Saturday, November 1, 2008


It was a very cold winters morning and a cold front seemed to have moved into Gauteng for the weekend. The wind was stronger than allowed by the Hire and Fly insurance to fly out of Grand Central but the forecasters predicted it would lessen later that morning. We sat around the lounge and kept checking the wind speed every half hour or so. For variation we paced up and down the hangar until, finally, the weather played along and it was time for us to leave. I think the tower must have been getting tired of us calling for a wind check and decided to just play along to get us on our way. It was a relief for us to get airborne just after 11am.

We could have driven to our destination in the time we had been waiting, however, there would have been no fun in that!

The one positive of the winter wind is to create clear blue skies and blow all the pollution away from the cities and townships. The trip to Witwater Safari Lodge is 118nm one way from Grand Central. We lifted from Grand Central on the runway heading of 350magnetic until we are overhead Gerotek. Gerotek is a vehicle testing facility owned by Armscor. We had a fun outing there a couple of years ago with Alfa Romeo where we were driven around the 3m wide rally circuit at insane speeds by a maniacal racing driver. Much safer to fly!

The purpose of flying to Gerotek is to stay out of Waterkloof Military and Wonderboom airspaces. We have in the past been allowed to fly slap bang over the centre of Waterkloof Military main runway but unless you are routing to Wonderboom airport it is notoriously difficult to get clearance through their airspace and the small saving in distance is quickly wasted as they route you around the edge of the CTR.

Overhead Gerotek one sets the final course for Witwater. This passes just west of Bela-Bela, at the foot of the Waterberg. It is after that the landscape becomes really interesting and one appreciates how vast the Waterberg is. During the winter months it is dry and brown, but the rock formations and mountains make for amazing scenery and flying.

The direct track seems to coincide with all the high points on the map so it makes good sense (and is a lot more fun) to follow your nose and fly down some of the valleys. Every now and then we would pop over a ridge to get back onto track. You approach Witwater Safari Lodge from the south. As you clear a ridge you can see the lodge directly below you with the helipad slightly to the north. This is a true dusty bush helipad with trees on all sides. The lodge staff were busy watering down the dirt road next to the helipad in anticipation of our arrival.

This was to be the start of a wonderful weekend with impeccable service. Guests are allocated their own ranger who looks after their every need. A Land Rover and Louis, our game ranger, were waiting for us – we had called ahead when we lifted off from FAGC with our ETA.

Witwater is a small private reserve, with the lodge built at the confluence of the Jonkmansdrifspruit and the Phalala Rivers. The available accommodation consists of suites and luxury tents. The suites were all booked for the Saturday night, so we had to somewhat reluctantly opt for a luxury tent. With the cold weather (sub zero mornings), we had no idea what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised. This was real luxury with the tents being more private than the suites and located along the banks of the river. That night when we returned from the game drive, there were hot water bottles in the bed, a heater on and it was all zipped up and as warm as toast. The hardest thing was to get out of bed early to be ready for the morning game drive.

Witwater is not a Big Five reserve, but they have other interesting attractions. During our stay Louis took us on a walk to some bushman paintings. You start at the top of a small cliff and scramble down about halfway to the paintings. It is optional to then climb down into the riverbed to scuttle over the rocks in the river. The walk back to the top ensures that one is ready for the high tea served at the lodge in the afternoon. This included a full variety of savoury and sweet treats as well as beverages to keep one going until after the evening game drive.

Louis also took us to locate the cheetah they have in the reserve. These were purchased and became used to humans while being acclimatised in a boma. They were fitted with radio collars and do hunt on their own, but are not startled (too much) by humans. We tracked them, first by vehicle, and then on foot. It was totally incredible, to walk to within 10meters of them. We loved it so much we went back the next morning, to see if they had made a kill overnight. We found them sleeping under some bushes, so relaxed that we could even hear them purring. There were so many photo opportunities.

We enjoyed sightings of many other animals, the main disappointment being that at the time of our visit there were no Roan Antelope, the centrepiece of Witwaters Logo, in the reserve.

Meals are another good reason to go to Witwater. Preparation was excellent; variety was good and, with a good bottle of wine just rounded off the weekend perfectly. On the Saturday night, when the lodge was full, we had a boma dinner, complete with potjies and blankets. On the Sunday night we experienced true fine dining in the restaurant.

Witwater has been growing over the years and in 2006 also opened a rather modern looking spa, up on the hill, looking down into the river valley. There was no time to try any treatments as we were too taken with all the bush activities made that much more interesting by Louis who shared numerous anecdotes and bits of bush wisdom. He clearly loves what he does and that passion is hard to find these days. We rated him 5 stars along with the lodge, which is graded 5 star by the Tourism Grading Council. In fact all the staff seemed to genuinely care and take an interest in the guests, which is not that prevalent in some bigger establishments. After a long game drive on the morning of our departure, we enjoyed a cooked brunch on the deck overlooking the river, before preparing for departure and the flight home.

For those out there who can’t twirl their wings there is the Halali private airstrip about 5km away, with a pickup service arranged through the Lodge, so don’t despair!

Information Summary:

  • Coordinates: S24 05.5 E28 28.6
  • Flight time: 1hr
  • Central reservations in JHB Tel 011-675-0000
  • Call Lodge for permission to land and advise ETA on Tel 014-743-4000
  • E-mail with any questions:
  • Website
  • Do sometimes advertise specials or packages on the website.

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