BLOG Pt6 (FINAL) : Turning South

30/10/2013.

20-22/07/2013 / Days 8 – 10

Arusha (HTAR) -> Dodoma (HTDO)
176nm / 1h:00m / 66 litres of Avgas

Dodoma (HTDO) -> Mfuwe (FLMF)
481nm / 2h:45m / 200 litres of Avgas

Mfuwe (FLMF) -> RZ (FLRZ)
212nm / 1h:10m / 87 litres of Avgas

RZ (FLRZ) -> Lusaka (FLKK)
54nm / 0h:20m / 20 litres of Avgas

Lusaka (FLKK) -> Polokwane (FAPP)
515nm / 2h:50m / 204 litres of Avgas

Polokwane (FAPP) -> Tweefontein (HOME)
152nm / 0h:54m / 62 litres of Avgas

TOTAL TRIP

3062nm / 17h:33m / 1229 litres of Avgas

On the morning of 20 August 2013 I didn’t wake up feeling sad about leaving Tanzania, because I knew we were heading next to Royal Zambezi Lodge, on the northern bank of the mighty Zambezi river, in the Lower Zambezi valley.

After a quick breakfast it was into the bus, now twice the weight due to our luggage. Turning out of the hotel our driver decided to turn right. Right is east towards Kilimanjaro, left is west towards Arusha airport, where we were in a big hurry to get to as we had a long day of flying ahead of us. 869 nautical miles (1 609km) to be exact.

Our bus to the airport.

Some gave the benefit of the doubt to the driver, suggesting he knew a short cut through Arusha. The majority wasn’t as generous. In no uncertain terms (although, the driver was still adamant to head east) we instructed him to make a u turn.  As our speed increased it soon became obvious why he was a tad bit confused. I sat right behind him and the rancid smell of his previous night’s debauchery smashed into me. Nevertheless, seeing as he didn’t speak or understand a word of English, he was incredulous that we wanted to head west, and sat on his phone for the duration of the journey through Arusha up until the airport. Whoever instructed him to take us to Kilimanjaro must have had massive influence…

Arusha

The aircraft were all dirty from dust blowing in from the west. After refuelling and obtaining a weather report we took off on runway 09. There was low cloud lurking about, but soon we climbed through it and it cleared as we flew southwards. After reaching cruising altitude, a quick glance over our left shoulders revealed the top of Mt Kilimanjaro (19336ft) in the far distance. I was a bit disappointed that we weren’t able to fly closer to Mt Kili during this trip, as Mt Meru (15000ft) was already very impressive.

The Crews

Willie & Kathy Burger / ZS-BUR

Freddie & Brenda Marx / ZS-VMF

Jan & Tania Grey / ZS-NFN

Anton & Alda Pelser / ZS-KAE

Andre & Fransie van Niekerk / ZS-ZSZ

Pieter & Elais Senekal / ZS-SRS

Eric & Karin Walker / ZS-ZSZ (Photo not taken by myself)

The Van Zyls & Fouries / ZS-BDR

The Halls & Jacobszs

George & Eksteen Jacobsz / ZS-SWA

Our route would take us first to Dodoma for refuelling and customs and then we’d head south south-west, passing Lake Malawi at its northern tip and entering the Luangwa valley before reaching the Zambezi River. Dodoma was much less eventful this time around and we were through in a matter of half an hour. The next leg of flying was spectacular. The Kipengere mountain range hugs Lake Malawi’s northern shore and is the same height as the Drakensberg. They were majestic as we approached and soon, flying at FL115, the ground wasn’t that far below us. As we crossed over this range we then entered the Luangwa valley, with the world famous Luangwa river lazily accompanying us southwards. Mfuwe, in the middle of nowhere, was a quick stop to re-fuel and do Zambian customs. Further south our flight path crossed the river just as it cut its way through a magnificent gorge.

Kipengere Escarpment

Zambezi river, east of RZ.

Then a blue shimmer appeared in the distant haze. The Zambezi river sparkled just beyond the mountains to its north that shapes the Lower Zambezi valley.  The longest east flowing river in Africa can’t help but touch you in a profound way, each time you lay eyes on her. Coming over the mountains we made a slight turn to the right and followed the river all the way to Royal Zambezi. Exactly the same way as a year before, but in the opposite direction as we then came from the Kafue river. The effect was the same…breath taking.

View from RZ's deck.

We opted for a direct approach and touched down short on the runway, which meant a long taxi to the ramp. After securing the aircraft we were taken to the lodge. It was lovely to be back and a bit surreal to think that I stood at the same spot just  a year before. It was a year too long. To me, the only place that trumps Royal Zambezi Lodge as a tourist destination is Victoria Falls. But that’s like comparing apples with pears. After a quick briefing and enjoying the view of two elephants, grazing in the river in front of the lodge, we were led to our luxurious and spacious room. There are a few perks to being a tour leader and I wasn’t complaining.

