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If you peek at TripAdvisor, you’ll quickly find that Dumi Mbatha is the most popular tour guide in KwaZulu-Natal – with reviews describing him as ‘knowledgeable’, ‘kind’, ‘funny’, ‘awesome’, ‘the best’ … all of which comes as a bit of a surprise to this modest and self-effacing tourism professional.

“I was good at accounting at school, so I thought I was going to become a chartered accountant. But I was also a member of the environmental club and I just fell in love with nature,” he admits.

He’ll be happy to share his story with all visiting the TKZN stand at the Africa Travel Indaba 2024.

Jozini, in Zululand, where Dumi grew up, is rich in game reserves and his school conducted day trips into these reserves. So, after Dumi left school, it was not surprising that his first job was at Phinda Private Game Reserve.

After seven years at Phinda, he moved to Thanda, another luxury reserve. He says that his experience in 5-star lodges taught him valuable lessons.

“I learned all about upmarket guests and how they like to be treated. This means that I am constantly striving to maintain very high standards. I always try to challenge myself to improve and be better,” he says

In the interests of widening his experience, Dumi took jobs at a number of different companies. He even accepted a job at a Pilanesberg game lodge in North West – but did not stay long because he hated the weather!

“When you have grown up in Zululand you don’t understand the cold. I did not even last a year. I was very happy to come back home to KwaZulu-Natal,” he says with a laugh.

After a stint at Manyoni Private Game Reserve, Dumi moved to St Lucia and joined another safari company. However, by this time, he was getting so many requests to do private tours that he decided to strike out on his own.

He started Dumi’s Legacy Tours in 2018. “I called it Legacy Tours because I want to leave a legacy. This is also why my tours are different. I try to bring something different to every tour that I do,” he explains.

His tours are all different and are based on specific requests from clients. Apart from standard halfday and full-day safaris to iSimangaliso Park and Cape Vidal or the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, Dumi also offers an Elephant Interaction Experience at Manyoni.

Elephants Rachel and Rambo were rescued from a cull as babies and have therefore become habituated to people. The tour gives a fascinating insight into elephant life and behaviour. When not on display, the elephants are free to roam the reserve, although they prefer to hang around the lodge, especially at feeding time.

The ‘Dumi Difference’, according to visitor reviews, is that Dumi is a gifted storyteller who does not merely impart knowledge, but shares his life experience growing up in Zululand, his unique culture and his deep love for the environment.

“Where I grew up, the people used plants for medicine. They knew the importance of animals in the wild. They understood the role of the spirits of the ancestors and how they must be attached to the home. These are the stories I tell – the stories of Zululand, the people, the culture, the bush and the wildlife.

The question I get asked the most often is ‘how old is the animal’ that we are looking at. This is good question to answer because it a gateway to the life of the animal and how it relates to its environment. I try to give the guests pictures through my stories. I especially love having children on my tours. I know that they get bored more quickly than adults, so I make sure I keep them entertained with activities,” he says.

He also tells his guests all about the history of an area, from its days as part of the royal hunting grounds to the establishment of the reserves and the role they have played in conservation.

While his tours nourish the soul, he also feeds the appetite by being an excellent cook. His safari lunches are invariably a braai with a variety of salads – and he has a secret recipe for potato salad that has his guests in raptures .

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