Why is a flying safari the best way to travel in Africa?
Flying gets the most out of your time at each location, lets you get a real sense of the landscape of Africa and takes you to the most unspoiled and untouched areas, far off the beaten track.
Flying safaris allow you to navigate the most remote and pristine regions of Africa, those where larger airlines and even vehicles would find impossible or extremely difficult.
Flying safaris make common senses as it gives you the ability to experience more by air and you get to the next destination point of interest much faster allowing you to enjoy more time to experience wildlife on the ground.
Depending on which tours you choose, there is a choice of a fixed wing or a helicopter. Helicopters give you better visibility in the air, but their distances are shorter.
It is perfect – as one does not get involved in huge queues – rather just cruisingthrough customs and immigration. But it is also about landing exactly at the places you want to be – again, there is no wastage of time.
Real African Bushlying is an adventure instead of being crammed into a large air-conditioned Boeingcarrying you across a blurred African landscape at such a high altitude and speed. A safari flying experience is low and slow, so you pass over herds of wildlife on an African landscape.
Africa is an extremely large continent.To visit the Kruger Area in the eastern part of South Africa, then travel on to Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe to then visit the Victoria Falls would take more than 25 hours of driving. This does not include the waiting times at border crossings, roadblocks and fuel stops.
Flying the identical route would take you a couple of hours instead, excluding queues at the border, and you experience an extremely unique view of the African continent below you while you move from one best part to the next.
With a flying safari, the emphasis is on the flying experience which iswisely chosen to follow the most scenic routes as far as possible. This will include long endless unspoilt beaches, rivers and mountains and vast flat savannahs with multitudes of animals.
Africa is best savoured slowly to enjoy each moment along the way.
Accommodation on a African Flying Safari
Most lodges and camps have been carefully selected to improvethe unique and exclusive experience of a flying safari. You will find unique off-the-beaten-track, unusual and in some cases, quirky places to stay on route.
There will always be comfort, and some will even be elegantly luxurious, but none will ever be ordinary.
Flyingsafari guests are also subjected to experience the best Africancuisine and some of the best South African wines.
What can be experienced on a flying safari
Wings over Namibia
This flying safari covers the finest qualities of Namibia. One can fly over the dunes of Sossusvlei, and see the fascinating rock shapes of Damaraland with its assortment of desert adapted wildlife. You can also fly over the vast hidden Hartmann Valley in the far north.
Etosha National Park
There are few experiences that can beat flying over the extraordinary Etosha National Park. This park has a massive abundance of wildlife and aweb of waterholes spread among the bushes and grasslands surrounding the pan. The pans are blindingly white, flat, saline desert areas that expands into the distancewhich attracts vastflocks of animals. One waterhole can concentrate thousands of sightings over the course of a day, including elephants, lions and rhinos.
Sossusvlei is an amazing place, particularly given that the sands originated in the Kalahari millions of years ago. The Sossusvlei valley is scattered with colossal dunes and intermingled with unearthly dry flat areas. Climbing up the face of these continually moving goliaths is anexclusively Namibian experience. You study the outwardlyboundlessband of oblivion that surrounds you in this vast area and it feels as though nothing else exists.
Fish River Canyon
This massivetear in the surface of the planet in the south of Namibia is an almost unbelievable landscape. Fish River Canyon is desolate, vast and outwardly carved into the earth by what seems to be a master builder. The bare rock and no plant life are ratherstaggeringgives one a wonder of awe.
Fly over the Skeleton Coast and you will see a treacherous stretch of stark bare shoreline where numerous ships have become wrecked on its sands.This is one of the most remote and inaccessible areas in the vast country of Namibia. To be here is to feel what it must have been like for the first explorers in Africa. It is amystical region with rock-strewn and sandy coastal area, where rolling mists and twirling sandstorms capturethisuntamed and mysterious place.
The Himba and Hereo
Namibia is a culturally rich country. One of the tribes that should be experiencedis the varied communities of the Herero population, of which the Himba of the Kaokoveld are a subgroup. They are a remarkable people with a rich colourful tradition. The distinguishing Herero women’s dress is partly originated from Victorian-era German missionaries who settled in the area. The dress comprises of anhuge crinoline worn over a multitude of colourful petticoats, with a horn-shaped headdress. The Himba women are famous for spreading themselves with a scentedcombination of ochre, butter and bush herbs, which dyes their skin a burnt-orange hue. The friendly tribe will welcome you to see their traditions which they follow on a daily basis.
Okonjima Nature Reserve
Covering 20,000 hectares, is the Okonjima Nature Reserve, and it is less than one percent of the size of Etosha. So instead of peering into the expanse looking for animals that roam free, you are tracking a collared cheetah.
