AFRICA — Self-Fly Scheme
I think a few words about the “Self-Fly” safari are in order before chronicling the adventures we experienced. Note that I am NOT connected with the tour company in any way other than as a customer. Nor did I receive any discount on prices. I’m saying this up front because with only a few very minor notes, this blog will be complementary and there exists that group of malcontents thrive on taking issue. Hank’s Aero Adventures, Inc. [http://www.selfflysafari.com], is the organizer. Christina and Nick Hanks started the business more than fifteen years ago and have grown it into a major operation.
Our group consisted of two couples, Bruce and Suzanne and Jennifer and Paul, and three singles, TJ, another Paul, and me, Casey. Before gathering together in Lanseria, South Africa, we had never met. TJ and Paul (not Jennifer’s) paired together. I was originally supposed to pair up with Hal Thomas from the Phoenix, AZ, area but he had to cancel at the last moment so I ended up paired with the safari escort, Peter, for the entire trip. I’m the old geezer on the right.
We are all licensed private pilots.
The company arranged (brokered) four aircraft for us to use on the safari. They also arranged for us to have our USA pilot’s certificates validated so we could legally fly in Africa. In addition, they planned our routes including GPS coordinates, arranged for lodging for the five stops, and provided all safety and survival gear we would need. On the trip we generally flew in a loose formation with the four aircraft.
Our trip took us from Gauteng (South Africa), up through Botswana over the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, across the northeastern reaches of Namibia to see Victoria Falls from the air, south over the Kruger National Park in Zimbabwe to cross back into South Africa for a final stop at Monte Casino.
The first day started with loading our airplanes with gear and baggage, flying to an airport to refuel, then another second leg for the day to a landing strip near the Haina Lodge where our tour guide/ranger met us. Later that very first day we piled into an excursion vehicle like the one shown in my first blog post and headed out into the bush in search of wildlife returning to camp in time to freshen up before a late dinner.
Up before dawn to have coffee or tea and a quick bite before bundling up in the vehicles for an early morning adventure into the bush. Back to camp for lunch rest up a bit, connect on WiFi (not always available), and set out for an afternoon jaunt, usually a “sundowner” with beverage of your choice (Gin and Tonic were our most popular) and watch the sun go down. Then our ranger would take us for a spotlighting tour of the bush to see what prey and predators may be lurking about.
The next morning was a short but early excursion to see what was to be seen after which we packed up the planes and headed for the next refueling stop to start the routine all over again. If you haven’t noticed, I’ll point out that the entire trip was one adventure almost stacked on the previous with no wasted time.
Accommodations at the first two bush camps, Haina and Shinde, were equipped with all the amenities of a modern hotel except for the canvas tent walls and lack of heat sources – except for the large hot water bottle in the bed – but did include netting to keep out the biting, stinging creatures. All lodges have comfortable lounges…when you have time to use them.
I’ll skip over the midpoint stop at Victoria Falls Hotel except to describe it with one word, POSH.
The camps at Mashatu and Mala Mala were two and three steps above the first two. Mala Mala’s bungalows included electric wall heaters to rate them an additional star. I should mention our trip was in June, well into the winter season in the southern hemisphere and we were a good distance from the equatorial topics. Early morning temperatures dipped to plus or minus two degrees Celsius.
Maybe I can dig up a few leopard pictures for the next post…