Garden Route Jolly - Jonathan Owen

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It was two years ago that I made my first ever trip to South Africa and experienced flying in their magnificent late Summer. Standing in a windswept gliding airfield in Sussex, the previous October, waiting for my second training flight of the day, hopefully longer than the 7 minute first flight, I decided that there had to be more to flying than this. Spending a whole 8 hour day to possibly fly, as on this day for a total of around 15 minutes, really challenged my enthusiasm for flying. Driving home that afternoon I had a phone call from a friend of mine, who when I told him i had just spent a cryogenic miserable day achieving very little re learning to fly, suggested I found somewhere warmer to train, pretty obvious really. Somewhere warm and not too far away in February was the idea. An evening trawling the internet re South Africa, could locate only gliding clubs that operated at weekends, a long way to go for a couple of days. Quite by chance I alighted upon the South African Rotorcraft Association. Seeing video clips of Autogyro "fly ins", I was reminded that I had always held a strong fascination for these aircraft and how they flew. There were about 8 registered instructors for Autogyros, two of them in the only place I had heard of, Cape Town. A few e mails later, a small leap of faith and an eleven hour flight got me to Fisanterkraal, an old air force base miles from anywhere. Louis who I had been communicating with, introduced himself and suggested I have a look around the hangar. There I saw my first Autogyro. It suddenly dawned on me that I had travelled all this way and never seen an Autogyro in real life, let alone sat in or even flown in one. A couple of hours later flying along the coast towards Cape Town I knew this was how I wanted to fly. I had eleven hours flight training with Len Klopper there, enough to fire my enthusiasm to continue back in the UK. Here I met Stoke's very own answer to stage and screen, Kai Maurer, who saw me through my training and to getting my PPL G. Great as it was to now have a license it was going to be a long winter without that South African sun. I contacted Len Klopper who needed little or no encouragement to come up with a plan to help get me flying over there this January. The plan was to fly up the famous garden route in his Magni M24 stopping at suitable intervals to strech legs in the day and eat, drink and sleep at night. We started from his home airfield, Morning star, where I first met our ground crew Fides aka Grumpy. Fido, as he was also known set off imediately so he could meet us for our first refueling and lunch stop. This turned out to be at Witsand , a field for flying  radio controlled models explaining the Lilliput size miniature wind sock, the size of a hanky on a bamboo cane. After lunch and refueling we decided to take off on the rougher part of the field but into a twenty knot wind, this the Magni loved, climbing more like a helicopter which was fine as we had just spent half an hour trying unsuccessfully to explain to onlookers that it definitely wasn't a helicopter. Next stop was Mossel Bay, a friendly airstrip with a less than friendly cross wind. After an interesting evening at Botlierskop Game Lodge where the evening special was ostrich and the accomodation a four poster bed in a tent, we set off the next morning for Pletenburg. Slowed by some strong head winds we had ample time to appreciate some magnificent views, Knysna Head especially memorable. A while later we came across a mown strip, Tsitsikama, on the top of a cliff which was too inviting not to stop and strech our legs and as wherever we landed it was not long before we had company, interested to know what we were flying. The theory of autogyration discussed as fully as possible we took off again favouring a down hill slope, the end of which ended in a shere drop over a cliff, flying at its best. An hours low level flying over deserted beaches took us to Paradise beach. The evening here fully acquanted me with the South African past time of waching the sun go down over seemingly endless double brandies and coke, stopping only to be alchohol free the next day!  So far our journey had been over the coast with its lush green landscape. Our next leg was to head inland over the mountain ranges to the near desert of the Karoo. Four thousand feet saw us clear of the mountains where we proceeded to follow dirt tracks and whatever roads we could find. An hour later and we were reaching our destination for our last nights accomodation. Into view came the vision of a proper international size runway in the middle of nowhere, a bizare sight to truly challenge the senses. We flew low over Rooiberg Lodge at Vanwykesdorp, our accomodation for the night and it wasn't long before our transport arrived at the airstrip in the form of a pick up truck. As the "soft pomme" I was offered the passenger seat but instead chose the open back. A beer in one hand and white knucles wrapped around the roll bar we set off for the lodge via the odd pot hole, good for shaping your front teeth to the shape of the bottle. Another sociable evening, sadly our last, over, and we set off for home. This leg took us spectacularly through a mountain pass and on to our final lunch stop at Robertson. After an unplanned visit to the brandy distillery we set off for what was our last flight back to Morningstar with its text book views of Table Mountain and strange sense of a home away from home. The total flying hours were a little over thirteen hours, every one of them memorable. If you share a passion for flying and want to see this great country as only a very few will ever get to see it, I strongly recomend you put this on your bucket list!