Born and raised in Johannesburg, Howard Geach is a cultural and nature guide, renowned for his specialist knowledge of the Cradle of Humankind within which the privately owned Greater Cradle Nature Reserve – a 9000 hectare UNESCO world heritage site – sits
Even as a schoolboy at the prestigious KwaZulu-Natal Midlands school, Michaelhouse, Geach’s first love was history. But his route back to the things he loved – nature and history – was circuitous.
He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a BSc in Engineering (Mining) and took a job at De Beers & Anglo American Corp as a Mining Engineer. He later quit to become a founder director of Conservation Corporation Africa (now &Beyond).
“Blasting stuff is fun but tourism, history and the environment has always been my true passion,” he says.
Geach started guiding in 1979, while he was still a student at Wits, and became a technical guide at the (then) Gold Mine Museum. In 1980 he started wilderness guiding for the Wilderness Leadership School (the brainchild of the late world revered conservationist Dr Ian Player) in reserves in the then Transvaal.
He says: “My interests include geology, palaeoanthropology, stone age, iron age, wilderness education, history, art and the power of tourism to contribute significantly to the South African economy. Gauteng and North West have all of these attributes and I endeavour to interpret the wonderful stories in these provinces to guests to the best of my ability.”
Geach, whose company is called Aah-Africa Tours and Transfers, is the lead guide and manager for the acclaimed Malapa Human Origins Tour which is based at the Greater Cradle Nature Reserve which is home to the well-known Cradle Boutique Hotel and the new luxury offering Riverhorse Lodge. It attracts tourists from around the world as it is home to two world famous active fossil dig sites Gladysvale and Malapa.
“My interest in palaeoanthropology was seeded in my early exposure to the findings at Sterkfontein Cave when my father took me on several trips there to the caves and the (then) small Rotary (Krugersdorp branch) kiosk and tiny museum at the site.
“I have always believed that the fossil bearing caves in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site offer an, as yet, largely untapped addition to any Southern African tour itinerary.
“When the opportunity arose to launch the Malapa Human Origins Tours after Tim Nash purchased the Bailey property some nine years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to contribute what I could to building this one-of-a-kind experience.
“The Greater Cradle Nature Reserve offers so many experiences in a truly beautiful landscape that pinning down a favourite activity is impossible for me – hiking, driving or just sitting around a fire out there are all fabulous experiences.”
Being out on the reserve continues to delight Geach: “Seeing 60+ endangered Cape vultures on an antelope carcass within sight of the Johannesburg skyline is always a special experience. As is seeing herds of 120+ eland or blesbok on the grasslands. Finding the endangered grassland orchid, Habenaria mossii, in flower is super special,” he says.
He says he has found that those he guides across the Reserve are fascinated by humans long journey to modernity: “The story of the evolution of us really brings a perspective of time and life that few other experiences can. A recurring comment from guests is that the experience has given them an entirely new perspective of who they themselves are.”
He adds: “There is so much layered into the landscapes of the Cradle that it represents a national treasure for education, for conservation, for science and for recreation and tourism.”
With a brain that is an encyclopaedia of information, he is often asked how he remembers it all. His stock answer: The truth is the landscape is my crib sheet. I’ve read and researched the entire Magaliesberg/Cradle area with the aim of understanding what I’m looking at.
“Once you get an understanding of deep time and the sequence in which earth and evolution proceeded, then the story is laid out before you. There is, however, much more to learn and share.”