Matt o’Brien – a calling for adventure

“I never took a gap year after Matric, I went straight to University and spent five years studying towards a (Law) degree. At the end of my degree, I felt a lot of pent-up frustration at not having had a real adventure while I was still young and unattached. I did some research and stumbled across EcoTraining. It sounded like my ticket to adventure.

My year at EcoTraining exposed me to a whole other world, one that I did not see at University. It broadened my horizons more than University did as I spent a year interacting with people from so many diverse backgrounds. EcoTraining’s camps are top class, and I can still vividly remember the fear that enveloped me as I walked alone to my tent on that first night in Selati, honestly believing a lion was waiting for me behind every corner. I can also remember the exciting novelty of showering under the stars in Botswana every night. Classes were conducted in an open area, with animals and birds calling all around us, and occasionally popping in to visit. It made quite a change from University lectures in the middle of Johannesburg.

EcoTraining’s instructors helped to make the year unforgettable. EcoTraining has managed to put together a team of some of the most respected and knowledgeable guides in Southern Africa, who are also some of the craziest and the most fun. I enjoyed nothing more than chilling around the campfire at night, having a beer and listening to stories from my instructors, some of whom had been in the bush for over 20 years. You never stopped learning or laughing with those guys around, and they did all that they could to help us get our qualifications. If they weren’t teaching me about the world’s smallest flightless bird, they were helping me pull pranks on the other instructors.

Listening to stories around a campfire under the stars.

At the end of my practical training, EcoTraining placed me at an Overlanding company called Sunway Safaris. Overlanding involves conducting tours around Southern Africa in customized trucks. I was the driver, the guide and the cook. The tours ranged from a two-week tour of Botswana to a three-week epic from Cape Town all the way to Victoria Falls. I saw sites that I had only ever marvelled over in photographs, and other sites that I never want to see again, but it was all part of the experience. Going from being a lazy university student to suddenly having to look after 12 foreign guests in darkest Africa definitely made me grow up fast and I learnt so much about myself in those 6 months.

I went skydiving in Swakopmund, white water rafting in Victoria Falls, spearfishing in Kosi Bay, and joyriding in a helicopter over the Okavango Delta. My bucket list now has a few more items crossed out on it thanks to my time at Sunway Safaris. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, that I decided to hang around after those 6 months.

Listening to stories around a campfire under the stars

The graduation at the end of the year was a great time to catch up on with all the other students and hear about everyone’s adventures. The effort that went into the graduation ceremony, as well as any birthday celebrations, showed how much EcoTraining cares about its students.

If you have a yearning for something more in life, and a craving for adventure, why not do something out of the ordinary and take a gap year at EcoTraining? It may just change your life.

Listening to stories around a campfire under the stars

About the Author:
Annemi Zaaiman

Annemi Zaaiman

Explore more

Instructor Richard Davis giving a lecture to several students in nature

Wildlife Conservation with EcoTraining

EcoTraining showcases its commitment to wildlife conservation and environmental preservation by promoting sustainable practices and educating people about protecting endangered species. EcoTraining sets the bar high with its courses, trains field guides, and instils a sense of responsibility towards nature and wildlife.

Read more
a group of students looking at tracks in the sand

Understanding Wildlife Tracking

The ancient art of tracking unveils the secrets of animal behaviour. We explore the key steps of identifying, interpreting, and tracking wild animals in the heart of the South African wilderness.

“Do not be afraid to get dirty. Get down on your knees and have a close look at the tracks. It is essential to take your time. You can make a mistake by being too quick on the trigger when identifying tracks,” said Gerhard Delport, a former EcoTracker student.

Read more
students at lanner gorge

EcoTraining Celebrates 30 Years of Excellence

Thirty years of EcoTraining is a significant milestone. This celebration is a testament to EcoTraining’s long history of promoting field guiding and wildlife conservation. It’s an opportunity to inspire the next generation of passionate individuals who will continue the legacy of creating guardians of the natural world.

Read more

Start your wildlife career

Want to become a field or nature guide? Explore our immersive courses and training programmes for professional safari guides and guardians of nature, taught and led by experts in the industry.

EcoTraining offers career and accredited courses, wildlife enthusiast courses, gap year programmes and customised group travel courses.

Join our nature-loving community.