The Abelana Game Reserve family has grown with the arrival of our new General Manager of Tourism, Jon Morgan, who has relocated to Abelana from Elgin, in the Western Cape, with his wife Christie and their young sons Fynn (3) and Charlie (10 months).
Born in Zimbabwe, Jon moved with his family to Durban when he was just seven years old. They subsequently moved to Cape Town and Jon grew up in Rondebosch, attending Rondebosch Boys High School before heading off to Rhodes University to do a Zoology and Botany degree.
Degree in hand, Jon headed to the bush to become a safari guide at Mala Mala in the legendary Sabi Sand private game reserve and once qualified, took a gap year and travelled widely throughout Asia before returning to South Africa where he took a three-month road trip around the country in his VW Beetle which gave him time to decide what to do with his life…
“It was glorious,” says Jon. “I drove all the way from Cape Town up to the Kruger and returned via Lesotho, Swaziland and Transkei and then joined what was then CC Africa (now &Beyond) to further my guide training at Phinda Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal,” he adds. “From there I was posted to Ngala Tented Camp in the Timbavati and spent the next three and a half years there, specialising as a walking guide before returning to Phinda to do walking trails there.”
Jon then took a six-month break to explore India and Sri Lanka, coming back to South Africa to return to the Sabi Sand, joining Londolozi as Head Guide, spending the next couple of years heading up the guiding team there.
“I naturally evolved from guiding to become one of &Beyond’s travel planners, moving into the business of travel agency which stood me in good stead, as from there I became a fully fledged private guide taking my own clients on safari throughout Africa. I’d got tired of sending people to the places I wanted to go so decided I would much rather take them myself,” he laughs. He travelled extensively as a private guide through Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania and then met his wife, design fundi Christie…
“Private guiding required a lot of time on the road, so when I met Christie and got married, I went back to safari guiding, working at Singita and ended up in Mozambique working on the Karingani project. We then got the opportunity to move to East Africa, working with Asilia Africa, so we moved lock, stock and barrel up to Tanzania, where we stayed for four years, running field operations for 10 camps in the north of the country,” explains Jon.
“We had our first son, Fynn, in Tanzania and when Christie fell pregnant with Charlie we moved back to South Africa, moving in with my family on an apple farm in Elgin. Charlie was born in February this year. And then COVID-19 hit so we spent lockdown on the apple farm, which was, in retrospect, the most wonderful way to spend it, with a big garden, lots of time with my children and family.”
As tourism began to open up in South Africa again, Jon was looking for new opportunities and moved up to Hoedspruit with his family in tow, putting feelers out about possible opportunities here in the South African lowveld. “As luck would have it within three weeks of moving to Hoedspruit, I was being interviewed for this job at Abelana and I started here on 1 December,” smiles Jon.
“What’s exciting about Abelana and what really attracted me, apart from the fact that it was a great opportunity, is it’s such a rarity to find 15,000ha of relatively untouched bush in the Lowveld that’s got a great history with the community and to have a team here that’s dedicated to creating a pristine wilderness, along with that community. It’s a project and a brand I can grow with and help to mould,” says Jon.
Abelana has the unique opportunity to move guest expectations away from the Big Five and chasing big game viewing on every drive and towards a completely authentic, immersive wilderness experience that relies on helping them to truly connect with wild Africa.”