1. What brought you to Gondwana?
Nicky and I were fortunate, from the outset, to be witness to Mark and Wendy’s dream of establishing a private game reserve on a piece of land in the foothills of the Outenique/ Langeberg mountains. We were still living in Johannesburg at the time and we flew down to see the ground and get a better understanding of their vision. We were struck by the beauty and uniqueness of the area. I think it is fair to say though that we saw the project as massively daunting. However the concept Business Plan that Mark and Wendy had prepared was sound and their confidence and passion gave us the comfort that they could and would make this amazing venture work. It has been a source of immense pride for Nicky and me to watch their progress and their resilience through challenging times and to see their dream blossom into reality. We believe that in many ways they have even exceeded their dreams, thanks largely to the many wonderful home-owner families that have embraced Gondwana and the professional team that they have gathered around them.
Mark and Wendy came up to Johannesburg in 2006 to market plots in the five housing areas. We hosted a get-together of friends and colleagues at our home and Mark and Wendy made their first formal presentation about Gondwana as an investment opportunity. A number of our South African friends and our dear friend Lynda Chalker were excited by the opportunity and we decided to launch the idea of a syndicate bush villa. It did not take long before life-long friends of Nicky’s in England – the Barlows, Boardmans and Nightingales showed interest in joining the syndicate. And so Red Rocks 27 (Harrier Heights) as a syndicate villa was born.
We all just love the peace and tranquility of Gondwana – a retreat from the madding world.
2. Are you South African Jon?
Yes, I am a fifth generation South African and although I have travelled extensively, I have lived all my life in South Africa.
3. Tell us about your family.
Nicky is English and came out to South Africa on holiday to visit cousins. We met and were married within six months and we have just celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary! We were blessed with two special children, Tessa and Mark and now we have four gorgeous grandchildren. We moved from Johannesburg to Knysna in 2007 and to our joy both families have since joined us. Not many grandparents are as fortunate as us!
4. What is your favorite species on the reserve?
I have a special empathy for the species that survived the generations of commercial farming in the area – I’m thinking of species like Grey Rhebok, Bushbuck, Klipspringer, Duiker, Bush pig, Honey Badger and Aardwolf. Having said that most of the introduced species would have inhabited the area before European settlement. Nicky’s favourites are the Kudu and Cape mountain zebra.
We love the birdlife and have named RR27 “Harrier Heights” after what we feel is Gondwana’s signature bird the Black Harrier.
The essence of Gondwana though is the stunning fynbos. I don’t think we pay enough homage to the role Gondwana is playing in preserving the amazingly diverse and beautiful fynbos biome which is unique to this tiny corner of our fragile planet. Having Peter and Fiona Boardman as close friends and syndicate members is a special joy because of their knowledge and passion for Gondwana’s birdlife and fynbos vegetation.
5. What is your favourite spot on the reserve
The Nouga valley is very special. We have enjoyed so many memorable moments in that beautiful corner of the reserve with its cliffs, acacia thorns, rocky river bed and stunning views.
6. What has been your scariest/craziest moment on the Reserve?
Soon after Harrier Heights was built, we shared a week in our new bush villa with Paul and Tina Barlow. One early morning we walked down to the fence-line in front of the house (the fence that divides the Walking Area from the main reserve) to see if we could find the nightjars that we had heard calling all night. We spent about ten or so minutes near the fence scouring the bush without success. As we turned to retrace our steps, Nicky froze and pointed to the fence. All the time that we had been down there, the lion pride (the male lion and the two lionesses) were lying in the grass right at the fence, not five metres away, watching our every move! The fence suddenly appeared very transparent! We made a slow but steady retreat back up the hill without anyone daring to breath. Quite a spine chilling experience!
7. What do you do for a living?
I am retired now but I am still involved as a specialist consultant on a number of interesting projects in Africa. I am an agricultural scientist by training and I headed a consulting firm, based in Johannesburg, that specializes in Environmental Sciences, and Agribusiness. One of my interests has been the conservation of water resources of southern Africa. I developed the national guidelines for water conservation and water management in agriculture (agricultural irrigation uses over 60 % of all South Africa’s water resources annually) and have consequently been involved in many River basin studies (such as the Orange River Basin) where the water use, water conservation and water sharing between neighbouring countries is formalized in international water treaties.
8. What is your favorite food?
I am very easy going when it comes to food, but what I do cherish is sharing a meal with family and friends, and preferably with a bottle of good wine.
9. Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
I used to be a marathon runner but in recent years Nicky and I enjoy walking and informal bike riding. I also enjoy a game of golf – with a very high handicap these days! Nicky still plays tennis regularly.
10. What are you passionate about?
I believe family life is very important and we as a family have a wonderfully close relationship which Nicky and I cherish.
I am also passionate about South Africa – with all its warts and challenges. I believe it to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world not only for its natural splendor but also because of the inherent spirit of all its people.
As Mark well knows, I am passionate about the huge challenge of eradicating the alien vegetation on Gondwana. It has been so encouraging to see the tangible progress made by the Gondwana team in recent years with the various projects such as the Working for Water Programme, the biofuel initiative and the exciting new biological control programme.