Namibia has the most cheetahs than any other country on earth, but these elegant, graceful cats are declining increasingly becoming the victim of human-wildlife conflict, often through no fault of their own. This reserve is devoted to cheetah and other wildlife conservation. Track cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs, and learn about this fascinating conservation project at their information centres. With relaxing accommodation, skilled guides and a real sense of being out in the wild supporting a good cause, it will incentivise you many times over.
Cape Cross Seal Reserve offers one of the most memorable wildlife watching experiences to see more than 100,000 lounging Cape fur seals in one area. The reserve is the home of one of the largest colonies of Cape fur seals in the world.
Caprivi is bordered by the Linyati, Chobe, Cuando and Zambezi rivers. Katima Mulilo is the largest settlement town on the Caprivi. The strip is administrated and divided between the western Okavango Region and the eastern Caprivi. One of the more questioning shapes on the map of Africa, Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, otherwise known as Namibia’s Zambezi Region, is a thin finger of land rich in national parks. Poaching decimated wildlife populations here in the past, but the animals are making a return.
Wings over South Africa
The Kruger National Park
This is of the world’s most famous safari parks and one of South Africa’s oldest game reserves, the Kruger National Park is located in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces . This park offers visitors the chance to see the incredible “Big Five”: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino, as well as an astounding number of other wildlife. This National Park is also home to Bushman rock paintings and other interesting archaeological sites. Visitors can explore the park via a self-drive along its vast network of roads or in an open vehicle safari tour with a qualified guide, accommodation here ranges from basic campsites to five-star luxury lodges.
Nature surrounds this multicultural city, which nestles between a rugged range of mountains and the ocean. For an incredible overview, take a hike up to the peak of the famous flat-topped Table Mountain, or glide to the top on the cableway.
For an equally stunning view, you can also do the hour long hike up the Lions head mountain to enjoy breath taking panoramic views of the city and sea. On the eastern slopes of Table Mountain lies the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A number of the most popular attractions in Cape Town include; Cape Point, which is famous for its abundance of wildlife and botanical wonders, False Bay, where penguins can be found waddling along the beach front, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront where visitors come to shop, dine, and enjoy the many entertainment venues, including the Two Ocean’s Aquarium and Camp’s Bay which is rimmed by stunning boulder-flanked beaches and offers elegant shops and cafes.
Found in the province of KwaZulu Natal, the Drakensburg which means “Dragon Mountains” is one of the most popular holiday spots in South Africa, it is also where the country’s highest peaks are found.
The region encompasses the World Heritage-listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, which is an area of jaw-dropping beauty with jagged basalt buttresses and San rock art, and Royal Natal National Park, home to the awe-inspiring Amphitheatre, a magnificent cliff face and source of South Africa’s main rivers.
The area is home to over 800 different species of flowering plants as well as a wide range of wildlife. In the summer, the mountain landscapes are lush and fertile with flowing waterfalls and crystal-clear streams. In the winter, snow caps the dramatic peaks.
The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
Measured as one of the largest canyons on earth and possibly even the largest green canyon, this reserve extends along the Blyde River Canyon’s winding road path, which at every turn offers more and more impressive views over sheer edges dropping 800m into the riverbed.
The fresh mountain scenery and panoramic views over the Klein Drakensberg escarpment are quite remarkable and give the area its name of the ‘Panorama Route’.
Viewpoints are named for the spectacle they offer, and God’s Window and Wonder View hint at the magnitude of the scenery.
Found along this route is the Pinnacle which is a single quartzite column rising out of the deep wooded canyon, there is also the ‘Three Rondavels’ (also called ‘Three Sisters’) they are three huge spirals of dolomite rock rising out of the far wall of the Blyde River canyon.
Their domed heads are iced in green and their sides are stained with fiery orange lichen which makes them look like round little houses and earns them their name.
Kalahari Transfrontier Park
A blend of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park, the Kalahari Transfrontier Park is one of the largest wilderness areas on the planet. The park was established in the year 2000, it is Africa’s first officially declared transfrontier park and is located in a remote region of South Africa’s Northern Cape. Twisted camel thorn trees, red sands, golden grasslands, and deep blue skies provide an incredible backdrop for photographs and game viewing. Amid the huge diversity of wildlife, this enormous conservation site is home to a number of incredible wildlife such as the black-maned Kalahari lion, stately gemsbok with their V-shaped horns, sprawling nests of sociable weavers, meerkats, and many different birds of prey. Other predators such as leopard, cheetah, and hyenas are also found here. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for some of the minor rugged roads or for those who wish to venture into Botswana.
