October 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel for everyone, Working Abroad

Nomad Africa Adventure Tours is a one of a kind tour operator aimed at discerning travellers who want to walk as close to the wild side of Africa as possible.  Today tourists of every elk from honeymooners and vacationers to foreign business executives can enjoy and experience the best that Africa has to offer through these tours.  This can be done in safety without the dangers that the original African adventure presented to Nomad’s founder, Alex Rutherford, while setting up his business.

I spoke with Alex Rutherford, the founder of Nomad Africa Adventure Tours, a remarkable and strong willed man.  Alex has travelled from Morocco, down the coast of West Africa, cut across to Mali and Nigeria; passed through the Democratic Republic of Congo to East Africa and the likes of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania on the coast. Having covered 35 000 kilometres in 10 months, he crashed into Cape Town having spent little over 1 350 GBP.

Most would have packed away their cagoules and hung up their hiking boots at the first sign of a potentially life threatening experience, but not Alex, he proceeded to multiple them by three. Or maybe it was four or five…

Alex always had a plan to work and save up enough money to carry out his dream trip. He gambled to raise the cash for a flight ticket to the United States with only 20 US dollars in his back pocket. He began manual work there and after a year and a half, ended up as a General Manager.

Back in the UK, Alex made a friend for life in the person he bought his old Land Rover from.  The Land Rover suffered engine failure shortly afterwards but Alex was generously looked after by the original owner of the Land Rover, postponed his trip and began rebuilding the faulty part with no previous experience in mechanics.  Alex travelled as far as the Swiss mountains with the restored 1972 Land Rover before the gear box collapsed and he spent three weeks camping in the snow.  So that’s how Alex’s adventure started (along with a lasting distrust of Land Rover).

After contracting Malaria while driving from sunrise to sunset through the rainy season in the isolated Democratic Republic of Congo; and then being chased by guerrillas and plummeting into a tree; Alex remembers a time when he was tempted to give up.  His vehicle, along with four others, crossed a derelict, dust storm prone stretch of the Sahara; where the debris in the air cuts off all visibility.  The vehicle Alex was in paused to snap a photograph and within that time the other vehicles had vanished.  They had been literally blown away in the wind and there was no way to reach civilisation. This was a big wake up call for Alex.

“Nerve wracking”, Alex says of his time in Northern Uganda.  The West Nile Front was fighting with the Ugandan government and the convoy he shared with local military was stopped due to a previous vehicle being attacked and the driver shot.  Alex waited a week before he was allowed to be released. He drove through a countryside littered with the carcasses of vehicles which had been ambushed and turned on their sides.  Alex stopped over in a little town to take refuge and had to camp without a fire so he would not be found.

Despite Alex getting into some extremely tight situations and admitting it’s not for the faint hearted, he describes his travels as `life changing`.  Alex reveals he overcame difficult situations through persistence and by having faith in himself; because of this he had learnt to deal with dilemmas he never thought he could and now believes anything is possible.

The South African founder of Nomad Adventure Tours immersed himself in authenticity and culture; stumbling upon villages packed with hospitable tribes who had never seen a Westerner nor a car before.  Although, the customs officials were a different story, “Don’t show fear or they will take you to pieces; and if you’re rude, they’ll make your life impossible”.  Alex’s travel secret is that a meal spent with the natives was on of the most real parts of the experience.

A lot has changed since the time of Alex’s journey, roads have been built, laws have changed and development has improved. Alex goes on to explain the history behind the creation of Nomad. “Drivers of older style companies have been known to change flat tyres and end up crushed beneath their vehicles, their passengers taking their place behind the wheel without a licence.  Clients would catch a simple illness bug and be at risk of losing their lives through carelessness.  I thought there must be a better way to provide safer, more professional experiences to explore the tough areas of Africa” he says.  So that’s what they’ve done.

“We give quality service at a good price” Alex says, “ We tend to gear toward a 2-3 star style tour; we could run 4-5 but we believe in enabling as many people as possible to interact with Africa and it’s nature.  We provide a good platform, include the basics and then allow the client to customise their activities accordingly.  A student may choose white water rafting or something adrenaline infused; while a retired couple may book an elephant interaction or boat cruise.  The itineraries are so varied, but somehow when you put them all together, they work”.

It’s not what Nomad does that makes them unique to other travel companies; it’s the way they do it. And the way they see it, whether you’re in a 500 US dollar lodge or camping under the stars, the place you lay your head becomes less significant the moment you witness a lion eating a zebra in its natural habitat.  Nomad has also expanded its tours to Zimbabwe, and Alex says that the decision was partially personal.  He has always been fond of the `good place with good people`, and his company is one of the very few tour operators to finish their tours in Zimbabwe.  They’ve been doing it for the past ten years; and  the large amount of revenue their clients create for the country is one of the only incomes locals continue to gain.

Although running commercial trips North of the equator is considered unsafe, unviable and with a sinister lack of amenities; Alex has still taken inspiration from this leg of his travels and used it to inject some rustic, unscripted adventure into the equation. “I’d do something by accident and it would end up being a fantastic experience.  Often it would be too dangerous to replicate and out of most of our client’s budgets; but I’d love to run exotic trips if I found the time”.

The costs of the tours are considered inexpensive when up against the prices of fuel, sightseeing and dining out; but this doesn’t mean the action is ever cut short.  Actually, it means quite the opposite. In Botswana, you can paddle into remote places and be inches away from hippos and crocodiles, walk amongst the wild game and clamber aboard a raft in the falls. “We include plenty of adventure, just the right amount to ensure everybody comes out alive.” Alex laughs.

Nomad’s itineraries aren’t the only highlight of the company.  Not only can their guides whip up exceptional local cuisine, but they are trained to provide safety & travel information as the tour reaches each new destination.  They know where the Malaria regions are, which towns sell home-made palm wines and that Namibia is a good place to check your shoes for stray scorpions. The guides encourage you to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle when passing wild game during a safari as the vehicle is then seen as a single unit and perhaps a little more intimidating.  The camps and hidden gems they recommend are magical even to the most knowledgeable of globe trotters, let’s just say, they’re multi-faceted.

Only employing 1 per 30 applicants, Nomad has a very strong idea of what they like to see in their guides; although these qualities vary over the years as the requirements of the clients change. They must be non-judgemental and open minded; with a lust for living out of a suitcase and a good knowledge of Africa. Maturity and moral courage is vital. The guides are never temperamental- when buttons are pushed as often as theirs are, they can’t be!

So what’s new on the horizon for the South African based adventure tours?  Well in the short term, Nomad Adventure Tours has just launched smaller group options; they take a maximum capacity of 12 clients and the tours are already in high demand.  In the long term, the company is still bound by rocketing exchange rates and political stability (or shall we say instability?) These are also factors that determine where the tours are operated and where they are not.  Although these points are consistently on a hypothetical see-saw; Nomad would like to add new locations as they evolve, become further accessible and develop beautiful new sights to see, fitting them into the itinerary wherever possible. The company has also introduced a “dive safari product”, which combines a unique mix of game driving, safari and diving- very unique indeed.

Good luck to Alex and Nomad Africa Adventure Tours with their new projects, we hope the company’s future clients will enjoy learning about their beautifully raw country as much as we did. Maybe they’ll save us a seat in their truck…

Article and words by Leonie Ann Garlick- previously published for Endeavour magazine at

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