Paul Bester is living the dream. Based at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, his passion for nature and photography, as well as his upbringing in Africa make him one of Australia’s best guides. We found out more about him…
Please explain a little bit about who you are and what you do?
As the Head Guide at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef I spend a lot of time out in the field with our guests, taking them on guided kayaking or bush walking in the Cape Range National Park, however, as we are a small team and in a remote location, I get involved in all aspects of the Camp from maintenance to training of the new guides and even waiting on tables at night. It is a varied life but I feel privileged to be in such a beautiful and natural location.
What got you started with your passion and what do you find most interesting about it?
My great passion is for the natural world, it always has been. I grew up on a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe and after studying in Cape Town spent time as a Ranger at a private reserve adjoining the world famous Kruger National Park. During these years I decided to focus on photography – it began as a way to connect with guests – helping them operate their, often very new, cameras. Soon I was spending all my free time expanding on my photography skills. I still love photography but I don’t get as much time as I would like for it. I could not be happier than when I am out in nature, surrounded by rugged, beautiful and wild landscapes with time to focus on my photography.
How do you bring the Australian natural world to life on your tours?
It is easy to bring the nuances of the Australian bush to life, there is so much that is completely unique here – flora and fauna that evolved differently and uniquely. You need to be out on foot, driving around you miss so much, the combination of a good walk, blue sky, the sounds of birds and insects, stopping to study tiny flowers or discover an ancient fossil …. All around us is life and once you get chatting about it, there are so many stories and fascinations to share.
Why do you think it’s important that people learn about the Australian natural world?
I think connecting with nature is something we all need to do more of. Disconnecting from the digital age and being totally surrounded by the Cape Range and Ningaloo Reef is an opportunity for most guests to slow down. What we do out here is good exercise for the body and for the soul. Bush walking, swimming, kayaking, leaping into the ocean to swim with a whale shark, seeing whales breaching as you have your breakfast, I can’t help feeling that if people feel connected to our natural world they will be better at protecting it in the future. To me it is important that I give them this chance to connect, by sharing my knowledge.
If people wanted to find out more about the Australian natural world are there any particular books, documentaries or websites you would recommend?
There are endless Field Guides to Australia’s plants, fish, reptiles, animals etc and once a traveller has found their particular interest they might care to invest in a good one. Out here we don’t have TV or internet so I am a bit out of touch with documentaries etc. We have a good library here at Sal Salis and I am working my way through it, I am currently reading a book at the Yamatji aboriginal people of the Gascoyne region, it is a collection of their memoirs and it spans the last 100 years.
What’s your favourite Australian animal and why?
Black footed rock wallaby, because it is endemic to the Cape Range National Park and because it is a positive conservation story, its numbers are increasing and we certainly see them on most of our Mandu Mandu Gorge walks. I love that I can share this beautiful creature with our guests.
What place is Australia’s best-kept secret?
Well perhaps I am biased but I would have to say Ningaloo Reef!!
What haven’t you seen / done in Australia that you’d like to and why?
OK, perhaps I am a little addicted to white sand and snorkelling and plenty of bush to explore but I would love to get over to the Whitsunday Islands.
Finally, how can people follow you on social media?
I am not very good at social media because, as I said, I don’t have internet at the camp but when I do spend time in town I pop up a photo on …
Photo thanks go to guest Nanda Haensel, Singapore.