention to detail geek, superbly dedicated (my partners say this is my German heritage showing through!)
My Company: professional, exceed expectations, brilliant team, offices in New York & Cape Town
3. As a born and bred Capetonian, you’re amongst the luckiest people in South Africa (or the world). What are your favourite spots in Cape Town?
A few years ago, (pre – kids!) I walked up Table Mountain, we spent the late afternoon on the top, toasting the sunset over Camps Bay while watching the full moon rising over the city. Walking down by the light of the moon and fireflies just made it perfect
Now as an old mother hen I love going to Kirstenbosch concerts in the summer time and Boulders Beach where the kids love swimming with the penguins !
4. You’re always jovial and high spirited in the office and are known as the having the biggest personality – do you think that your cheerful demeanour has helped make you one of the best in the business?
I am who I am and I can’t be any different when I communicate with my clients, I am passionate about what I do and personality and passion always shines through no matter what.
5. If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
I always wanted to be an actress but even during the Christmas recitals I couldn’t remember all my words so alas, the world is now my stage and my poor colleagues get to front row seats to my drama queen performances.
6. Would you rather….
See an elephant giving birth or witness a leopard kill from start to finish?
Giving birth hands down, a kill is a lot more violent than you expect, although you always wish to see a kill… once you there in the middle of it all it’s a very emotional and gory experience (I am a girl after all)
Go out for a game drive at the crack of dawn or hit the sunset drive?
I have a rule, never miss a game drive because when you do that’s when they others get to see the pangolin you have been waiting for 12 years to see!!
Eat mopane worms or a local delicacy of tripe?
Fried up mopane worms could rival KFC you know
Be soaring over the Masai Mara in a hot air balloon or paddling through the Okavango Delta on a mokoro?
That would be like choosing between my children!
Be a meerkat or a monkey?
Meerkat, way more personality!
7. With Botswana enjoying an ever-increasing amount of attention from tourists, what do you think makes it so special?
I just love the remoteness of Botswana, because you fly into most of the camps and your ranger collects you from a dusty airstrip you feel like you are the only human in this wild paradise, gliding down the Okavango Delta in a mokoro (although not unique to Botswana) is still one of my all- time favourite experiences.
8. When having a braai (or a BBQ for our American friends), what are the absolute essentials that no self-respecting braai could go without?
A perfectionist husband who builds the perfect fire, never burns the meat and always makes sure his wife has a drink in her hand (I got one of those!!)
9. Are you proudly South African? If so, why?
Of course!! For a few years while I was travelling around Europe and the USA and I didn’t mention to too many people that I came from South Africa but then Nelson Mandela weaved his special magic and we could all hold our heads higher and walk taller. I am proudly South African because I live in an incredible country complete with some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, some of the greatest people and the best sparkling wine a girl could ask for!
10. What do you do all day?
I sit behind my desk in front of my computer dreaming up the most fabulous vacations for people to go on…. and then wish I was going too.
11. Why do you do what you do?
I am so passionate about Africa and sharing it with the world, there is nothing better than hearing back from a client that their lives have been changed forever, that Africa has got under their skin and they cannot wait to come back again.
12. How long have you been putting African travel itineraries together?
For more than 12 years now
13. How do you stand out from the crowd? (and no, I’m not referring to your bright red hair!)
Well if you need to spot me at the Cape Grace when I meeting my clients then knowing that I have bright red hair most certainly helps!! I am real, I don’t try to be anyone that I am not. Also, 12 years of experience gives me a lot to talk about (and I love to talk!) as I guide clients through their planning of their once-in-a-lifetime Africa trip.
14. Where and when was your first safari?
My first safari was with my mother, we did a drive through the Sabi Sands and we styled it from day one, staying at Ulusaba Rock Lodge. Could life get any better? I remember having a bath and watching the animals wonder past below. (Rock Lodge is exactly that, a lodge built on a mountain rock).
15. With so many under the belt, what has been your most memorable safari?
This is a tough one because I just love being on safari, but the one that stands out from the rest would have to be my trip to Zambia. We went to the South Luangwa and enjoyed a safari with Remote African Safaris where walked from camp to camp. Then, when we reached “Main” Lodge we went on a mountain bike ride to the local village. Later we went on a microlight flight over the river…
16. What are two of your all time favourite city accommodation places?
I just love Kensington Place on the foot of Table Mountain, their service, rooms and staff are just perfect. Their eggs benedict is worth going back for!!
I am also a big Cape Grace fan. Their success has been how they make a large, full service hotel feel like a warm, friendly personable boutique hotel.
17. Tell us about two of your all time fave safari lodges?
Although it doesn’t have any of the mod-cons, Tafika in the South Luangwa valley is my all-time favourite safari lodge. And then I’d say Singita Faru Faru in the Grumeti (Serengeti) – the most complete opposite to Tafika…..
18. And if I asked you to pick a place to take your kids for some sun, sand and nature…
I took my kids on their first safari last year, we went to the Manyeleti (Honeyguide Khoka Moya) and the Sabi Sands (Kirkmans Camp and Ulusaba). Watching my children experience their first game drive was a truly incredible and unique experience, although my son (who was 6 at the time) was way more eager than my daughter (who was 4 at the time) – she loved being at the lodge being entertained by the lodge staff and care givers.
For beach and sun I still think going to Plettenberg Bay is the best option, there are great activities and experiences to take them to (like Monkeyland, Elephant Sanctuary, Land of Birds, Ocean safaris, walks through the forest, zip line tree top tours through the forest) and of course the fabulous beaches – its got it all!
19. Where’s next on your bucket list?
I have ear-marked Namibia for my bucket list this year, and I may just need to return to my beloved Botswana too. There are too many choices…..luckily I have a lifetime to get everywhere.
20. I know you like wildlife photography – have you got a favourite photograph to show us? Where was it taken?
I still think my favourite is the photograph of the herd of elephants we saw when travelling through the Amboseli, it was a huge herd and the most impressive was this old matriarch at the back of the herd with the longest tusks I had ever seen.
I love this photo of the monkey we saw at Lake Manyara, I took a picture of only his hand on a branch, its so human….I love it (it reminded me of my time in Uganda at the Ngamba Island Camp Chimp Orphanage)
If you’re on Pinterest and would like to see more of Liesl’s pictures, check out our board ‘ Liesl’s Favourite Safari Photos‘.
Read client reviews about Liesl.