Africa by air

 

AFRICA BY AIR

For those literary veterans who have read ‘West of the night’ by Beryl Markham you will appreciate the magic of flight in East Africa – the utopia of flying for the jet aficionado. However, for many of us, it is the Oscar winning film ‘Out of Africa’ where Robert Redford playing Dennis Finch Hatton and Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, capture our hearts and invite us into the world of flight over Africa. 

ConnectJets decided to investigate further and flew from London to Nairobi to see first-hand how Aviation is changing tourism in East Africa.

 

THE MAGIC OF FLIGHT 

On arrival into Jomo Kenyatta Airport and a short stay in Muthaiga, home to the Muthaiga Country Club, I take a short flight from Wilson Airport to Masai Mara (saving 6 hours of driving). Flying is the best form of travel and in my opinion the only way to see Africa, it provides a vista all of its own and it is here from the lofty heights that you can see the breath-taking plains of Africa. 

Wilson International Airport is just a short hop from Muthaiga and the City Centre – perfectly adapted for both commercial and private charter traffic. The Airport was named after Mrs Florence Kerr Wilson. On July 31st, 1929, the firm known as Wilson Airways was formed and funded by Mrs Wilson a pioneer of flight and a true entrepreneur in East Africa and rightfully awarded an OBE. Upon arriving at Wilson Airport, we take a short quick two-minute walk and board our flight from the small and friendly terminal, no queues and all very relaxed.

For those holding a membership to the legendary Aero Club of East Africa, access is through a beautifully appointed private terminal and, where a quick glass of champers is on the menu before flight. Even Tom Cruise would feel at home in this club bar, unable to resist the local Dawa Cocktail. This club is a testament and a museum to the great aviators and aviatrixes of East Africa. 

There are several regional and private airlines that can fly you directly to the Masai Mara, Musiara Airstrip from Wilson Airport. Most of the airlines operate a 12-seater Cessna Caravan to the Musiara Airstrip while maintaining altitude of approx. 11,000 feet subject to weather and visibility providing the most glorious panoramic view of the plains of Africa. The flight takes around 55 minutes and, it is the’ aperitif’ before the ‘banquet of the bush’! The dirt landing strips are well kept, and a warm reception awaits. 

Our first stop was at the Little Governors Camp, highly recommended, and wonderfully appointed just minutes from the Airstrip. A quick hop over Mara River by boat and then ascend to the camp by candlelight. Little Governors Camp is a wonderful haven, each tent is delightfully attired for the seasoned traveller – you will want for nothing but to extend your stay. As you sit and dine alfresco the animals’ parade their might before you like the Italian Passeggiata, it is extraordinary, surreal, and totally breath-taking. 

 

BALLOONING ACROSS THE PLAINS

The Bush is wild, beautiful, raw and a truly vibrant place with seasoned reserve drivers who do not disappoint, they will earnestly aim to deliver the big 5 and undoubtedly, they do. You cannot leave the Masai Mara without experiencing first-hand the flight of silence! Hot air ballooning across the plains along the Mara River and through the forest is truly breath-taking. In between the burners, the prevailing winds will sweep you along and as the sun rises over the plains. Upon landing at a ‘safe’ location in the bush, a champagne breakfast greets you with every African delicacy and most importantly a toilet.   One final stop before you leave the Masai Mara, Governors II Moran Camp, sister to Little Governors. This delightful and luxurious camp sits on the bank of the Mara River as honking hippos’ parade along the riverbeds and add some real theatre whilst you sip on your G&T in the sassy camp bar and chat with the colourful Philip Mclellan, manager of Governors II. Philip, a conservation pilot, previously at the Nisassa National Reserve, Mozambique, has many aviation stories to tell and yes, you will want to hear them all. 

 

NORTHBOUND TO LEWA

Our next flight takes us north bound (via Wilson Airport) this time and home to the WACO bi-Plane, a Cessna 208, 206 and a 210. There is a thin thread that runs throughout Africa – aviation is woven into almost every fibre of this rich continent along with a plethora of stories, enough to fill at least 10 volumes. Our trip north provided a completely different vista: Africa never disappoints. As you fly north, there is a distinct change in terrain, the colours deepen, and the land becomes increasingly arid with the backdrop of Mount Kenya. We touch down at the LEWA airstrip and are quickly escorted by the team back to the stunning LEWA lodge. The journey to the lodge was uniquely different and enchanting. Grevey’s Zebra also known as the ‘Imperial Zebra along with the white Rhino, both rare species and listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species are just a few of the sights that greet you.

LEWA Wilderness is a lodge like no other, the Craig family have owned the lodge since 1922 a cattle ranch before opening to the public in 1972. It is set on a hillside in the LEWA Downs area of Northern Kenya and has over 65,000 acres of pristine wilderness with over 350 species, including the white and black rhino. On arrival at the lodge, you will be met by the wonderful, Karmushu Kiama an elder from the Masai community and lodge, he oozes knowledge and knows, chapter and verse, every inch of the wilderness.  

