MISSION 7 of 2010
Name of Mission: Greater Limpopo and Mapungubwe Transfrontier Parks for the Peace Parks Foundation
Date of Mission: 9th March 2010
Aircraft used: PA 32 300
Flight Requestor: Prof. W. van der Riet (Peace Parks) and Werner Hefer (Homebrew Films)
Pilot: Craig McKenzie
Pilot’s story of the mission : By Craig McKenzie
These two missions with the Homebrew film crew, commissioned by the Peace Parks Foundation to produce a TV documentary had previously been stalled due to weather. On the revised date, 9th March, we were fortunate to have only a few clouds about. These missions had been requested as two separate flights starting out from Johannesburg, but, aAs things turned out, we managed to combine the two missions in one flight and so saved around half the costs.
In the days leading up to the flight I had managed to get clearance from Sanparks to fly below the prescribed altitudes in certain areas. However on the day of the flight one of the section rangers who had not followed the thread of communications, sent an email threatening action if we flew below the usual altitudes. As that ranger was then not contactable at the time of our departure to clarify our prior authority, we had no option but to remain at high level, some 3500ft agl. Despite this unfortunate misunderstanding, the film crew had already obtained ground footage, and said they could work with the high level footage.We started out from Tzaneen, initially to Polokwane for a fuel uplift then north to Mapungubwe. Mapungubwe is a relatively small park and the overflight and filming was completed within minutes. Our routing was then for northern parts of the Kruger National Park, and since it was en route we stopped at Musina for a short break before heading for Pafuri.
From Pafuri we routed along the Limpopo to film Crooks corner and the Luvuvu Gorge. From there we routed south close to the border over some unique sandveld and pan areas, and managed to see a family herd of ellies having a splash in one of the pans. We continued southbound along the border, picking up the Shigwedszi riverine and the Lebombo mountain range. At the Letaba river we turned west to film the Letaba riverine before exiting the park north of Palaborwa and returning to Tzaneen.
The film crew were happy, their objective had been achieved, and we all enjoyed seeing that special part of our country from the air.
Passenger’s story of the mission : By Cameron Ewart-Smith of Homebrew Films
Flying over Mapungubwe Hill in the Mapungubwe National Park, filming for a new TV series on transfrontier parks gave me a new perspective on this important cultural landscape. The series, which is being produced for the Natural History Unit in conjunction with the Peace Parks Foundation, has been greatly assisted by The Bateleurs allowing the film crew to get phenomenal aerial footage of the parks covered in the series.
Located in the far north of South Africa, Mapungubwe sits on the confluence of the Sashe and Limpopo Rivers, and is one of South Africa’s most important cultural and archaeological sites, It dates back to a kingdom that ruled here between 90 and 1270 AD.
We took off from Tzaneen airport and routed east towards Polokwane Municipal airport to refuel. Landing from a southerly direction we had a magnificent view of the newly constructed Peter Mokaba Stadium – one of the host stadiums for the 2010 World Cup.With the tanks topped up we once again took off, heading north west towards Mapungubwe. Flying conditions were near perfect, even with the door removed for filming, and the ride was warm and smooth in the calm air. Although we were flying in partly cloudy conditions the cloud ceiling was well above our flight level so visibility was excellent. Very few other aircraft were operating in the area, although we did hear bursts of radio traffic from two Gripen fighters, but unfortunately these were some way off and we were not lucky enough to see them.
Entering the airspace over Mapungubwe we descended to 1000 feet for filming and made slow passes over the centrepiece of the reserve, the Mapungubwe Hill itself. We circled this twice to get a smooth shot of the hill from an aerial perspective.
With this successfully in the can, so to speak, we set course towards Messina airstrip in order to take a break, stretch our legs and enjoy a quick snack. As the conditions we so good we decided to continue our filming sortie and include the required coverage of the Kruger National Park and its neighbour the Parques NaVional do Limpopo which together form the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park.Although the cloud cover had increased slightly the afternoon air was still calm and we settled in to a cruise heading across the northern regions of the country. The Limpopo River meandered along on our port side. After roughly 45 minutes flying time we descended to the minimum 1000 foot flight level allowed by the Park (permits had been obtained through SANParks for the low level filming run). Our route tracked the Limpopo to its confluence with the Luvuvhu river at the famous Crook’s Corner. This is where South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe meet.
Having obtained the shots required of Crook’s Corner we turned south, flying along the park boundary and the border between South Africa and Mozambique, for another 40 to 50 minutes. We then turned west and set our course for Tzaneen once more, our route taking us just north of Phalaborwa.
In all we had spent five or six hours flying over two of South Africa’s most incredible landscapes. And as we stretched our legs and enjoyed a well-deserved drink the team were happy with the footage that had been shot. Without the assistance of The Bateleurs and their committed pilots who graciously give up their time to fly on important conservation projects, this would simply not have been possible.