From High Up

Flying and Travels

Bumi Hills at Lake Kariba

Lake Kariba is the largest man-made reservoir in the world, it covers an area of 5,580 km2, that’s over one quarter of Lake Ontario.

Our 2 hour, 250 nm flight from Masvingo to Bumi Hills at the lake shore was easy, with only high broken layer. It turns out that you have to a permission from the office of the president to land there, the strip being an uncontrolled field and we all being foreign pilots with aircrafts registered in South Africa.

Bumi Hills Safari Lodge is currently under renovation and we were supposed to sleep on a boat anchored at the lake.  Organizer assured us the boat had “equivalent level of comfort” and indeed, for most people that was true. We weren’t in luck. After we got in and were shown our cabin, I could almost touch both walls when stretching my hands, there was no place to put our stuff, the shower…. you know these washbasins in UK, where there is one tap with hot water and one with cold, so you can either freeze your hands or burn them? This was the same, but for the shower. Needless to say, we expressed our displeasure rather strongly and luckily, it turned out that there was one room still available at the lodge, in spite of it being in renovation. We moved there and it was wonderful. Here is a morning view from the hotel terrace, where we had breakfast.

In the mornings, we saw elephants or buffaloes grazing at the shore in front of us.

The first day, we had a wonderful picnic at the lake shore.

with this guy, who insisted on participating.

There was plenty of other game to see: zebras, giraffes, impalas, buffaloes, all sorts of amazing birds, elephants, rhinos and hippos. Here is one watching our boat.

The second afternoon, we went to see the local village. It is incredible that people still live in such condition, here is a local woman preparing flour from manioc – this is not for tourists, she does it every day.

On the other hand, we also visited a local school. There were perhaps 500 children in the school, all very curious to see foreigners, all speaking or learning to speak English and some living up to 6 km from the school and making the trip every morning and afternoon by foot. Here is a small group greeting us when we arrived at the school.

We also had sunset drinks at the fire, with magical sky full of stars above us. I am not good enough photographer to capture it all.

Zimbabwe and African VFR

We had some unexpected surprises from the trip organizer who turned out to be not exactly at the level required. However, we have an amazing group of people with us and we are now continuing essentially by ourselves. Lesson learned: never pre-pay anything.

On Thursday morning we flew 80 nm (0:40) to Kruger International, which was supposed to be just a stop to clear customs and continue to Mozambique.

That didn’t work out exactly as planned, we couldn’t get a clearance to fly to Vilanculos. The clearance was supposed to be prepared ahead of time by the trip organizer, but since he went AWOL, we had to take things in our hands. It turns out that apparently, 8 Cessnas and Pipers constituted an invasion force. The local ATC  had to confer with military and the military decided us to be too dangerous. The following day, the weather in Vilanculos turned 1500 feet overcast, light rain and 5 km visibility. While we could get in in a 182, the smaller 172 in the group didn’t have a range till the alternate – and we still didn’t have the clearance. Finally, we regretfully had to skip Mozambique.

The following morning we decided to fly to Zimbabwe. There was no METAR nor TAF for our destination, Buffalo Range. Accuweather and satellite pictures were showing low visibility and ceiling below 1,500 feet, but that didn’t deter a determined group of aviators and off we went. Here is our flight from Kruger International to Buffalo Range airport.

When we got close to Chiredzi, the controller said visibility 300 meters, ceiling 1000 feet. You can see what happened next looking at my turn west within the CTR. I decided to fly to Masvingo, but after asking the controller, that field wasn’t much better – so off we went to Bulawayo, some 200 miles west. When the rest of the group decided to fly back south, towards South Africa border (good ADM: 180 degree turn, when getting into IMC), I turned out south also.

Luckily, 5 minutes later, the controller announced 3 km visibility – good enough for us – and we all managed to get into Buffalo Range. All except one, because Craig had engine trouble and decided to make a precautionary landing in South Africa – it turned out to be a non-issue. The 335 nm flight took 2:30, but it felt more!

