Thursday, October 8, 2009


New Year's Day 2009 dawned after a lovely night-time thunderstorm. The air smelt fresh and I felt a sense of anxiety and anticipation. The next five days would hold a number of firsts and a fair amount of the unknown. Planning, which is one my strengths, had been kept to a minimum because helicopter flying is dependant on the weather and that you certainly cannot plan!

We took a scheduled flight FAJS- FAGG (Joburg to George) arriving around midday. The Outeniqua Mountains were covered in thick cloud and after what seemed like an aborted approach (and seeing the mountain really up close) the pilot found his way under the cloud to a safe landing at the airport. We made our way to the booked rental car with the first drops of rain. Arriving in Mossel Bay 20 minutes later, it looked grey, dreary and dull underneath thick, heavy low cloud with strong wind that whipped the sea into a white frenzy. We had come to collect a helicopter and this was not a good start. Being New Year's Day, most places were closed and at first we could not even find an open coffee shop. The queue was out the door at the first fast food venue and the room at the guesthouse was not ready. What were we to do?

We drove out north east of town on the Aalwynsdal road to the Mossel Bay Airfield. (FAMO) It was quite impressive for a small place with a newish clubhouse (2001) and a growing number of hangars. This is the home of Springbok Aviation Academy and a Microlight School, which also offers tourist flips. The weather meant there was not much happening here but at least we had an idea of the first departure point.

Next morning at 6 am, the clouds were still thick and low and there was certainly no sunrise. By 7am there was a thin ray of light on the horizon, by 8am we saw blue sky appearing and with a quick call to the weather office, we sprang into action. We were airborne by 9.30 am in the R44 and this was the start of 5 fabulous days of flying and tourism from Mossel Bay to Johannesburg. The routing was coast wise to Plettenberg Bay, Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, East London, Coffee Bay (wild coast), Margate and then across Kwazulu Natal to the Midlands and on to Ladysmith before home to Rand Airport in Johannesburg. This article covers the first half of this journey, from Mossel Bay to Port Alfred.

It was peak holiday season but far from a perfect summer's day. There were small parts of the coast where the sun umbrellas were packed together making a kaleidoscope of colours. Then there were stretches of coast with little activity barring a few lone fishermen. The various resorts flash by rather rapidly in a helicopter, so we passed Klein Brak, Groot Brak, Herold's Bay and Wilderness before we blinked. Some of these are reporting points for George Airport, so you can't only enjoy the scenery but must remain active, reporting position on 118.9. ATC at George were more than helpful in ushering us through their airspace with a final call at Wilderness.

Just before Wilderness, we passed the Kaaimans River Rail Bridge, which is a photographer's favourite. It reminded us of the steam train Outeniqua Choe Choe that was a much-loved scenic tourist trip between George and Knysna. This time we were in the air, not on the tracks and so had a somewhat different perspective! Approaching the heart of the Garden Route, we travelled slightly inland to admire the "lakes " district - Rondevlei, Swartvlei and Groenvlei. The clouds were darkening again and without the sun all the water looked grey, the grass green and the whole landscape more like the British or Irish countryside than sunny South Africa in January. You can certainly see why this is prime dairy country as the cows have the best pasture imaginable and hence many fantastic cheeses are produced in this area. Next it was the massive Knysna Lagoon and the impressive Heads and on towards Plettenberg Bay.

Before the Robberg Nature reserve, we turned slightly inland for the Plettenberg Bay airport and what a busy place it was! As we approached runway 12 at FAPG there is a small wooden cabin and green field on the left, which is the skydiving club. It is immediately adjacent to the airport and we saw and heard about a number of skydiving flights in the time we were on the ground. We landed almost exactly an hour after take off and hover taxied to the fuel bay where a Gyrocopter was being refuelled. We were next in line and it was all very professional. Meantime there were two private jets preparing for passengers and take off. Two other planes landed and they were all lined up on the small apron. It is little wonder that there are plans to expand this runway and airport to handle Boeing 737's. The big question really being can all the regulatory matters be accomplished before 2010?

While at FAPG it was time to finalise our plans for the rest of the day. Further calls to the met office and examination of the weather websites, meant we were going with plan B. This meant finding accommodation in the vicinity, as we would not follow Plan A to travel all the way to Port Elizabeth (PE) due to cloud moving in and strong winds at PE. This would eliminate the pleasure of coastal helicopter flying and we wanted the best views possible. We had researched our preferred accommodation venues on the Internet but had no firm bookings due to the unpredictability of the weather. Thankfully due to a cancellation, our first call was successful in finding a room for the night and a lawn to park the helicopter, within view of our room.

