‘The Wild Woman Interviews’ is a series of Q&As with women who do interesting, brave and inspiring things. The name hints at how nature, the outdoors, travel, the natural cycles of life etc. motivate and influence their passions and pursuits.
This month, I’d like to introduce you to Bulelwa Msengi. She currently heads up the tourism portfolio for South African National Parks’ (SANParks) Cape Region and loves spending as much time as possible running, hiking and exploring the outdoors. In this interview, she shares some of her favourite local hiking trails and reasons why all South Africans should make an effort to visit and support our national parks.
If you had to rewrite all your social media bios to capture who you are right at this very moment, what would they say?
- Blessed & highly favoured
- Love my family
- Love nature
- Travelling/ Exploring is my way of life
- Love outdoors- hiking & jogging
- Rumble (boxing) is my new Love
Can you share a bit about the work you’re currently doing as South African National Parks’ (SANParks) Senior Manager: Tourism for the Cape Region?
As the Senior Manager: Tourism in Cape Region of SANParks – I oversee tourism-related functions with regards to quality assurance and tourism standards in our parks. Further to that, I also assist in Marketing and other generic park operations
Prior to this, you were park manager at Bontebok, Agulhas National Park, followed by a stint managing the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. What are the main duties of a park manager? What did you find most challenging? And most enjoyable?
As a Park Manager, you are basically required to be the CEO of the park. You are responsible for all park operations – from finance and stakeholder relations to human capital, tourism and conservation.
You really need to be an all-rounder to ensure that business is successful. Each park is unique and you will face different issues/challenges. Once conquered, however, these tend to become the biggest successes.
If we were to look at my time in Tsitsikamma – I got there at the time the fishing issue was at its peak and tensions were high. There was no time to settle in – action had to be taken quickly and engaging all stakeholders involved was key in order for us to find a solution.
Not only that, but I was also welcomed by a baptism of fire (she laughs): first, it was the veld fire that raged for more than three weeks followed by the restaurant in the park burning just three weeks before the season starts. All these required quick thinking and engaging different stakeholders both internally and externally. Together with the team, we managed to put things together, had a plan to quickly set up a structure for the restaurant.
Through all that, we got through and everyone was happy and had the best holiday season.
I enjoyed being Park Manager in all these parks. Bontebok is where my career began and I learned so much in that small gem of a park. Tsitsikamma and Agulhas gave me the opportunity to learn more about marine conservation as well.
Your job has given you the opportunity to reside in some of South Africa’s most beautiful wild areas. Which of these has been your favourite? Why is that?
Tsitsikamma is the most beautiful – I stayed at Storms River Mouth which is everybody’s dream. The forest that offers amazing hiking experiences as well as the rugged coast with a nice small beach where you could just lose yourself in thoughts and admiring nature. So peaceful that the only noise you get is the birds singing or the baboons chasing each other or jumping in the roof of your house – and I got to call that home for two years – priceless!
Bontebok still remains my number one. As small as it is, it’s got so much to offer- the landscape, fynbos and the Breede River. It’s so peaceful and has a way of stealing one’s heart
Is there a park – or maybe even part of the country – you’ve always dreamed of working? Why?
Eastern Cape – as that’s where I originally come from and it would be good to give back what I’ve learned over the years.
Can you share 5 good reasons why people – especially locals – should visit and, in that way, support South Africa’s national parks?
- National Parks have a rich cultural heritage and history people should definitely know about to own it
- Given the experience, sleeping in some national parks won’t break your purse!
- Exciting activities you wouldn’t associate with national parks, such as Segway tours, Big Trees and zip-lining in Tsitsikamma, as well as boat cruises in water bodies such as Knysna.
- Sense of place, peaceful, refreshing and ‘just being’
- “Know your parks” there’s one next to you and they are for the people of South Africa and the world
You’re also a keen hiker and aspiring roadrunner. What have your favourite trails been to explore in and around Cape Town? What do you love most about this sport?
I have done Lion’s Head (all the way up) as well as the Pipe Track – walking around on the periphery. Have done a few in Silvermine with Elephant’s Eye being my highlight thus far. Some walks around Constantia i.e. Alphen Trail and also walking through the vines in Groot Constantia. Next year, I’ll be tackling the Whale Trail!
I haven’t been able to do more running races this year as I’ve been struggling with a knee injury but am back on the road now with my training – taking it slow.
I find myself at peace when am out there be it on the mountain hiking or on the road jogging- it refreshes one’s soul and best way to connect with nature and yourself and just allow yourself to be
Finally, where can people connect with you online?
You can find me on social media:
Instagram – @buli_msengi