After landing, we were rewarded by  seeing zebras grazing on taxiways (see above).

Having 7 airplanes trying to refuel in Chiredzi has proven to be somewhat of a challenge due to the local equipment.

The guy on the left is hand pumping fuel from blue barrel to white barrel. The guy on the right is hand pumping fuel from the white barrel to the aircraft. The pilot is fueling the aircraft. It only takes about 15 minutes per airplane.

Once we all got fuel, went through immigration, customs, filled forms, paid fees, it was time to fly to Masvingo. The weather didn’t exactly improve, but hey, this is Africa.

As you can see on the profile view, terrain was rising, while the cloud deck – not so much, in other words, classical sucker trap. The profile view shows my valiant attempts to stay VMC, which were, let’s say, only partially successful. However, we all arrived safely to the destination, after 70 nm, 35 min flight.

We spent the night in the Lodge at the Ancient City, a pretty amazing hotel south of Masvingo and the next morning, before flying out, we visited Great Zimbabwe; a  ruined city, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s Late Iron Age.

Simbavati River Lodge

It has been pretty crazy days. We left Johannesburg, Wonderboom field on Sunday and flew 210 nm (1:30) to Simbavati River Lodge. There is an Motswari airstrip not far from the lodge and we all managed to find it and land. Before landing, the mandatory low level overflight to chase any game that might be lingering on the runway. The lodge is beautiful, over a now dry river, with occasional elephants wandering around, such as this one – perhaps 50 feet away.

The next 3 days were incredible, wake up at 5:30 am, coffee and hop on a safari car. We drove around the savanna looking for animals: elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, leopards, impalas, antelopes. buffalo and plenty of smaller ones.

Back to the lodge around 9:30 and for a full breakfast and free time, often a nap until 1 pm, when we had lunch, and another safari at 3:30 pm, returning to the lodge after dark.

This lioness was literally walking by our car, imperturbable.

A leopard, about 20 feet from the car.

Lady giraffe, checking us out from up high.

And our favorite moment – an afternoon break with full bar.


South African Pilot License

I have now a South African Pilot license. You can judge for yourself, which one looks best, between South Africa, Europe (EASA) or USA (FAA).

My vote goes to South Africa, easily. For sure, the license is best looking. We had to do a written test and answer 20 questions about South Africa Air Law. I prepared using a Foxone app, but since this is a validation of my FAA license, it is much easier and actual questions are left to the discretion of the instructor. We reviewed the material for about one hour and I am proud to announce, I’ve got 20/20 and hence passed. In case anybody ever doubts it, here are my actual answers, as you can see we wrote them on the stationary of the hotel.

If you ever have to take to take that test, don’t sweat it, it is really easy. The next day we went to the Wonderboom airport to do the practical. A pretty senior Cherokee Warrior was valiantly trying to lift us from the runway, but given that both of us (for avoidance of doubt, I mean instructor and I, not Ania and I)  were perhaps enjoying good food and drink too much, the airport is at 4,000 feet, it started to be hot and the engine might at some point in time, a while back, develop 150 hp, we struggled to reach our practice altitude of 6,500 feet. But eventually we got there (1500 climb at 150 fpm does take 10 minutes) and did couple of stalls, steep turns and landings at the Freeway Pretoria dirt strip. I was now a proud pilot with a VFR-only license. Wonderbooom is a pretty busy GA field with a lot of training traffic. After firing the engine, you call the ground and say: “Wonderboom ground, Cherokee ZS-EES, good morning”. They return good morning to you and you say “ZS-EES is a Cherokee 150 at apron B, crew of 2, instructions for taxi, General Aviation Area 1, endurance 3 hours, expect 1 hour and return Wonderboom”. After that, the controller says something in a thick South African accent that you have no chance of understanding. Luckily it all seemed obvious to the instructor next to me and we taxied to the runway.

In the afternoon, I made a short flight in a Cessna 182, which we will be taking for the trip. ZS-SOE is a very nicely maintained 1969 Skylane, has a fuel totalizer and seems to be liking 130 knots at 12.6 gph. Not bad! One radio is a bit temperamental, but the other one works fine and frankly, once we get out of here, I don’t expect to use much of the radio.