Wings over Botswana
Botswana is one of Africa’s top Flying Safari destinations, famous for massive concentrations of wildlife in the incredible Okavango Delta.
Botswana or officially the Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, it is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast. The official language of Botswana is English, with Setswana being the countries national language, so getting around should be a breeze with no language barriers.
Botswana seen from the sky you can observe herds of elephant over the Chobe from the air and further south toward the great Kalahari you will find the the rains have transformed this red thorny scrub into a teeming green paradise with shallow lakes that attract flocks of flamingos, big cats who stalk skittish springbok mothers and their young; and flocks of the most incredible birdlife on the planet.
Nxai Pan National Park
An unbelievable destination for a flying safari, the park is located in north-eastern Botswana which makes it easy to combine your visit with a trip to Chobe and the Okavango Delta, which actually reaches into Nxai Pan. The scenery here is the main attraction, with wonderful sand dunes, towering baobab trees, and of course the salt pans themselves. When flooded in the rainy season, the pans also offer tremendous birding and game-viewing opportunities. Short grasses replace the salt pans and attract vast herds of ungulates—including zebra and wildebeest.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is enormous, covering an area of 14,670 square miles/ 38,000 square kilometers. It consists of salt pans and Kalahari sand dunes that are rich in wildlife during the rainy season and covers two previously separate parks: the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. You won’t be able to see the entire big five here, but migrating herds of wildebeest and other antelope do attract large numbers of predators and raptors. The park is not easy to get to, especially from the Botswana side, you will need a 4×4 vehicle and the ability to camp self-sufficiently.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary
The sanctuary was established in 1992 in order to help save Botswana’s endangered rhinos and to re-introduce wildlife to the area so that the local community could benefit from increasing tourism. The rhino sanctuary also hosts and educates nearby school kids on the importance of conservation from the neighbouring communities and the country’s second-largest city, Francistown. The sanctuary is formed around the Serwe Pan – a large grass-covered depression with several natural forming water holes in the Kalahari Desert. There are basic campsites and chalets that offer accommodation in the sanctuary with safari game drives on offer as the main activity, it is also a wonderful opportunity for a self-drive safari.
The Okavango River flows through the centre of the Kalahari Desert, creating a unique inland water system that offers life to an enormous variety of birds and animals. The Okavango Delta offers a very unique safari experience as you can view much of its wildlife from a traditional canoe, or mokoro. There are a number of lodges and luxury safari camps along the river, many of which offer walking safaris and/ or island camping trips.
Tsodilo Hills is said to be a sacred out-of-doors art gallery that showcases more than four thousand ancient San Bushmen rock paintings. Actually remarkable display of early man, there are around four hundred sites that depict hunting scenes, ritual dances and typical safari animals. Some of the rock art has been dated back as long as 20,000 years and archaeologists have determined that people lived in this area as far back as 100,000 years ago. The San Bushmen believed that this was a scared area for when the first man was created, they believe that it is also a special resting place for the spirits of the dead. Obviously this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visitors can expect to hike three main hills, with the assistance of local guides. There is a basic campsite and a small but informative museum on site.
Wings over Zimbabwe
Taking its place alongside the Pyramids and the Serengeti, Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya – the ‘smoke that thunders’) is one of Africa’s wonders. Although Zimbabwe and Zambia share it, Victoria Falls is a place not to be missed and flying over these majestic falls will be an unforgettable experience.
Victoria Falls is one of Earth’s great spectacles. View it directly as a raging mile-long curtain of water, in all its glory, from a helicopter ride or peek precariously over its edge from Devil’s Pools; the sheer power and force of the falls is something that simply does not disappoint. Just being there to see and hear the heart of thunder of this breathtaking phenomenon, is all that a trip to Victoria Falls is really about.
The mystifying ruined city of Great Zimbabwe dates back to the 11th to 15th centuries AD and is the remnants the emblem and heart of the nation. The UNESCO World Heritage–listed site offers proof that ancient Africa reached a level of culture not suspected by earlier scholars. The site is divided into several major ruins with three main areas – Hill Complex, the Valley and the Great Enclosure.
The best time to explore is dawn and dusk when the sunrise, or sunset, enhances what is already a dazzling site. Allow at least three hours to explore.
Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site situated in the far north of Zimbabwe. Mana Pools National Park includes the south bank and islands of the Zambezi River and provides game viewing by game drives, walking safaris and boat safaris and canoeing.
Wings over Kenya
Kenya is where flying safaris originated. Kenya is a country in East Africa that is bordered by South Sudan to the northwest, Ethiopia to the north, Somalia to the east, Uganda to the west, Tanzania to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the southeast. Kenya recognises English and Swahili as their official languages so it is another African country where language barriers are not a problem while getting around.
Flying over the country makes for great wildlife-viewing in the Masai Mara and its conservancies.
Samburu, Buffalo Springs, and Shaba National Reserves
On the banks of the palm lined Ewaso Nyiro River, Samburu, Buffalo Springs, and Shaba Reserves are located in an arid region in the remote north of Kenya. The Shaba National Reserve is one of two areas where George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the lioness, who was made famous in the film Born Free.
The wildlife in all three of these reserves depend highly on the waters of the river to survive, with many species being specially adapted to the parched conditions, such as Grevy’s zebras; Somali ostriches; and gerenuks, the long-necked antelope who stand on two rear legs to reach the fresh shoots on upper tree limbs.
The main attraction in Samburu National Reserve are the Sarara Singing Wells, these are local watering holes where Samburu warriors used to sing traditional songs while hauling water for their cattle to drink. If you are lucky, you may get to see the big cats and wild dogs that frequent this area.
Amboseli National Reserve
One of Kenya’s most popular tourist parks, the Amboseli National Reserve is crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and gets its name from the Maasai word meaning “salty dust,” an accurate description for the park’s dry conditions. The reserve is one of the best locations for viewing large elephant herds up close and hosts a number of other wildlife including big cats, such as lion and cheetah, as well as giraffe, impala, eland, waterbuck, gazelle, and more than 600 species of birds. There are also five different habitats for nature lovers to explore here, ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, savannah, and woodlands.
Tsavo National Park
Tsavo is the largest National Park in Kenya, it is split into two parts, Tsavo West and Tsavo East, together these parks make up four percent of the country’s total land mass. This incredible park is made up of rivers, waterfalls, savannah, volcanic hills, a massive lava-rock plateau, and an impressive diversity of wildlife. Halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa is where you will find Tsavo East, it is most famous for their elephant herds who can be seen rolling and bathing in the red dust of the land.
Other well-liked sites within the eastern park includes the Galana River which provides excellent game viewing and a lush counterpoint to the parched plains, the Yatta Plateau, the world’s longest lava flow; Mudanda Rock; and the Lugard Falls, which tumble into rapids and crocodile-filled pools.
Tsavo West has a more varied landscape with far wetter conditions which provide the most beautiful scenery in the northern reaches of the park, the main attractions here are Mzima Springs, a series of natural springs with large populations of hippos and crocodiles; Chaimu Crater, a great spot for seeing birds of prey; and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of the world’s most amazing game reserves, it is the northern extension of the Serengeti, bordering Tanzania and forms a wildlife barrier between the two countries. The park is named after the indigenous red-cloaked Maasai people who still live in the park and graze their animals here as they have done for centuries. What makes this park famous is the great migration of thousands of white bearded wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson’s gazelle who travel to and from the Serengeti, the park also has a large number of lions, cheetah, and leopard who wait for the migration and possibly that nights feast. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is also very well known for the Mara River, a river that lies directly across the migration path and is teeming with crocodiles and hippo.
Located in the north of Mombasa on the Kenyan coast, Malindi is a beach resort that is very popular with European tourists; and thanks to its vast trading history it is also rich in culture and cuisine. Travellers come here to enjoy the white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters of Watamu beach, you can also go deep sea diving or snorkelling around the coral reefs of the Malindi and Watamu Marine National Park. Here, you can also visit the Jami Mosque; two pillar tombs from the 14th century; and the Church of St. Francis Xavier, one of East Africa’s oldest churches as well as the Vasco De Gama Cross which is one of the oldest standing monuments in Africa.
The history of the flying safari
With the dawning of the new age of motor vehicles and aeroplanes descended on East Africa and changed the face of how safaris were done forever. Once caravans of porters carrying luggage and people, was now replaced by vehicles driving in convoys through the wilderness. Planes were also flying clients in between camps or were trailing herds of animals from the air. The planes were also used to fly in supplies.
The movie Out of Africa showed how Denys Finch Hatton (played by the debonair Robert Redford) and Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) flying above the African savannah in a little yellow biplane.
Ironically, it was a real love affair that started flying and an airport in Kenya. The story of the history of the flying safari must include the love affair that grew between wealthy farmer Florence Kerr Wilson who was left a widow and a handsome young British pilot, Captain Thomas Campbell Black.
Mrs Wilson was a wealthy heiress and had come from a family of ship owners in London, on top of that, she had inherited a fortune from her husband.
