The moment in Standard 5 when Roger de la Harpe held an old instamatic camera and a roll of film in his hands, shaped most of the life choices he was to make from then on. His infinite curiosity and love of adventure was another driving passion, and he was fortunate to find a willing partner in his wife, Pat.
Dyed-in-the-wool citizens of the Last Outpost, they decided in 2018 to discover how the other half lived, and explore the Western Cape, cameras and eBikes at the ready. After a short sojourn in George, they found their way to Onrus two months ago and because they fell instantly in love with the Whale Coast, have decided at last to put down roots here.
Having jointly produced 27 travel and wildlife coffee table books (Roger is responsible for the photography and Pat the writing), they have decided they’ve been there, done that and the T-shirt no longer fits.
It all started when Roger received that first instamatic. His school class was going on an educational trip to the Kruger National Park, but as Roger remembers, the roll of film was already used up by the time they arrived there. “Nevertheless,” he says, “that experience in the Park made such a strong impression on me that I decided to become a game ranger. So, after I left school, I joined the Natal Parks Board.
“At first, photography was just a hobby; I always had my camera with me on patrols and was privileged to witness and photograph some remarkable wildlife activity. Eventually, the bosses became aware of my pics and asked if I would like to become the Board’s official photographer. You can imagine how quickly I jumped at that opportunity!
“What a wonderful experience! I ended up spending 16 years there, taking pictures in all of the scenic, bio-diverse parks in its stable. I photographed a croc undergoing surgery, innumerable game capture operations… it was just an incredible education for me.”
Eventually, he and Pat decided it was time to turn their hands to something else. She resigned from a job in the Howick Municipality and because Roger had already built up a huge library of photographs, she started managing it as a commercial enterprise, supplying pictures for other people’s publications, while Roger freelanced.
“Well, after we’d been doing that for a while,” comments Pat, “I said to Roger: ‘We keep supplying pictures for other people’s books, why don’t we do one of our own?’ And so Zulu came into being and achieved huge success.”
“I had always been interested in traditional culture, but we called in Barry Leitch and Kingsley Holgate as consultants; Sue Derwent was the writer and Struik published the book,” adds Roger. “So that was the first of 27 – all of them now out of print. From simply taking wildlife pics, I also branched into promotional material for the game lodges we visited, and travel pics in general, while Pat started doing much of the writing, as well as videographing the sites we visited. We focused mainly on African images, although we have travelled extensively overseas as well. Each trip was an adventure, but our last book, African Icons, published in 2015, was the most challenging of all.”
With David Bristow as the writer, and Pat shooting videos for the internet, they travelled to 22 African destinations in 12 months, from Table Mountain in the south to the Atlas Mountains in the north. From the Impenetrable Forest and the mountain gorillas in Uganda, and Lalibela in Ethiopia, to the desert elephants of Namibia; from whale sharks to baobabs, the list went on.
The book that was eventually published by Struik was a limited edition collector’s piece. Each of the 1 000 copies was personalised and leather-bound. “It very nearly killed us, though,” says Roger. “We were completely burnt out by the end, and that was when we decided that our book production adventures were over.
“I must tell you, though, that we met wonderful, friendly people wherever we went on that trip. And although we were travelling at the height of the ebola epidemic, we never felt in any danger from that or anything else. The closest we came to a disaster, was having a bottle of whisky confiscated by Customs officials at Uganda airport,” he laughs.
Their latest passion is eBiking and they are looking forward to mapping this area for suitable trails, complete with GPS references. Roger and Pat have clocked up over 10 000 km since they first started eBiking in 2017.
“It’s absolutely the best way to explore the countryside,” explains Roger, “and it’s not just a question of doing day trips; you can extend it over two or three days, stopping over wherever the fancy takes you. It’s safe and healthy and beautiful.”
“And of course,” adds Pat, “it also means we can get to places that would normally be inaccessible – always an advantage for environmental photography.”
So, look out for them around the Overstrand. If you see two people zipping up and down the mountainsides on their eBikes, it’ll probably be Roger and Pat on a new kind of adventure, with their cameras at the ready to capture the beauty all around them.
For more information, visit www.rogerandpatdelaharpe.com or www.ebiketouring.co.za