Experiencing Botswana’s Delta and other great places from 500-4000 feet above ground is UNBELIEVABLE.
Our church, the NHK Gaborone, hosted its second fundraising fly-in safari in Botswana and my husband, Heinrich, and I were fortunate to be invited along. We were incredibly excited about the trip and couldn’t wait to embark on our safari adventure. Then a week before we were due to leave, we heard through the grapevine that our plane had been grounded after an emergency landing. Our joy turned to despair as we saw our adventure come to a bitter end before it had even begun. Fortunately a backup plan was put in place and was on condition that we packed lightly – no problem! Our expedition kicked off with a spitbraai at De Wet Drilling so that we could familiarise ourselves with the 2010 flying squad. There were 43 passengers departing on 14 airplanes and two helicopters of which nine airplanes were from South Africa. It was a diverse group of people of all ages and from places such as Nelspruit Hoedspruit, Pongola, Piet Retief, Secunda, Gauteng, Cape Town and Botswana. Early the next morning we heard the communal roar of engines from the Cessna 206s and 182s, Beach Craft Bonanzas, turbo prop (Boere Boeing’s), Robbinson R44 Chopper’s, a Piper Cherokee, a Husky, a Fox and a Bantam as they lined up to take off from the Matsieng 800 m dirt strip, approximately 50 km north of Gaborone Later, we stopped for a fuel refill and to have breakfast at Kwalata Ranch, close to the Groblersbrug Border Post. Reinard Eubel, who was piloting the Fox, won the spot landing competition for landing his plane’s wheels closest to a line on the runway.
Back in the air again and cruising just below the clouds, we had a spectacular 360° view of the wilderness and animals running below us. As a feeling of incredible peacefulness washed over me, I knew this trip was going to be unforgettable. There is nothing quite like viewing game from the sky. As we passed over the local communities in a chopper, it was quite amusing to see the effect our bird had on the livestock below. Chickens were frantically darting left and right as they ran for their lives, whilst the cows merely turned their heads in our direction with a bored look. Further on, we saw giraffes loping gracefully into the cover of the lush vegetation elephants and many different types of buck.
To the Chobe River
We travelled along what seemed like endless miles towards Kasane, a small village that is the meeting point of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The panorama of the Chobe, with its twists and turns through swamps of wide reed and papyrus beds sometimes forming hidden lagoons filled with water lilies, was truly breathtaking. We stayed for two nights at the Chobe Marine Lodge which overlooked the river, and it was from this point onwards that our group would be plagued by plane trouble. Guallume Knipe in a Cessna 206, joined us a day later at Chobe Marina Lodge as result of contaminated fuel. The evenings were loads of fun with prizes being given for the highlight and lowlight of the day, fastest and slowest plane, last man standing, best co-pilot under stress and anything else we could conjure up.
Victoria Falls – Bonus
We travelled along what seemed like endless miles towards Kasane, a small village that is the meeting point of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The panorama of the Chobe, with its twists and turns through swamps of wide reed and papyrus beds sometimes forming hidden lagoons filled with water lilies, was truly breathtaking. We stayed for two nights at the Chobe Marine Lodge which overlooked the river, and it was from this point onwards that our group would be plagued by plane trouble. Guallume Knipe in a Cessna 206, joined us a day later at Chobe Marina Lodge as result of contaminated fuel.
The evenings were loads of fun with prizes being given for the highlight and lowlight of the day, fastest and slowest plane, last man standing, best co-pilot under stress and anything else we could conjure up. a fascinating talk on bush flying by Guy Leitch from SA Flyer magazine, and there was also an equally interesting talk on the elephants of Chobe National Park in Botswana, by Dr. Mike Chase who filmed the documentary ‘Elephants without Borders’. He told us that Botswana is a temporary haven for some of these animals and over time, they will return to countries such as Angola which was effected by a fierce bush war.
