Plane & Pilot
Monday, December 5, 2011

Trans-Africa Adventure

Part I: Southbound—From London to Cape Town in a Robinson R44

Our first stop in Tanzania was Kilimanjaro. The weather was fairly cloudy in the morning, but we got fleeting glimpses of the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as we headed south, encountering the odd giraffe over the Kenyan Masai Mara, and we waved to the colorful Masai herdsmen as we flew past. We spent two nights in a camp overlooking the Serengeti seeing "the big five" and the huge herds of animals in this fantastic park. On our final day, we left early and flew the helicopter low level over thousands of migrating wildebeest and zebra—a real treat from a helicopter! Then it was off to the coast for our flight to Zanzibar.

Stone Town in Zanzibar is a beautiful, if slightly run-down, town. We were due to spend one night there, but the Mozambique Ministry of Defense chose to take a close look at our flight clearances, so one day became three, and we got a chance to relax and enjoy the beach.

Down The Coast
Eventually, our clearances came through and we headed south over crystal-blue waters. We skirted low over the harbor of Dar es Salaam and over pristine beaches into Mozambique. It was inland from there, over spectacular jungles, where we came across two herds of wild elephant feeding in the forests. The weather began to change—no clouds were forecast, but soon, we were weaving to avoid low clouds and African afternoon thunderstorms. We landed at the northern Mozambique town of Pemba for fuel and rest.

As we headed south from Pemba, the scenery became mystical—large mountains rising sharply like huge rocks from the floor of the jungle. It reminded me of Conan Doyle's The Lost World, and I wouldn't have been surprised to see dinosaurs sticking their heads above the trees. Next, we were over the Limpopo delta, flying over herds of wild buffalo surrounded by huge flocks of white birds as we made our way back to the coast. The fishermen were a bit surprised to see a Robinson helicopter, and stopped to wave as we headed south about 100 yards offshore before landing at the port town of Biera. We begged some fuel from a private stash that a Cherokee pilot had at the airport, and headed south for Vilanculos and the beautiful island of Bazaruto.

Next stop was South Africa, the final country on our adventure. Everything began to change—controllers had us on radar and large towns with motorways began to pass below us. We planned a scenic route following the coast down to Cape Town, and the next morning we took off over Swaziland and the Drakensberg mountains with Paul Simon on the headphones as we passed Ladysmith toward the coast at Margate just south of Durban. Then we flew low level in glorious sunshine over huge numbers of dolphins and the odd shark and turtle along the wild coast, and arrived at our final destination—Cape Town. My family flew down to join me, and we completed a lovely tour of South Africa by helicopter before G-DKNY was dismantled and shipped home to the UK in a container.

Next month in Part II, we follow the northbound adventure of Helmut Polzer in a Cessna 206 up the west coast of Africa and through the Sahara.

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