We already had a short exposure to the local animals, because there is part game, part zoo by the Farm Inn hotel where we are staying. We went for a short ride and saw giraffes, gnu, antelopes, tigers, hyenas, leopards and lions. What a treat.

The guide with lion cubs, he took care of them since birth, but now they are big enough that they need to be behind the fence.

We always thought giraffe is a bizarre being, but she seems unfazed.

Hyenas have the second strongest jaws (after crocodiles), but they want attack unless in a group and you run away.

Tomorrow the departure for the Timbavati Game Reserve and Motswari strip.

South Africa Air Law

Suitcases, packing, last minute shopping, vaccinations, and cramming for the South Africa written test. I must be enjoying taking tests, because last year I took an EASA written in Air Law and Human Factors for the conversion of my FAA license to the European one. This year it is only Air Law for the South African conversion. Luckily, there are apps to prepare, hopefully they got questions right. I am using Foxone.

While lot of ideas are similar to United States, there are notable differences. The airspace looks more like in Europe, with various control areas and zones. Class A starts at 20,000 feet, there is a separate night rating.  There are funny things, for example you may have an electronic logbook, but you must print it every 30 days. Medical for over people 40 is valid only 12 months and the license has to be renewed bi-annually.

Would you guess what these two visual ground signals indicate? Turns out that one the right one indicates that aircrafts are required to land and take-off on runways only. Uh? We need a sign for that? So what about the one of the left?

One particular regulation that is more stringent than elsewhere, but struck me as having sense is that to fly IFR, you need to have either two pilots or a pilot and a George (two axis autopilot).

All flights and hotels are now booked, except in Cape Town, where we are going to stay in a lovely Airbnb. Thanks to Sjoerd van ter Welle, who organizes the Ultimate Self-Fly, we are going to have dinner in one of the most sought restaurants in Cape Town, if not the world: Test Kitchen – impossible to get a reservation for an ordinary human being. Let’s have a non-aviation picture here for a change.

Planning for Namibia

This is our bucket list item, to see the Namibia dunes.

Since we will be already in South Africa, practically next door, we couldn’t skip the opportunity to go there.

But how?


The original idea was to skip the last return leg from Maun to Gabarone and instead fly to Windhoek, see the dunes at Sesreim (there is conveniently an airstrip at the entrance to the park) and return via the Skeleton Coast and Luderitz to Cape Town.

The only trouble was, we were supposed to fly a Cessna 172M. For those who weren’t born when that model was manufactured, that airplane has 150HP engine and 38 gallon tanks.  The terrain out there is sort of unforgiving with no trace of human activity for hundreds of miles. A bit of headwind, maybe tired engine and airframe and we would be camping out there for several months until somebody finds us.

After due exercise of my superior ADM skills (for non pilots reading this, that’s Aeronautical Decision Making – FAA loves acronyms), I decided to scrap that idea and we are flying commercial: Johannesburg to Cape Town, 5 days to visit the city, than Cape Town to Windhoek, rent a car, drive to see the dunes, and fly commercial Windhoek back to Johannesburg.

For those who think that I chickened out, the map shows distances.


South Africa – Getting Ready

Flying Safari in South Africa!

We will spend the month of June to fly around South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Here is the first part of the trip, starting in Johannesburg, first stop in a private game reserve in Kruger National Park, than along the Mozambique coast to Vilanculos, up to Zimbabwe and Lake Kariba, Victoria Falls,  Okavango Delta in Botswana and return to Johannesburg via Gabarone diamond town. Click on the map to see details.

All the flights in a trusted Cessna 172, that will be quite a change from our Cirrus, but it seems that a Cirrus would be somewhat out of place in the African bush. Plus, we couldn’t find one to rent!

The second part of the trip will take us to Cape Town, with a side jump to Namibia, we still are working on the details of that leg.

We cannot wait.

Page 4 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén