Not long after I got our Jabi, Bonsai, Covid had us all in lockdown and unable to leave home, let alone travel. This meant that while I finally had wings, they were clipped, and we couldn’t start exploring South Africa like we wanted. It also meant that I hadn’t even landed at a field besides Brakpan since March 2020!
Our first post lockdown flight was with some microlights from Brakpan in July 2020. We were invited by Marius, our neighbor at Brakpan, to join for a coffee stop at Heidelberg, a flight over Fortuna Dam and a stop at Fincham, a private field south of Nigel. The cold winter morning meant that Bonsai was as unhappy as I was to be woken at the crack of dawn, resulting in us having a rather delayed start with the hope of catching up to the slower microlights along the way.
Eventually we got going, but due to the lack of coffee at Heidelberg, the microlights had already moved on and were on their way to Fortuna Dam. To throw a spanner in the planning works, this was not on my map or GPS and while I knew the general direction, we had to resort to using Google Maps to find it! It is a really beautiful dam to fly over with a number of old stone kraals on hills around the dam making for a lovely scenic flight, although from a much higher vantage point than the microlights!
We made our way from Fortuna to the Fincham airfield where we stopped on the beautiful gravel airstrip for some coffee and a chat with Riaan from About2Stall. We then made our way to Delmas Middelbult airfield where I decided the crosswind and unknown field combination was too much for me and decided to head back for home. I still need to make my way back here for a landing one day!
Not too long after that, the opportunity arose to join the Panorama pilots on a fly in to Florence Guest Farm near the town of Chrissiesmeer in August 2020. While the Panorama pilots were all flying down for the weekend, we would just fly in on Saturday for the day. We were beyond excited, but I was also rather nervous. Florence is a private airfield at a wedding venue, which is normally booked out for months in advance. It also happens to fall just outside of my map.
This would only be my second cross country flight since completing my PPL and I was still getting the hang of radio frequencies and reporting points in a new area, never mind venturing this far away to a private airstrip! I spread my maps and flight planning sheets around the dining room table and started preparation.
Saturday arrived as a cold morning with some fog and low cloud around so we delayed our start for it to clear before taking off. As we approached Devon, we realized that this fog bank was still hanging around the lowveld. The Panorama pilots had arrived the day before and reported low cloud at Florence too. While it was slowly burning off, we couldn’t fly directly to Florence.
It was absolutely spectacular to have the massive unbroken fog bank on our left with beautiful clear skies to our right. It meant that we would have to fly around it, away from Florence, and hope that it would eventually clear enough to continue as planned. We headed towards Secunda where the skies were clear in all directions, thinking that if it didn’t burn off, we could detour there instead.
As we progressed, conditions continued to improve and we made our way towards Bethal and onwards to Ermelo, planning each alternate field as we went. Eventually as we arrived in Ermelo, the cloud vanished and we could make our way directly to Chrissiesmeer but not without a few roundabouts over the various dams in the area. There was so much water around compared to the dry highveld we were used to in winter!
We were warmly welcomed by the Panorama pilots with their fleet of Slings and Alan’s RV9 neatly tied down. Our hosts at the guest farm arranged to drive us all into town where we had a wonderful lunch and got to know some of the pilots while chatting about flying, geology and the various guest farms in the area. Did you know the Vaal River originates just west of Chrissiesmeer?
As the wind started to pick up in the afternoon, we reluctantly decided to head home before we ran out of daylight.