Mariclaire Day is well known to Hermanus residents as the successful chef and owner of The Barefoot Cook, which she sold three years ago to follow her passion of working in ecotourism.

She opted to become an international guide, incorporating all her skills which include a rich general knowledge of nature, conversational Dutch and German, considerable local knowledge of our flora and fauna, and the ability to lead a multi-day hike. Add to that her organisational expertise and cooking skills, and Mariclaire had the perfect base from which to reinvent herself in such a way as to make a living from following her passion.

What attracted her to hiking, says Mariclaire, is the quiet of the natural world, coupled with the sensation of leaving the madness of our man-made world behind when out in nature. She and her husband Burt, who have travelled extensively in Southern Africa, are always happy to jump in their bakkie with a roof-top tent, fridge and spare fuel tanks to go, either alone or with friends, to nature reserves and areas off the beaten track to enjoy the great outdoors at its best. For them the draw is not to see specific animals and plants but rather the opportunity of feeling part of nature by simply being in its midst – with minimal encumbrances to enhance that feeling of freedom and lightness that so many wilderness spaces inspire.

Mariclaire is a veteran of ten Fish River Canyon hikes (90 km). It was her annual destressing outlet while running the restaurant. I was part of the last four groups she led on that hike, and we must have been the best-fed hikers in the canyon. It was always a wonder that Mariclaire had the fire going and a delicious meal, made from scratch, cooked within half an hour of setting up. During 2019 she took several groups of foreigners on private hiking tours comprising both multi-day and one-day hikes in locations around the country. In addition she and Burt have provided support on a couple of overland 4 x 4 tours. Burt (a level 3 medic) provided both medical and mechanical expertise, while Mariclaire put her language and cooking skills to good use. On one occasion they provided backup for six weeks on a photographic expedition through Namibia and Botswana.

In order to become a guide for international visitors, Mariclaire completed a course in tourist guiding NQF level 4 and is CATHSSETA registered, with a valid first aid certificate. She had embarked on what looked to be a promising new career path until the Coronavirus pandemic spread to South Africa. Having started out on a three-week, country-wide hiking tour on 20 March, she had to turn around while hiking in the Kruger National Park and transfer her guests to the OR Tambo Airport for repatriation to Germany before lockdown started.

Undaunted by this setback, Mariclaire realised that flexibility would be the key to surviving lockdown. As the tourism industry came to an abrupt standstill, she turned the wheel back to her days as a chef and started making home-cooked take-away meals that were delivered by Burt. Having good contacts in the local tourism business, she has been able to put yet another of her talents, that of massage therapist, to good use.

Despite keeping busy by utilising her many talents, Mariclaire did not lose sight of her ambition for a career change, and the chance to share her love of nature and the environment with others. With the easing of local travel restrictions, she is now getting back on track as a hiking guide, but focusing on ‘local is lekker’. For those who’d like to explore the many breathtaking nature trails in the Overberg, all of which Mariclaire knows like the back of her hand, an exhilarating outdoor experience awaits, whether on your own or with a small group of friends or family members, whether for a few hours or a whole day or even multi days, and whether it be along the coastline or in the fynbos-clad mountains.

Mariclaire can be contacted on 083 2089 522.

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