Thursday, July 23, 2009


This is a busy but short helicopter trip from Grand Central via the Pinedene route to Zebra Country Lodge (40 Nautical miles from Grand Central) with lots of navigating and very little rest time in the cockpit. It offers a bush type escape but is very close to home.

Pinedene route is good fun if you haven’t tried it before. Ask Grand Central for clearance before you take off and then route north along the N1 to the Shell Ultra City. You will also see a post office microwave tower on your right (Make note of it as it is a useful beacon on the way back). Call in at Waterkloof and they will route you along the northern side of the powerlines past Pinedene station (Watch out for the model aircraft flying club just west of the station, they expect you to go around them) Pinedene is on the centerline of the Waterkloof runway and you will have to call in there. After Pinedene you can request a more northerly routing but don’t rely on it! The powerlines split and you continue to follow the northern set until you reach the ridge that signifies the CTR boundary. Say goodbye to Waterkloof and route approx. 22deg magnetic to pass just west of Cullinan. On the way back aim for Kittyhawk and veer right until you pick up the powerlines. Don’t forget to call Waterkloof before you enter the CTR! Look out for the Rietvlei dam and make sure that you are south of dam, otherwise you have the wrong powerlines!.

It is not that easy to find Zebra Country Lodge at first due to a number of small lodges in the area, all having thatched roofs. Make sure your GPS is working as it is the only way to find the helipad! The designated helipad has no H marking and no windsock. It is a paved area on the side of the hill adjacent to Mountain Lodge, the biggest of the 4 lodges on this property. In hindsight it might just have been easier to find a spot at the bottom of the hill where there is quite a large open field. The tall bluegums (look to be 50ft at least) are a bit off-putting though. We battled to find a wind reference (possibly because there wasn't much wind) but eventually settled on a northerly approach to the helipad which allowed for an escape route left into the valley, rising ground to the right and lots of lightning conductor rods straight ahead.

Due to availability, we were booked at Zebra Stables, at the bottom of the hill near the dam. We were transferred by Land Rover to this smaller and quieter lodge. (had to go and find reception although the transport was supposedly arranged by central reservations ) The rooms are large and very luxurious. The surroundings are peaceful and a round of drinks on the lawn is a good way to start. One can walk around the dam and amongst the big nearby trees and see zebra and buck on the open plains. At certain times of the year this should be a good birding spot, but the veld was rather dry and sparse when we visited.

Not far from Zebra Stables is a restaurant / function centre called The Shebeen. Adjacent is a walk in aviary, which was locked. Nearby is also a Ndebele cultural village which is attractively painted and makes for some good African photos for tourists!

The lodge offers a variety of activities including game drives which we did not try as the visit was only 1 night. Meals are set menus without choice so make sure any specific dietary requirements are stated ahead of time. Overall this is a good value for money destination and an entry-level bush experience and all round relaxing day with reasonable food.

On the return flight you can take a small detour east of track for a good view of the quaint town of Cullinan and it’s diamond mine. (No nasty restricted areas here so I guess you can go as close as you dare)

Information Summary:

  • Website reference:
  • Email:
  • Reservation & Landing permission: Call (012) 470-5300
  • Coordinates: S25 30.7 E28 29.0
  • 40nm one way
  • We booked 1.3hrs on the charter hobbs for the round trip.
  • Routing via the Pinedene route (and back again) is good experience and a quick way to get to the eastern side of Joburg. Once you’ve ‘done it’ you will wonder why you have avoided it for so long. Just stay clear of Wonderboom and be nice to the guy/gal in the tower at Waterkloof.
Zebra Lodge is next to the largish dam with an island in it. The Helipad is to the north east, on top of the hill at Mountain lodge. You can just make out the little brown square, if you know what you are looking for. You can see the line of trees next to the road leading to Zebra Lodge. The alternative LZ is left of the trees and south of Zebra Lodge.

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