Soon the other aircraft started to arrive, some doing a low pass over the river before turning for base.  A sunset cruise was on the menu for the late afternoon. As always it didn’t disappoint, with lots of wildlife and serene scenery to fill the mind with wonder. We had a lovely dinner on the deck under the stars that evening and turned to our rooms quite early as it had been a long day of traveling and there was the little matter of some tiger fishing in the morning.

Elephant snorkeling close to the lodge.

Sunset cruise.

A flock of birds just after sunset.

It was another perfect sunrise the next morning and after breakfast we boarded our boats. Heading out to a small island in the river, the skipper prepared our rods before fishing commenced. Unlike the previous year where we first had to catch bait, the hunt for tiger fish began right away and in earnest. It wasn’t 5 minutes when the jovial Anton Pelser got a strike. It was a big tiger and kept him busy for a good while, even clearing the water, trying to dislodge the hook. 4 times it came to within grasping distance, only to then find renewed energy and make a dash for the safety of the river’s depths.

Our boat's best and only catch of the day.

After a spirited fight it had nothing more to give and our skipper at last got his catch net underneath it. It was a beautiful 8 pounder and after high fives, smiles and photos we released it. I always wonder whether a tiger is clever enough not to be caught twice. That would turn out to be our boat’s only success for the day, but it didn’t matter one bit… we were cruising up and down the river, taking in the sheer beauty of the place. Just after mid-day we called it quits.  Lunch was ready at the lodge.

On his perch.

Christmas tree

A game drive was scheduled for the afternoon, but before that I got to meet Royal Zambezi Lodge’s manager, Natalie Clark. It was interesting to hear about her background and how she ended up with her dream job. She also makes a good coffee. Thanks for the chat in your “office” Natalie.

The game drive was not as eventful as the year’s before, but we did see a young lion, in perfect condition, biding his time to be the next dominant male, from his termite heap perch.  We also enjoyed sun downers next to a channel of the Zambezi River and then returned to the lodge for our last dinner of the trip. Penalty shots were distributed for various “offences” committed during the trip and we were then treated to a perfect Sunday roast.

Dinner about to be served.

After dinner I tried to capture a nice panorama picture of the deck at night, but just when I wanted to make my way to our room, the “resident” elephant at the lodge, Yale, made his appearance. It’s uncanny how silent these big creatures are. What gives them away are the branches and twigs they break, and maybe the odd stomach rumble. He took his time and after 15 minutes the road was clear to quickly sneak past him.

RZ deck.

The morning of 22 July came to be the last morning our group of 24 would be together for this trip. Breakfast was had with mixed emotions, with many sad that it had come to an end, but also excited to see their loved ones back home again. After a climbing-right hand turn over the lodge we set course for Lusaka. It’s a 20 minute flight, but you have to clear the escarpment, which is 2700ft higher than RZ and just 6 km away.

RZ pano.

RZ Lodge

As we climbed over the mountains we encountered the most ferocious of tail winds I’ve ever experienced. 40-45 knots at FL075. After a bumpy and very quick flight we approached runway 10, into the gale, resulting in a ground speed just before touch down of 50kts. Mountaineers always call the South Col on Mt Everest the most inhospitable place known to man, but the ramp at Kenneth Kaunda made a strong case for the title. The wind was vile. As we were in the queue for fuel we decided to make a dash for the warmth of the airport terminal to clear customs, file a flight plan and pay the plethora of taxes and fees.  With all this happening a lot faster and less painful than the year before, we again braced ourselves for the wind. It’s always easy to complain about bitter cold or energy sapping heat, but surely nothing tramples the human spirit more than a gusting, howling wind.


Bad news waited as we got to the plane…the fuel truck had broken down. Another commercial pilot also waiting to fill up his Cessna 206 assured us that it would soon be fixed. The question was…how long would it take? We still had 667nm (1235km) to cover before dark and it was already 10am. After an hour’s wait it thankfully turned up and we were on our way. Never before was I that glad to leave Kenneth Kaunda International. Climbing out of Lusaka we turned right; heading : South, from now onwards each mile flown was a mile closer to home.

Kariba.

Lake Kariba’s navy blue waters soon appeared and it was a magnificent sight to behold. Bulawayo followed, then the border point where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. Polokwane was a formality and then it was the final 54 minute leg home homeward. Then something weird happened…from Middelburg onwards the visibility improved to the best we had had the whole trip. Which was ironic, seeing as Mpumalanga suffers the air pollution of a dozen power stations.

Reflecting on the trip I’m proud to say that it went well. There were a few obstacles and surprises along the way, but nowhere a train crash, and everyone in the group seemed to have enjoyed the experience. How could they not have had? The privilege is stupendous. I want to thank my dad for his help and guidance in organising the trip. His experience and knowledge was invaluable. I also want to thank him for taking me with. Flying to the equator of Africa and back with him, in the right seat, was a privilege and experience I’ll treasure for life. The amount of respect and admiration I have for him…words fail me.

I’ll leave you with this quote from St Augustine : “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”


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