Rumuruti was the first place in Kenya to import an aeroplane by rancher John Carberry. The aeroplane was nicknamed Miss Kenya, which was piloted by Campbell, who had made a name for himself with all the pretty English girls in Nairobi.
The plane was registered on September 10, 1928 and today is on display in the British Aircraft Museum.
Considering the great potential in flying the affluent around who had flocked to experience Africa, Carberry registered a new business Kenya Aircraft Company Ltd, and purchased a second aeroplane which he named Miss Africa.
It was on board Miss Africa, a Fokker Universal, that Campbell and Mrs Wilson met on a four-day journey from London to Nanyuki. The four-day flight to Kenya was sufficient to spark feelings. Campbell had a weakness for flirting with women and showing off his flying skills and a reputation for having an eye for rich heiresses.
Wilson took flying lessons from Campbell, and to encourage to him to stay longer, she invested 50,000 pounds (a fortune for the day) into starting Wilson Airways for Campbell to run in 1929.
Their offices were situated at the current Junction mall on Ngong Road. Back then it was a vast arid plain where Maasai cows and other animals had to be chased off for planes to land on the dirt runways.
The first plane she bought was a de Havilland Gypsy Moth single passenger open cockpit, named the Knight of the Mist.
Wilson Airways began with Wilson’s lover, Campbell as head pilot and managing director who managed mail deliveries all over British East Africa. He also flew passengers to Kisumu, Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
Campbell was the first pilot in Africa to fly from Nairobi to Mombasa and back on the same day. He did this journey with Captain Hugo Dunkerley, a correspondent for The East African Standard. Sometimes he also oversaw his brothers farm in Rongai which they both had started when he first came to East Africa after dropping out of university in the UK where he was studying law.
The industry grew quickly except a chance meeting with Nairobi socialite Beryl Markham, while he was fixing his broken-down car by the roadside, led to a torrid affair with the young socialite. She was known to be a glamorous model looking woman with long legs that became legendary in the area.
Campbell was the first person to teach Beryl how to fly. The two became the height of gossip in the town with their well-publicised encounters. Beryl became one of the first female bush pilots, adventurer, racehorse trainer and author. She was the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from Britain to North America. She recounted all her adventures in her memoir, West with the Night.
Nobody is sure if Campbell left Wilsons Airways because of his romance with Beryl, but he did leave both women and left Nairobi in 1933 to become the private pilot for a UK horse breeder, Lord Marmaduke Furness.
Wilson started struggling to maintain the airline after Campbell left, but it quickly turned around and became a success as her fleet of planes grew. In the meantime Campbell became famous and took part in various international air races and ended up marrying a famous English actress, Florence Desmond in 1936 before dying in an air crash in September of the same year.
Wilson’s fleet had grown to 17 aircraft, the first air ambulance and a training school. Her patrons included wealthy personalities such as William Kissam Vanderbilt, a New York railroad millionaire, and the British Royal family. Then the World War II started and the government confiscated all her aircraft, and integrated the pilots within the Kenya Auxiliary Air Unit.
Wilson Airways was not only closed, but merged into the Royal Air Force and operated next to the military base at Langata.
The government in 1962 sent its minister for Commerce and Communications, Mr Masinde Muliro, to go and execute one last rite— to rename the Nairobi West Aerodrome to Wilson Airport.
Wilson, who gave East Africa its first chartered flights, first air ambulance and first aviation college, died in Karen in 1968.
American writer Ernest Hemingway also helped make the safari fashionable when he wrote about his experiences in his writings. “Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.” He wrote in his book Green Hills of Africa. He ended up spending a total of 10 months in eastern Africa over two stays, in 1933 and 1953-1954.
The world started seeing that a trip to the African wilderness became not only adventurous, but stylish and fashionable for the wealthy. During the 1920’s and 30’s it was the rage to show off your money by going on a safari. Edward VIII of England shocked his white hunters when he came to Tanganyika on safari in 1928 by shunning many of the normal luxuries. He was described as tough and hardy, plus thought nothing of stalking elephant on foot for several days in a row, marching through blistering heat and sleeping in a simple tent on the ground.
The normal style of safaris had all the lavish luxuries such as chemical toilets, air mattresses, walled tents, mosquito nets and dining tables. Breakfast was served before dawn so the guests could go off early for a hunt or a game viewing. They would be back for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Then they would be off again until dark. When they returned they would have a hot bath ready for them. Cocktails would be served just before dinner. If the guests had the money, anything was possible.
Today people who opt for flying safaris, with all the luxury and sophistication, with which they are surrounded, are still searching for the experience pursued by those romantic adventurers that came before them. That closeness to the wild earth, a feeling of freedom that only wide open spaces and animals roaming free can feed a human soul.