Friday, September 3, 2010

Taking to the Skies - Microlight Flight in Victoria Falls

August 17, 2010
For my last evening in Victoria Falls/Livingstone, I decided to get on a microlight flight, basically a hang glider with an attached seat and a small motor. A few other people in my group had done the flight, and they were raving about the views from above during the dinners around the campsite, so I figured it might be a good last way to view the falls. After running back across the border from Zimbabwe and catching a taxi just in time, I made my pickup time with one minute to spare, and we drove off to the nearby airstrip for the helicopters and microlights that frequent the sky in the area.

Getting in the little aircraft, the driver simply folded his bucket seat over, and I climbed aboard, into a small frame and tiny bucket seat strapped next to the engine and wings above. With my helmet and microphone on (to communicate with the pilot), I strapped on my lap belt and was surprised to see that nothing else was really holding me in, soon zipping down the dirt runway before taking flight. The first minute or two was a little scary, realizing that there wasn't much securing me to the plane besides my little seatbelt and my arms clenched to the edge of the seat frame below me. Bouncing up and down a bit in the gusts of wind, I wasn't sure if the flight was such a good idea, but I was soon comfortable with the situation, able to look down below at the wide Zambezi and the mist in the distance, coming up from the edge where the river can be seen to just drop off into nothing.

As I chatted away with the German pilot about his experiences throughout Africa, we arrived above Victoria Falls, yielding yet another amazing view of the iconic waterfall, from a completely different perspective. From above, you can see both sides of the huge cliffs and the winding gorge downstream, watching the water plummet over the side, some of it continuing downstream, some of it pushing back up into the air in the huge clouds of mist and spray. We were probably 500-1000 feet above the falls, dropping down closer and then heading back up as we made a few circles around the falls. The late afternoon sun revealed a few of the ubiquitous rainbows in the mist that add to the magic of the area. From this vantage point, I could finally appreciate the entire falls in one piece, putting together all of the amazing, separate viewpoints that I had visited over the past few days.

About ten minutes later, we finally turned away from the falls, heading back over the Zambezi to spot a few hippos and crocs lying alongside the river. The pilot also gave me control of the plane, allowing me to push and pull the steering bars to catch the wind and turn from one side to another. Not comfortable at first with the sharp turns of the little plane, I eventually got the hang of it and guided the plane back to the landing strip, with the pilot wisely taking back control just before we touched down and ended my incredible stay at Victoria Falls with a combination of adventure, wildlife and unbelievable natural beauty. That almost meant that I'd finally be hitting the road with my tour group, making our way over to Botswana and Namibia before ending up in South Africa about three and a half weeks later.

(I had heard rave reviews from some people in my group about the microlight flight, so I thought it would be a nice way to view the falls on my last afternoon in the area. After a few minutes making our way from the airstrip, we got to the falls for another stunning, awe-inspiring view.)

(The aerial view allows you to see the whole stretch of the massive falls. Check out how wide the Zambezi is below, and this picture doesn't even show the entire thing.)

(I finally managed to even look at the camera for one of the pictures. Starting off, I was a bit scared, as there was only a tiny seatbelt holding me into the small bucket seat, so I didn't relax my clenched grip on the bars below the seat for quite a while.)

(Coming back from the falls, the pilot gave me a chance to fly the machine which is basically like a hang glider with two seats and a small engine attached. It was a little scary since the aircraft can make some quick, sharp turns, but I got the hang of it and took us back to the airport, giving up control just before the landing.)

(Safely on the ground, the flight was completely worth it. Earlier in the day, one of the members of our lion walk/cheetah encounter was walking with a cane and a limp, as he had actually been involved in an accident in one of these planes the last time he was in Victoria Falls, so I tried not to think about that during the flight. Good times.)


Anonymous said...

Derek - we enjoyed your blog so far - good luck with your catchup postings. We have had a great few days in Cape Town with the top weather - we fly out tomorrow. Good travelling. Jennifer & David

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