On Tuesday the 12th June, 12 aircraft and almost 30 people met at Pilanbergs International Airport to clear customs out of South Africa on a flying adventure that would eventually cover 7,000 kilometers and 35 hours of flying.
Some pilots had met each other previously on Essie's Air Safaris'. Some were new friends that were going to spend 18 days enjoying each other's company while flying over some of Southern Africa's most magnificent scenery camping in the open or staying at bush lodges.
Essie Esterhysen the man who arranges the whole trip almost a year in advance at his own cost is the humblest of persons I have met. His only purpose is to empower you to share his passion for flying the African continent. He encourages you and most importantly makes it possible for you to take this bold step to step outside your comfort zone and experience the power of flight.
Departing from Pilansberg were three Slings, two RV10s, three Cessna 182s, A Piper Meridian, Piper Arrow, Piper Super Cub, Rans 7, a Robinson R44 and Jane and me in our Piper Super Cub. All of us are Private Pilot's license holders and some of us have never travelled across international borders.
We all landed safely at Gaborone where we cleared customs before departing for Gweta a small strip south east of Maun. There we spent the night on the pans enjoying "a billion stars" tucked into our sleeping bags.
The next day we departed for Nguma Lodge. The two hour flight took us over the incredible Okavango Delta. It was a flight that I will never forget. Flying low level 100 feet above the tree tops and viewing the game from the air was the experience of a lifetime. Nguma Lodge where we stayed for two nights is a really a really wonderful place. We ventured deep into the Delta on Makoros enjoying the beauty of this truly magical place.
The next leg took us to Shakawe where we cleared customs and crossed the border into Namibia on our journey south. We landed at Runda to clear customs. This brought back many memories for some of our older pilots who did border duty. From there we flew directly to Mokuti Etosha lodge and spent two days there. Absolutely stunning. We also went for game drives in Etosha game reserve.
Still in northern Namibia we flew from Mokuti Lodge to Ondangwa and fueled up. Again, many memories from the border days. From here we flew to Epupa Falls situated in the top north western corner of Namibia bordering onto Angola. We flew via Ruacana and observed the massive hydro-electric dam. Epupa falls was wonderfully charming and our campsite was literary on the river. It was hot and the roar of the falls was music to me, a city dwellers, ears. We did rafting, having lunch on the Angola side of the Kunene river. We visited the Himba tribe village and Interacted with these extraordinary people Beautiful people. The Himba is the most photographed people in Namibia.
Our plan was to next fly to Terrace Bay and spend the night there. Unfortunately we had not, it seems, acquired permission to land at Terrace Bay as it is a restricted nature reserve and special permission is needed. Unperturbed we diverted to Palmwag and what a treat that was.
From Palmwag we flew all along the skeleton coast to Swakopmund and stayed there for two days. The Skeleton Coast, that huge stretch of absolutely nothing but shipwrecks is very peculiar in that you can have a rolling fog that sits just inside the sand line. This is as a result of the cold Atlantic sea. Visibility is virtually zero so you do need to sit it out until you get the all clear to land at Swakopmund.
From Swakopmund we flew to Walvis Bay where we spent four hours on a catamaran, enjoying Pelican birds sitting on your head and a 300kg seal jumping onto deck demanding to be fed. We enjoyed an incredible seafood lunch and climbed Dune 7. Not my proudest moment I must admit. The sand just collapsed around me and I just could not make forward progress much to the amusement of my fellow travelers. Johann, the Piper Meridian pilot told us that he was based in Walvis Bay during the border war and part of their exercise was to pull a cannon to the top of Dune 7. Next we got onto the quad bikes. What a treat that was. In next to no time I was doing 360 degrees barrel rolls with impunity. Walvis Bay is really a great place with great restaurants.
Our next leg was to Rostock Ritz. We again flew via the skeleton coast and turning at Conception bay. The most beautiful place I have ever experienced. He houses, made from massive inflatable balloons that were since gunited and the balloons thereafter deflated looked like hobbits. The tranquility and beauty and isolation of that area was good for the soul.
I left Rostock Ritz with a heavy heart. Our next leg took us to Soussusvlei for two nights. Soussusvlei is a beautiful place with fantastic food and excellent game drives as well as a fascinating fossilized forest and riverbed that was over 800 years old trapped in a salt pan. Perhaps it was he adventurer in me that by then had emerged but I thought it a bit too commercial. We climbed the dune "Big Daddy "and I coped better than with Dune 7. I was definitely was getting to be a real adventurer.
Next we flew to Lüderitz, again via the Skeleton Coast. Diamonds were discovered in the 19th century here. Evidence of this enchanting "Ghost Town" still exists. We were taken on the grand tour and explained how people "did it" in those days.
From Lüderitz we flew to Fish River Lodge landing on a small strip on top of a mountain. What a view and what wonderful hospitality. We took a 4x4 trip down to the canyon valley and had a swim.
After two delightful days we sadly had to head home, clearing customs at Keetmanshoop and entering South Africa via Upington International Airport. We spent our last night at Augrabies lodge. It was a wonderful evening but we were all somewhat sad. The trip was over and the adventure had come to an end. However, we have made memories and friends that will remain with us for a long time. As we reminisced we sang Essie's praises for the well organised trip.
The next day Jane and I headed back to Baragwaneth. Would we do it again? Without a doubt.