Earlier this month, most of the Wild Wings team got together for a staff trip to the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. This was an educational trip with a difference - apart from inspecting new safari lodges (our goal has always been to personally inspect every lodge and game reserve we sell, so our safari advice is based on our own first-hand experience), we also had good reason to celebrate: Wild Wings Safaris is 10 years old this year! During a team celebration over dinner at the beautiful Tuningi Safari Lodge, we looked back at the journey.
Kruger: Where it all began
Wild Wings Safaris was started in 2005 by brothers Onne and Symen Vegter, but the journey started long before that. As kids, Onne and Symen regularly visited the Kruger National Park on family vacations, and this is where their love for safaris and Africa's wildlife began. After finishing high school in 1990, Onne took his 14-year-old brother on a camping safari through Kruger. They spent more than 3 weeks exploring Kruger from North to South, only returning home once they ran out of money.
Onne's love for the outdoors brought him to Outward Bound, where he started a career in adventure education. He also did a lot of travelling and writing. He remained involved with youth work, education and training until Wild Wings Safaris was launched.
Symen went into guiding and soon qualified as a safari guide. The early years of his career were spent guiding in northern Kwazulu-Natal province. He became an avid birder and keen wildlife photographer.
In early 2005 when the brothers were both at a crossroads in their careers, they decided to join forces and start Wild Wings Safaris. Initially, the company only offered what the founders knew and loved best - Kruger National Park safaris. But within two years, they started adding other popular travel destinations throughout Southern Africa - Victoria Falls, Chobe, Cape Town, the Garden Route, the Okavango Delta, and so on. The company owners and tour consultants did a lot of travelling to grow their product knowledge and destination expertise.
Today, Wild Wings Safaris specialises in designing tailormade safaris to all of Africa's top safari destinations and is well respected for its destination expertise, attention to detail and high standards of customer service. Coinciding with its 10 year celebrations, the company was inducted into Tripadvisor's Hall of Fame after receiving Certificates of Excellence for 5 consecutive years. Their Tripadvisor listing boasts well over 250 excellent reviews.
It's been an amazing team effort and Onne and Symen are thankful to be surrounded by such competent and passionate individuals on this journey. The staff team grew slowly and steadily, but it remains a small, hands-on company that is able to provide highly customised, individual attention to each client.
The Wild Wings team is also passionate about education, and in 2011 they launched the Wild Wings Educational Trust, a separate, non-profit entity which exists to provide better educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. The Trust relies entirely on donations and offers scholarships for talented children from South Africa's poorest areas to attend top schools, and is actively involved in supporting a local créche in Thembelethu, a township near the Wild Wings head office in George. As Nelson Mandela once said, "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
In 2013, the company opened a branch office in London to offer a more convenient service to its growing UK customer base. Having a registered office and bank account in the UK, and being subject to the UK's strict legislation regulating travel companies, provides our UK customers with convenience, security and peace of mind. Yet all clients still get the benefit of our local destination knowledge and expert advice from tour consultants who are based in South Africa. Wild Wings Safaris offers full financial protection and are proud members of SATSA in South Africa and ABTA in the UK.
We would like to take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has made this wonderful journey possible. Thank you to our many customers, for your helpful feedback, wonderful reviews, and loyal support. A lucky few have become regular return clients, enjoying three, four, even five safaris with Wild Wings over the years! Thank you to our loyal and enthusiastic office staff, both past and present, who have created so many unforgettable safari memories for our guests. Thank you to our guides, Symen, Neil, Frank, Edwin, Sam and sometimes other freelance guides, for your professionalism and hard work! Thank you to the many great safari lodges and other suppliers that we have been privileged to visit and partner with. And last but not least, I would like to thank God our heavenly Father, for I truly believe that everything we have and achieve is due to God's grace and blessing.
I will leave you with some more photos of our trip to Madikwe. Look out for another blog post specifically about Madikwe Game Reserve, coming soon.