Climbing up into the clouds over Johannesburg bound for Botswana, the anticipation for what lay ahead was intoxicating
Jarrod and Jessica Bryce set off on an epic self-fly journey, which took them over Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe
With a quick shout of “Clear Prop” out the window of our Cessna 172, a nervous turn of the ignition and all 160 horses of the engine roared to life. This four-person flying machine was to be our trusty steed for the next few weeks as we set off to self-pilot our way across the breathtaking African landscape.
With our travel buddies piloting a separate aircraft, we were headed deep into the unknown. Our route on paper looked tremendous; across the depths of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and what better way to see these incredible countries than from the skies above?
Starting our journey in Johannesburg, we gathered at Brakpan Airfield to collect our plane. After running through the technicalities and after completing our validation flights, we were as ready to take off on the journey of a lifetime. Those first few minutes in the plane were surreal. Climbing up into the clouds over Johannesburg bound for Botswana, the anticipation for what lay ahead was intoxicating.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves navigating over the incredible Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, en route to the Kalahari Desert. The view of these salty remains of an ancient super-lake from above is the only way to take in the magnitude of the captivating, lunar-like landscape that seems to stretch on indefinitely into the hazy horizon.
Flying in low over herds of zebra, buffalo and impala, we successfully completed our first African, dirt-strip landing. But no sooner had we touched down than a hungry-looking lion emerged from the long grass, stalking one of our friends as he secured his aircraft. Luckily he was saved by the impeccably timed arrival of our guide who escorted us to our lodge. We began to feel the full weight of the famous phrase, “T.I.A”, ‘This is Africa!’
Checking-in to Camp Kalahari, the first of many luxurious lodges in our itinerary, we were filled with anticipation for the flying and incredible accommodations that awaited us on our journey. If there’s one thing Africa does well, it’s accommodation; whether you choose a tented camp, a hotel or a private lodge, you’re guaranteed impeccable service and cuisine as well as rooms that offer the highest standards of privacy and luxury, all perfectly set among the wild and pristine African wilderness.
We spent the next 48 hours on horseback safari, walking with the Kalahari bushmen and enjoying sundowners on the salt pans however, the highlight had to be our encounter with the meerkats that live just a short distance from the camp. Now used to the small groups of tourists who come to visit them, these furry little guys are a far cry from the generally shy and timid versions found elsewhere in Africa.
Sitting quietly beside their burrow, it wasn’t long before one of the troupe was clambering up my arm and onto my shoulder before taking up position as sentry atop my head. Holding in the giggles was almost impossible as he scoured the horizon looking for danger, expertly holding his balance on on his hind legs above me. It was undoubtedly one of the most incredible and surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. If this was day one, we couldn’t begin to imagine what the rest of our African adventure had in store.
Fuelled up on amazing experiences, incredible food and new found friendships, we were ready for take off again, headed for the flood plains of the Okavango Delta.
Flying into the Delta, whether as a pilot or a passenger is an incredible experience in itself. It’s as if a National Geographic documentary is unfolding right in front of you. Hippos and elephants were wallowing in the shallow Delta, while the crocodiles slid from every bank into the water to escape the dull monotony of our underpowered engine.
We touched down at our next destination where the Kanana Camp guide was waiting for us, alongside wild dogs, warthogs, impala, monkeys, owls and even a black Mamba. We assumed he’d engaged them all for our benefit, but as the next few days unfolded, it became apparent that this was calibre of wildlife that you could expect when you take a trip to the Delta.
The next few days of flying took us further north into the serene landscape of Zambia to witness the beauty of Victoria Falls and the mighty Zambezi. With a crocodile and a hippo vowing for territory every 30 metres within the frenzied currents, the Zambezi is a true spectacle and one to be respected (from above the surface!)
Next, we found ourselves landing in South Luangwa in central eastern Zambia where no time was wasted as we were swept off for a morning, champagne game drive before settling in for another afternoon of dining and unsurpassed African hospitality.
From there, having arrived at the northern most part of our journey, we flew south through Zimbabwe, navigating our way to Mana West, a remote dirt strip in Northern Zimbabwe, situated on the eastern side of the mighty Zambezi. Coming in to land, I was once again blown away by the indescribable beauty of this incredible region from the air.
“Howzit”? bellows our guide as we stroll from our Cessnas towards his Jeep, his arms outstretched to simultaneously shake hands and hand us a cold beer. “I heard the Aussies were coming, so I packed extra beer,” he laughs.
The 20-minute drive from the airstrip to our lodge turned into a two-hour scenic journey which included lion cubs, nervous bull elephants and spying a leopard drinking from a local waterhole. The seclusion and rawness of the area was unrivalled; another benefit of the fly-in safari. With the nights’ lodge being situated right on the river, we found a continuous stream of elephants meandering innocuously through the grounds using the swimming pool like their personal waterpark.
That evening, as we enjoyed our final sundowners and reminisced about our journey, we stopped to see two protective lions battle a pack of hyenas as they gorged on a baby hippo that they had separated from its mother only hours before.
Landing back in Johannesburg on our final day, our self-fly adventure had taken three weeks and had seen us cover three countries and almost 4,000km. Words can’t even begin to contain the sights, experiences and memories we collected in that Cessna.
A self-fly safari gives you a bird’s eye of amazing wildlife as you soar over some of the world’s most captivating landscapes. Whether you fly yourself or charter a plane, this is one holiday where you’ll find that time truly is your own.