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John has designed a signature tour to celebrate the very best of Zimbabwe. The tour departs in late October 2013 for eight people. Experience tracking and observing wildlife with one of Africa’s Great Guides; unique camps and lodges and the highest standards of service. Roddy Bray will host the tour with John. Read more...
John Stevens will be one of the first people mentioned if you ask ‘who are the top safari guides in Africa’? He is the quintessential ‘Zim guide’: a leader in an outstanding generation of bush guides that emerged from Zimbabwe in the 1980s. They seem to share a genetic code: an excitable, boyish enthusiasm for adventuring in the bush, a decided preference for walking or canoeing safaris rather than using a vehicle, brilliant knowledge, amazing tracking skills and the ability to be close to wildlife without confrontation. In short, they give you an intimate, sometimes dramatic, experience of wild Africa.
This generation are now leading guides working throughout east and southern Africa. And whilst John has guided widely in Africa he is one of the few who remained in the country throughout its troubled years since 1999, and has been able to continue guiding in his beloved Zambezi valley. Such is his reputation among both guides and well informed travelers.
John unfairly describes himself, with characteristic humour, as ‘a dog’, referring to the enthusiasm he feels as soon as he wakes up: to be up and out, in the wilds, observing, discovering, expecting the unexpected. When he describes to you the Zambezi Valley, or re-tells his astonishing wildlife stories, he becomes animated and blissfully alive.
John has enduring love for the Mana Pools in the Zambezi Valley
One cannot help thinking that the boy who explored the hills of Mutare with his dog Cheeky, never grew out of loving adventure and learning. Yet this is also a man who immediately struck me as careful, committed, wise and deeply experienced as a conservationist, manager and guide. His determination is to ‘get it right’. He is also a gracious host. It is an enviable combination of head and heart, which helps to explain his high reputation.
John loves walking in the wild, and nowhere more than in the Zambezi Valley and its best known area, the Mana Pools. He knows it well. He was warden of the Mana Pools National Park in the late ’70s. He led the anti-poaching teams, built access roads, developed the tourism and monitored wildlife.
A dramatic encounter canoeing on the Zambezi
After 18 years of excellent training in the Park Service he felt he wanted to share his love of these areas with travellers. And so he became one of the very first private safari guides in Zimbabwe, and helped pioneer the tourism industry.
In 1982 he opened Chikwenya Camp to the east of Mana, and soon after developed adventurous 7 day canoeing safaris down the Zambezi, a river famous for crocodile, hippo and bathing elephants! He went on to manage Fothergill Island and open a tented camp in the Matusadona. With men like Gavin Ford as partners, and apprentices like Dave Christensen , these camps became safari icons and helped the Zimbabwe tourism industry boom in the ‘90s.
Most people running such operations disappear under the burden of administration. But John firmly stuck to guiding. This is what he loves: to be in nature, the ebony and mopane forests, the behaviour of elephants and rhino, the toil of dung beetles, the scent of flowers.
Sharing tracking skills with children
He is a brilliant tracker, and he loves to teach his guests how to walk in the African bush, to observe and interpret the signs left by animals, until finally one comes quietly, humbly, and sits within metres of an animal.
This is John’s paradise, of which he has never grown tired. But he also firmly believes that this experience, so exotic for most people, gives them insight not only into nature, but also into themselves. He knows that a profound shift can occur in a person when they have been so immersed in the wilds. He especially loves seeing this process in children and families. This love of nature and belief in its inspirational power to restore enthusiasm and embrace life fully, is characteristic of John, and is a quality shared by that Zimbabwean generation who worked with him.
In his audio, ''The Zambezi Valley Through Fresh Eyes' John introduces us to the Zambezi Valley, and in particular Mana Pools, with two stories of his adventures with rhino, once by moonlight, and another tracking with a wide eyed 12 year old boy.
News! John has designed a Great Guides Signature Tour to celebrate the very best of Zimbabwe. The tour departs in late October 2013 for eight people. Experience tracking and observing wildlife with one of Africa’s Great Guides; unique camps and lodges and the highest standards of service. Roddy Bray will host the tour with John. Read more...
Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 24 Nov 2010
Location: Southern Africa, East Africa | Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania
Themes: natural world, travel | safari guide, conservation, parks and trails