LEWA Lodge has nine exclusive accommodation options for their guests, each cottage beautifully attired with stunning vistas overlooking LEWAs Eastern Marania Valley. The cottages provide the ultimate in privacy and you will want for nothing, including hair dryers and a wonderful log fire. The food is exquisite and the LEWA club bar serves some heart warming cocktails that sit very comfortably at the end of a long day. The Lodge also hosts a full gym, swimming pool and tennis court set amongst the beautiful 3 acres of gardens. 

Within the first two minutes of meeting Will Craig, you will soon realise that flying and conservation are at the heart of LEWA Wilderness. We meet in the LEWA bar and, I immediately knew that I was in the presence of a great Aviator. Under Will’s leadership, along with that of his wife Emma and their children, they have given back to Africa as much as it has given them through their wildlife conservation projects. Their dedication to the land, the people, the wildlife and to aviation is to be truly admired. At LEWA you can experience first-hand what flying under the African sun would feel like and experience the magic of flight in an open topped WACO Bi-plane. 

 

DREAM FLIGHT

On my first night at LEWA, the flight team, including Air Wilderness chief pilot Daryl Van Dyk and pilot Kim Dave drove me out to the LEWA airstrip for an evening of low-level flying in their Cessna 206.  Our flight took us north over the LEWA Wildlife Conservancy flying low over the ridges and valleys before heading out over the open arid lands of the Samburu! The flight follows the Ewaso Ng’rio river giving you the chance to see elephants along the banks as well as other wildlife in the area. Landing at a remote bush airstrip, a full ‘safari bar’ with camp chairs had been set up – my first introduction to the traditional safari sundowner and a rather superb G&T. Sitting watching the setting sun over this ancient and enchanting land is an experience like no other.

I awoke to the dawn chorus of LEWA whilst donning my flying jacket, goggles and flying cap (courtesy of LEWA and yes, you will want to buy one) ready for my flight in the WACO Bi-plane. There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of the finely tuned Basso Profondo radial engine, the WACO is a beautiful piece of engineering and beauty. We take off on the northerly end of the LEWA airstrip and then up, up high over the Mokogodo Hills to the north, twisting and turning down the valleys of the Il’Ngwesi group conservancy, over towards the Ndare Near gorge, out across the Lewa Plains, where Rhino roam in abundance. Continuing low level over the Borana Conservancy and then deeper into Samburu country and along the Ewaso Ngiro River with sightings of Elephant and Giraffe all along the riverbanks and eventually turning back to Lewa. Flying in the WACO is an experience that words will never justify, suffice to say that some of the best things in are without words.

 

PRIVATE FLYING SAFARI

Within just a few hours I am on my way back to Nairobi, leaving this magic of LEWA on a luxurious Cessna Grand Caravan, the cabin is an ‘Oasis’ luxury interior and has a configuration of 8 seats, all reclining and fully rotating, leather upholstered, a private bar, cooled water, and a professionally qualified safari guide pilot. This is total and affordable luxury at that too. With private headsets on each seat, every flight is a guided flight, and the pilots really are as good as the camp guides, they know the terrain and will narrate each sector of your flight with precision and detail. On request I ask the pilot if we could fly by some white rhino and within five minutes after take-off the pilot made a small diversion to fly us low over the 17,500-acre Solio Private Reserve to view the Rhinos and there were at least 10 of them. Located in the valley between the dramatic, snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Mountain range, Solio is the world’s first private rhino sanctuary. We fly over the green hills of Limuru and thousands of acres of neatly manicured tea estates. First planted in 1903, Kenya is now the fourth largest tea producer in the world and there really is nothing like a good cup of Kenyan tea after a safari. 

At the end of four weeks in East Africa by Air, I can confidently say there is no better way to see Africa.

If you are interested in taking flights to or in Africa, the team can assist and tailor your ‘safari by air’ to suit your requirements. We hope you enjoy the short video, presenting a short preview of how a Safari can look at altitude.

 

Written by Gabriella Somerville, CEO of ConnectJets Limited.

ConnectJets Gabriella Somerville is the founder and Managing Director of ConnectJets limited, a London based aircraft charter and sales company. Founded in 2009, ConnectJets has received 3 industry awards, having been recognised Internationally for their services to aviation. ConnectJets deliver a service driven, boutique approach and nothing is off limits. ConnectJets are proud to have operated the first Global 5000 to the island of Tuvalu and have subsequently managed many specialised tours around the world, including the Antarctic. ConnectJets are now working with their aviation partners in Africa to deliver ‘Africa by Air’ a new service that is being launched this September. ConnectJets will be offering a 5% discount for all bookings made during from September.