Tuesday, July 28, 2009


In the summer, traveling east from Grand Central to the Mpumalanga Lowveld and back can be challenging in terms of the weather. One can’t leave too early due to frequent mist on the escarpment and yet one must leave Gauteng before the wind picks up and any storm activity begins.

So having filed our flight plan, we set off mid morning from Grand Central for Nelspruit airfield. Our trip started well; out via the Northern corridor (Lift off from Grand Central and fly a compass heading of due East, remaining north of the R25 that links Tembisa and Bapsfontein until you reach the microwave tower at Bapsfontein) then follow the N4 towards Witbank.

The sky soon became darker and the visibility reduced, not by fog but by smog from the surrounding coal mines and power stations as there was virtually no wind. The skies are also quite busy in an area which is experiencing a lot of development. To avoid flying right over Witbank airfield, we skirted south of town but still sighted 3 aircraft in this short crossing. Hence it is important to be vigilant and active on the radio.

Not far beyond Witbank, we saw carpets of pink and white down below. The beauty of Cosmos from the air (in March) made a lasting impression, especially after the rather barren mining areas. Next it was the clear sky and early Autumn colours around Belfast. The trip becomes very interesting from there on and navigating a lot easier with all the landmarks.

Machadodorp is next and immediately thereafter is Waterval Boven and it’s tollgate on the N4. Between this town and Waterval Onder is the ZASM Railway tunnel built in 1893 and the pretty Elands River Falls (The Falls are easier to see on the return trip as you fly towards them ). It is important to resist the temptation to do some low level flying down the valley between Waterval Boven and Waterfal Onder as there are strategically positioned High Voltage powerlines stretching from one side of the valley to the other just as you get to Waterval Onder.

At this point you are also dropping down the escarpment and into the Elands River Valley. The valley is pretty and green with numerous farms and hotels. You might also spot the Five Arches Bridge – an old railway bridge. Then you find the massive Ngodwana Paper Mill that dominates the area and pollutes the otherwise clean atmosphere. You overfly the Ngodwana landing strip so a quick call to check on traffic wouldn't go amiss. On the east side (in front of you) is the Ngodwana Dam followed by the neat precise rows of the citrus orchards as you approach Nelspruit.

Be sure to radio Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) as you will be entering the CTR about 10nm (At the radio mast East of Ngodwana) before you reach Nelspruit and before you blink you are approaching Nelspruit. Helicopters are to approach the helipad from the west and depart as far west as possible. This avoids crossing the active runway for fixed wing aircraft. We parked on a nice grassy patch next to the helipad. The service here was very good and the tractor and trailor with Avgas were there very soon.

This airfield was previously the only commercial airport in the area before the KMIA was built. It is the home of a number of private aviation companies and the incident command centre for all vegetation fire fighting for the province.

Refuelling meant we were ready for the weekend’s activities, which are to be reported in the next blog.

Information Summary:

  • Website reference: www.linx.co.za/waterval-boven
  • Website reference: www.lowveldaircraft.co.za
  • Coordinates: S25 30.1 E30 54.7
  • 153nm one way
  • Routing via Northern Corridor is good experience with a fair chance of a large Airbus passing overhead as you cross the OR Tambo active runway. The tower will keep you below 6000ft and out of the way which makes for some interesting low flying. Keep a lookout for the Barnstormers model aircraft club and FlyInn airfield, which are in close proximity. Watch out for the power lines at Waterval Onder. Nelspruit Airfield really creeps up on you, as you round a small hill you will find the airfield directly in front of you.


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