Leaving the airport we flew out east towards Robberg, which was shrouded in a strange mist. We then went around the landmark Beacon Isle Hotel and across the famous bay towards Keurbooms River mouth. If we were following line of sight for our destination, we would have turned inland at that point. However be aware of a small area of restricted airpsace, which is home to Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and the Elephant Sanctuary. Any one or all of these are great tourist attractions, but one must fly around them so as not to disturb the animals. The region is also the centre of the local polo industry and the farmlands looked magnificent and picturesque.

We zeroed in on our co-ordinates and found the landmarks we had been given to locate Redford House. This guesthouse is about 20km by road from the airport in an area called The Crags and it had taken us 10 minutes in the helicopter. Set back from a large dam is the original historic farmhouse and a cottage. The owners have added a period style separate building with the guest rooms and also a summerhouse by the lovely swimming pool and tennis court. (Behind which the helicopter was parked). This provided a perfect setting to relax and admire the immediate surroundings. Here, we were enjoying an idyllic summer setting: pink Hydrangeas, crimson Watsonias and iceberg roses. What was our worry about the weather? Four seasons in one day, as the Cape is notorius for!

Our upstairs room was a welcome retreat with every attention to detail. Spacious and bright in a Provençale style with a long bathroom the width of the room, offering separate shower and old-fashioned ball and claw bath! The drinking water was cold and fresh, coming straight from a nearby fountain. One could taste this was not municipal tap water and really did not need bottled mineral water as that is what you essentially have on tap! A special touch was the orange cookies and good night chocolates, which at other establishments seems largely to be a thing of the past. Next morning a freshly prepared and tasty personalised breakfast was served in the farmhouse kitchen and one could not ask for more. This was going to be hard to beat!

Now day 2 of our adventure and we started all our weather checks and phone calls ahead about accommodation and landing permission. With everything sorted, we bid a fond farewell as we took off again at 9.30 am for an hour's flight to Port Elizabeth. Once again it was partly cloudy and the moods of the land seemed to vary with the weather. We flew just inland and had great views of the old Bloukrans Pass road and the magnificent modern bridge cutting out all those twists and turns. Oh how grateful we were to be flying as we passed overhead the toll road at Tsitsikamma and the beautiful green forest below. With all the development along the precious coast, one realises how critical these National Parks are, protecting some of our awesome coastline. With a strong tail wind of 20 knots, the land was whizzing by as we passed Storms River and followed the N2 towards Humansdorp, a centre for this agricultural region. Just before the town, we passed the Krom River, which was dammed in 1984 to create the Impofu Dam. The water was sadly muddy brown, but its size was impressive, though we later established it was only 80 % full.

We could see the dunes and beaches of St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay in the distance, as we cut across to the Gamtoos River mouth and called Port Elizabeth (FAPE) approach on 120.4 (that is the reference in the Airfields directory despite our flying about 800 ft AGL) They routed us via Seaview towards the airport. The tower (radio 118.1) was most helpful in our landing via runway 26. We were swept past the tower on downwind and the turn into the wind seemed like a crazy sideways slide over an ice rink. The windsock was horizontal with the wind at 24 knots gusting 37 on finals as we crept slowly past the commercial aircraft with our final approach speed indicated at 60 knots. With a ground speed of 35 knots everything happened in slow motion. PE certainly lived up to its other name of "the windy city "! We headed towards the general aviation area and the Shell refuelling station adjacent to Sheltam Air. My husband, the pilot, recalled previous comments from our editor about really having only earned your wings once you have landed in the wind at PE!

Once our tanks were full of Avgas we set off again routing east across the city and past the construction site of the new 2010 stadium which looked impressive indeed. We had to report at Swartkops River, then Sundays River, before we reached some totally unspoilt coastline with the wind swirling the sand across the dunes. This section of land has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park to preserve these biomes and with the Marine section there is now the possibility to sight the big 7. (This includes the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark.)
There are two specific landmarks in this naturally beautiful area, namely St Croix Island and then the Diaz Cross Memorial. The latter commemorates the arrival of Bartholomew Dias in Algoa Bay in 1488. This site seems to be well supported by tourists and there were a number of people making the walk, reported to be 4 km from the parking lot, to the top of the hill where there is a replica of the original "padrao" (cross).