To the Okavango Delta
Our next destination was to the ‘Botswana sea’s of land, land of sea’ Otherwise known as the Delta, it was in flood due to uncommonly high rainfalls this year. This time it was Callie Moll’s turn to leave his airplane behind due to contaminated fuel. The elephants acted like hippos and the hippos just minded their own business. Whilst flying we always kept a wary eye out for vultures and eagles because If we hit one at 220 km an hour, it could have been disastrous for both the vulture and aviators. Landing at Shakawe Airport, a small tarred strip on the rim of the Okavango Delta, we made our way to a ferry and houseboat for our transfer to Shakawe Fishing Camp. With a lively bunch on board, the cruise turned out to be lots of fun – for some more than others, who to this day still insist that the threehour cruise was only half an hour.
This cruise also proved to be a great opportunity to do some fishing in the river, where a number of tigerfish were caught after a commendable fight, and then released back into their natural habitat. That evening everyone gathered around the campfire for dinner and to listen to Tim Liversedge director and film producer for National Geographic, speak about the lions of the Kalahari, where he had captured footage of the most dramatic lion action ever seen. This can be seen in his Imax film ‘Roar’. He also was the maker of another excellent film ‘Haunt of the Fish Owl’. Another enjoyable evening was had by all with the singing of old folk songs with a twist, over excellent vino and much laughter.
We rose before dawn in preparation of another enchanting day. Being a passenger on this fly-in safari had its own benefits as you never knew where you were going next or when, nor with whom you were going to fly with. This meant that we got the opportunity to fly in a different aircraft, with different members of the group everyday. It was also really interesting to see how each pilot had his own way of doing the pre-flight checks, and you had to listen really carefully to hear what the instructions were from the airport towers – to me, some of the commentary didn’t really sound like English but thankfully the pilots knew what was going on.
Once again our game viewing from the air was spectacular. We stopped in Maun for lunch, only to find out that our choppers had been unjustifiably grounded by the tower. But where there is a will, there is a way and once more we were airborne. We passed the magnificent Makgadikgadi Pan and you will never believe the size of this pan until you have seen it from up in the air – it stretches for kilometres. Then there was a problem with the plane my husband was travelling on and as a result, he could not join us at luxurious Mashatu Game Reserve, located in the southern/central region of Botswana.
Mashatu Game Reserve boasts the largest elephant population (almost 900) on private land in the world. However, we had seen so many elephants by this stage that we decided to go a game drive instead in search of other wildlife. We saw some Spotted Hyenas, a society which is dominated by females, and we were also very fortunate to see lions. Entering the camp we heard hyenas laughing close by – too close by! As luck would have it, the power went off in my room and with no telephone and only a blowing signal horn on hand, it was a bit scary to have to sleep on my own.
Earlier in the evening, we had a braai and were entertained by some traditional dancers; all the while my husband was still on the house boat in Shakawe. Definitely not a bad place to be as this houseboat, the Kubu Queen, has catered for many of Prince William’s private parties, including his 21st. Our last evening was spent at the Kwalata Ranch tented camps. We enjoyed a bush braai underneath some big trees next to the Limpopo River and held the last of our prize giving ceremonies, signalling the end of our 201ONHK fly-in safari. The fly-in safari was very well organised by the project team; they went out of their way to make it enjoyable for all and I would jump onboard again in a heart beat.
Here are some valuable lessons learnt from an awesome trip
- • There are so many circumstances that can alter your plans so my advice is, get up there and enjoy the flight.
- • Africa works on Africa time. If something does not work out, there is always a way around it in Africa.
- • Travel lightly.
- • If you finish a bottle of wine around a campfire, watch out for tree stumps and be prepared to experience some nausea on the next day’s flight.
- • Take as many pictures as you can and swop them with the other photographers in your group.
- • Life is an adventure, so Delta Oscar, India Tango, November Oscar Whisky – DO IT NOW.
We thank Do It Now Magazine for this fantastic article written by Francios Flamengo.