Next we flew past Kenton-on-Sea and the beaches of Port Alfred, which led us to the famed Kowie River mouth, where we flew into the Royal Alfred Marina. After this 45 minute windy leg, we were ready for a break and to soak up the relaxed atmosphere of the little boats chugging around the Marina. The sun had emerged again to show the Marina in all its scenic glory with the Halyards Hotel at the far end facing the town and Kowie River Bridge. The latter was spectacularly lit up that night and in my opinion belonged in a glitzy city more than a coastal holiday town. The nearby Port Alfred Airport (FAPA) is home to the renowned 43 Air School, but we had arranged permission for a private helicopter landing and overnight parking, which is always a treat. If you know enough about an area and what you need, it is surprisingly easy to organise this, with local co-operation and the friendly folk of the Eastern Cape. The 3 children of the chef of the Halyard's Hotel were eagerly awaiting our arrival and making us very welcome, helped us with our bags to the reception!

It was Saturday night, which meant it was seafood buffet night at The Halyards. This pleased me no end as a coastal treat, but there was adequate choice for everyone, including carnivores. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of freshly prepared calamari and queen prawns in addition to a full range of fish pieces, paté and salads. The calamari is certainly worth writing home about. This tasted fresh and tender, battered to perfection and so different to the normal frozen fare served up at the franchise stores. It seemed they were really using local produce as the chokka industry is centred in this area. Perhaps they had another secret but I was impressed. (Especially as at the previous night's restaurant in the Crags we had been told no calamari was available, as the truck had not delivered!) Finally there was the dessert buffet to tempt the taste buds, which included crème caramel, profiteroles, lemon meringue pie and the warm alternatives of apple pie and malva pudding. At last the wind had calmed down and it was time to prepare and rest, ready for another day.

In the next post will cover days 3 -4.

Website References:

Reservations: (044) 534-8877

Central Reservations: 046 624 8525 (tel) 046 624 8529 (fax)

Google Maps: Redford House

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Google Maps: The Halyards Hotel

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Monday, August 17, 2009


Apart from flying helicopters, Grant’s other passion is model aircraft aerobatics. The Mpumalanga Provincial Championship was being held in Piet Retief and he decided to fly to Piet Retief with a fellow competitor to avoid the bad roads (a 5hr pot holed road trip from Johannesburg). Good negotiating meant the wives and model planes followed slowly by road! A great weekend was had by all and highlighted the true country friendliness of many residents of SA’s smaller towns.

As payback I had organised the return trip via Phinda Game Reserve on the KwaZulu Natal north coast. A bit of a round trip but there was no way that I was driving back to Johannesburg. The flight leaving Piet Retief is quite an interesting journey regarding the type of terrain. We skirted past the southwestern tip of Swaziland and continued south of Pongola and south of Mkuze game reserve. The topography was very hilly and we weaved through the valleys as we made our way in the general direction of Phinda. The day we travelled in June was disappointingly smoggy, but we were told this was probably due to sugar cane burning in the surrounding areas, a common practice at that time of the year. We had a 20-knot tail wind and within an hour we were in the vicinity of Phinda, eagerly looking for a tarred runway. (Isn’t it an odd coincidence that landing strips are always on the OTHER side of a hill?). The grass landing strip, which appeared first, is that of Mziki, an adjacent reserve.

Phinda Airwing was expecting us. You have to fax an indemnity form to them a day or two before arriving and make a radio call 15 minutes before landing. They have their own frequency of 122.25. As we came in to land we saw some warthogs on the grass adjacent to the tarred runway. We have read about startled animals running into the tail rotor of a helicopter so Grant felt that it was prudent to hover a little higher than normal, just in case they wanted to run underneath us.

A real bush welcome is always a pleasure. Staff were standing by with the Land Rover for the short trip to the Lodge. There are in fact four Lodges run by CC Africa (now &Beyond) in this one reserve as well as 2 private lodges called Zuku and Phinda Getty. Our advice is to shop around, as there are many seasonal and short notice specials. We were booked at Phinda Mountain Lodge, which fortuitously was the closest to the airfield! This was still a 20-minute drive, including some game viewing, via a pretty dam, where we were astounded by the wide variety of birds>

During the two-day visit we were able to record 65 different bird species of which 8 were new for our life list. We were really pleased to have the help of Steve, the ranger, for a number of these. As a winter list this was very satisfying, the numbers in summer would be expected to be much higher. Phinda always participates in Birding Big Day held in November (see where they can count over 200 species in a day!

We arrived at the lodge and were taken to the large outdoor deck to sign our papers and have a cool drink. It really is magnificent with a big public lounge / bar area for relaxation as well as the deck with numerous umbrellas. The bush is quite thick and I think it is unlikely one would spot any game, but there is a view of the rolling green hills in the distance.
The individual suites are spaced well apart and having stone and thatch construction, are remarkably camouflaged against the hill. When walking between the suites and the central area, we did see Nyala (male and female) and Vervet monkeys. At night, guest security must accompany one between the room and the main hotel, as there is no fence around the lodge, and this is a Big Five reserve.

Our thatched suite was very large – king size bed, sunken lounge area, bathroom with double basins, separate shower and bath as well as a private deck and a plunge pool. It was extremely peaceful on the deck, but there was very little time to be spent there. Being winter, the days were quite short and what with breakfast, morning game drives, lunch, the obligatory afternoon nap, afternoon game drives and dinner we were kept very busy indeed.

That first evening we saw the tiniest baby white rhino ever; Steve said it was only a few days old. Its mother was understandably very protective and moved it off into the bush very quickly. Later, with the use of spotlights we also saw 2 lionesses lying very relaxed at the edge of a pan. They were partly sleeping, but did look up now and again. The sun had set and we had not seen many animals. Just as we started to feel hungry Steve pointed to an amazing firefly display just a short way from the vehicle. Desperate for some action, any action, we were easy prey for his tricks and were astonished to find our dinner all set up outdoors in the bush, under the Tamboti trees, candle ‘fireflies’ and all. It was a lovely surprise and amazingly warm for June month. This was a typical African bush dinner, boerewors and all. The best part, in my book, was the chocolate pancakes for dessert!

Other treats adding to the overall experience were as follows:

  • The morning coffee stops with Amarula added to the coffee/ chocolate drink and the homemade crunchies for those who became peckish (a welcome change from rusks)
  • Evening river cruise on the Mzinene River with drinks and snacks and the crocodile and bird sightings to match.
  • A hot bush breakfast knowing that someone else would clean the skottel braais!
  • Magnificent flowering tree aloes
  • A very knowledgeable game ranger, Steve. He made the bush come alive and answered all the questions (and helped refuel the helicopter). The only thing he couldn’t do was to find the cheetah!

Overall a great outing, just sorry we never got further north within the reserve to the sand forests. We were watching the rain move up through Natal. It was time to make a speedy departure, as the weather was not going to improve. We did pass through a few light showers and clouds were around, as opposed to the clear skies on the day of our arrival. In order for the R44 to reach Grand Central, Midrand, a fuel stop at Newcastle was necessary on the return flight.

Phinda is quite a busy airfield, receiving daily scheduled flights as well as lots of charters. They are hoping to expand the runway to receive even bigger planes to cater for the conference and incentive markets. It is also a short hop from Durban for weekend trips and so draws visitors from a large area.

Website references: general information about accommodation discount rates for short notice bookings (&beyond amongst others) also special offers from various lodges latest sightings from all CC Africa reserves
Reservations for accommodation : Various websites above or & Beyond Tel 011-809-4447
Telephone for permission to land : Phinda Airwing 035-562-0271 / 082-652-1626
Runway co-ordinates: Phinda ( FADQ) S27º 51' 21.6" * E 32º 18' 47.4"

Google Maps

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Monday, August 10, 2009


Entabeni Safari Conservancy was our first experience of the Legend Lodges group. It is magnificently located deep in the Waterberg, but still within helicopter range. ( approximately 115 nautical miles from Grand Central) We have been there twice but unfortunately both times before Grant had his PPL so perhaps someone else can provide feedback on the helicopter experience.

There is an airstrip at Entabeni, which is on the upper level of the reserve, between Ravineside and Lakeside Lodges. There is a lot of game in this area with the open plains suiting a variety of antelope, wildebeest and giraffe. The rangers will be standing by for your arrival and try to clear the game !

This resort also has a third party, which operates helicopter flips in the area. One of these is a scenic trip to the top of the Hangklip Mountain for a picnic breakfast or lunch, weather permitting. This is a dramatic setting and would be well worth doing oneself – if permitted on quieter days. The helicopter operation is run from a separate building very near Ravineside Lodge. It is situated right on the edge of a cliff and would make for an interesting confined (see abbreviations). Definitely sounds like fun but make sure that you have a bit of spare power available. They may also have fuel available, but this has not been checked out, so would appreciate any feedback.

We have stayed at both Ravineside and Lakeside Lodges and both have different benefits, but basically access to the same game drives. We preferred Ravineside as the units are very private and built into the cliff. However you need to drive to dinner for your own safety due to predators after dark ! There are phones in the rooms so you could call one of the Rangers to pick you up if necessary. Rooms at Lakeside and Kingfisher Lodges are on the banks of the dam. One is supposed to be able to have a trip on the dam, but the boat was out of service during our visit.

The rates at these various lodges include all meals and game drives. The game drives are very interesting and the Rangers help communicate where to find the big five, but also control a limited number of vehicles per sighting which is rather nice. The trip down the escarpment on a narrow road is really quite an experience. Watch out for lovely Klipspringers on the rocky surrounds. They can also offer a picnic lunch in this gorge, which is very private and beautiful on a fine summer’s day, but can be cold during winter. (ask about this, maybe for an extra charge, as we found they did not make these options that clear on arrival.)

There is also horseriding for all experience levels. We had fun hunting down zebra and giraffe on horseback. Makes a change from leaning out of the landrover!

Overall this is a great African experience within magnificent bushveld terrain. We have heard there are development plans for this reserve, so try to visit soon before it becomes too built up or too exclusive and out of reach for the average person !

Information Summary:

  • Website reference:
  • Email:
  • Reservation & Landing permission: Call (012) 470-5300
  • Coordinates: S24 10.8 E28 36.9
  • 115nm one way
  • We haven't flown this one so feedback on the charter time would be appreciated.
  • Need to route north to Gerotek and then follow the Waterkloof and Wonderboom CTR boundaries until clear.

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Monday, August 3, 2009


This report follows on from “Flight to Nelspruit “.

Taking off from Nelspruit airfield in a westerly direction, as is standard practise, we needed to circle around and cross the active runway in order to travel southeast. We had no sooner found our track when we crossed the R40, which goes southerly from Nelspruit to Barberton. We were heading for the Krokodilpoortsberge, south of Nelspruit and all within the KMIA CTR. It is a 10min flip to the institute so we kept low level and (conveniently) forgot to contact KMIA.

We were looking for a disused runway close to the Jane Goodall Institute, which was to be our landing spot. (pre-arranged with lodge, see below). We found it on the side of a hill. The runway has been closed but it must have made for interesting landings when it was still open. It is flat on the top and bottom with a steeply sloping middle with probably 100ft difference in height from one end to the other. We were basically able to maintain altitude as the ground came towards us at the hanger end of the runway. The rotor blades were still turning when the landrover arrived to pick us up. A very friendly young Irish volunteer, Murphy, was there to help us with our luggage and drive us the kilometre or two to the Umhloti Lodge.

It seemed we had parked in the middle of nowhere, but we were in fact already in the private reserve. The Chimpanzee Eden has been constructed in the forest in the heart of this reserve. The Umhloti Lodge offers 5 star accommodation adjacent to the Chimpanzee Eden (walking distance). As the lodge was hosting a motor vehicle adventure group, we had been upgraded to the stunning and spacious honeymoon suite. This has a private entrance and opens onto the gardens. The main adult chimp enclosure is less than 500 m away and drew us back time and again to watch these fascinating creatures.

The lodge is decorated in an African theme and has lovely large wooden decks looking towards Nelspruit, where drinks and meals are served (weather permitting). However, if you want lunch, and we were peckish after an early start, you need to walk down the hill to the Junglicious restaurant. This is attached to the large information and interpretive centre where day visitors start their tours. The restaurant serves breakfasts and lunches with a lovely outdoor seating area, which overlooks the juvenile chimp enclosure. These youngsters keep the diners well entertained with their antics – somersaults, clapping, chasing and tree climbing. They can make a weary traveller feel inspired with their zest for life and each other.

The Chimpanzee Eden is open 7 days per week from 9 am to 4 pm for day visitors from surrounding lodges and areas. They offer tours hourly between 10 am and 2 pm that take visitors around the perimeter of the semi wild enclosures and to specific viewing decks. One can observe the chimps behaving much as they would in the wild and see the family and social bonds they form. These chimps have mostly been rescued from cages or the pet trade in Angola, Mozambique or Sudan. Each has its own special story about their past and rehabilitation process. They are extremely well cared for in this sanctuary and much to our surprise, they go inside each night into their sleeping quarters. We heard strange calls the first night from some excited chimps.

The chimpanzees are let out from their night quarters at around 7 am to forage for their breakfast, which is left on the ground and in trees. So if you are resident, you can tumble out of bed to see this. The noise of the chimps will probably wake you anyway! Their 10 am “tea” is some more fruit during the public tour and this is repeated again at 2pm. They are creatures of habit and start gathering by about 3.30 pm. This is before their dinner and entry to the night quarters at 4pm. Unfortunately there are no viewing areas of these night quarters, but they sleep with hay and are protected from snakes, cold and disease. Due to their upbringing, they are often not bush wise enough to know how to cope with all these factors, which they should have learnt from their family groups. One quickly learns to identify some of the chimps with their specific style of behaviour and various personalities. Nikki, a large male, is a true character and loves interacting with the public (through the electric fence!)

Our weekend flew past and we were fully occupied learning about the chimps from the knowledgeable staff. We also wandered around a bit and saw impala, vervet monkeys and baboons. Apart from the odd chimp sound, which you get used to, it is peaceful and very relaxing. It is a bit cooler on this hill than in the Nelspruit valley. It is well worth a visit even if not for the night. Plan it as part of an Mpumalanga Lowveld tour!

Information Summary:

  • Website reference
  • E-mail for information :
  • Telephone for reservations and permission to land : 013-745-7406
  • Runway co-ordinates : S25 34.0 E30 60.0
  • 163nm one way
  • From lodge back to FAGC = 1.8 hours booked on charter hobbs

The airfield is in the top left of the picture with the access road curving around the hanger end (high end) of the runway. Umhloti lodge and the Chimpanzee Eden is in the bottom right of the map.

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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:
  • Website reference:
  • 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.


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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Monday, December 1, 2008


This is an easy short trip by Helicopter (50 Nautical miles from Grand Central) to the Vaal River and a great destination for young and old alike.

The helipad is in the far corner of the golf club car park. It has faint yellow H markings, but no windsock. The pilot can easily check the trees or flags in front of the hotel, on the golf course or at the river frontage for wind indication. The wind seemed gusty and unpredictable on the day of our visit, blowing from the river towards the parking area making an approach from the golf course side impossible. There are electrical power lines and pylons on the other side of the road adjacent to this car park. They look closer on first approach than they really are !

The landing is confined on three sides with the only escape route towards the river. Even this needs to be considered carefully because of high mast lighting that is used to light up the mashie course. We selected an approach from the South, keeping the power lines on our left and accepting a crosswind from our right. It took us three attempts to get everything to look just right so don't expect it to work first time.

You need to call ahead to the Hotel Manager for permission to land. (Tel 016-420-1300) They can then arrange for you to be taken by golf cart to the main hotel. If you have no luggage it is an easy walk on a fine day.

The hotel is right on the banks of the river and offers a variety of options and activities.

  • Outdoor cafe for light meals
  • A full service restaurant with buffet lunch every second Sunday which is highly recommended
  • A floating restaurant (Le Petit Verdot) used for special events and monthly spitbraai outings along the river
  • Range of deluxe rooms and suites for overnight stays
  • Childrens activities most Sundays, such as jumping castle and pony rides.

Information Summary:
  • Website reference
  • Reservations: Call 0861-967-485 for Zorgvliet hotel central reservations
  • Landing Permission: Call 016-420-1300 Hotel Manager
  • Coordinates: S26 40.5 E27 56.3
  • 50nm one way
  • We booked 1.4hr on the charter hobbs for the round trip.
  • We routed west of FAVV towards Sebokeng. We contacted Vereeniging tower and were cleared to Riviera-on-Vaal. Also watch out for the restricted area east of the river.
You can see the LZ near the top of the map, marked with a white square. The faint yellow H is inside the square.

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