Travel and Fly in South(ern) Africa

Also read the WARNING at the end of this page, please.

Doing paragliding and hang gliding while travelling in South Africa is an excellent way to combine our passion for flying while also seeing the beautiful and diverse country.

But how to do it and still get the best value for money?

There are many flying sites around the country. There are also many different operators. Some are better than others. One can also do it all by oneself, at risk of not getting the best information or seeing the best places, but perhaps saving some money.

There are many options. Concentrate on the flying and miss out on some of the great sights of the country. Or do the sight seeing bit and have no flying. The eternal question - what to do when and where!

My suggestion: split the time between realistic sightseeing and flying. For example, if you have 2 weeks, then dedicate one week in a specific area for flying, and the other week in a nearby area (at least not too far away) for a sightseeing trip. Contact the best people best suitable do the job. Or gain the best advice possible to “self-cater”.

Be flexible. Should the weather not be good during the pre-planned flying time, change the roster around.

Best flying times
South Africa has a diverse climate. The North has a summer rainfall, the South is similar to the Mediteranean, while the centre and West has desert and desert-like conditions. The Eastern parts have a sub-tropical type climate.

These include the Gauteng, North-West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. Here the summers are wet and the winters very dry. This means that one can fly year-in, and year-out. In summer one has to watch out for overdevelopment. Mpumalanga is a popular flying area in winter, as it is relatively warm compared to the highlying areas of the Northwest and Gauteng. Indeed, Barberton is the favourite site for winter thermalling and competitions.

The Kwazulu-Natal region is always much warmer than the rest of the country. It is more humid and rains more often in summer, although winter can see many cold fronts passing through, bringing wet and windy conditions. Various parts of the Drakensberg are very popular flying areas, not to forget the coastal regions.

West (and Centre)
These areas include the arid flatlands of the Free State and Northern Cape, which borders on the Kalahari and Namib deserts in the West. These areas are extremely popular for long distance flying, although the heat and barrenness often make it tough for all except the most dedicated pilots. Conditions can be very strong in summer - both thermals and wind, with some thunderstorm activity to add excitement and dare-devil bravery for those who like risk-taking. Most launches are by winch.

With its hot weather and beautiful scenery, the Western and Eastern Cape are havens for the Gautengelengers in summer. There is a proper exodus from the North in December. It offers fantastic flying with lots of touristic activities along the coast, including the Garden Route and West Coast. The winters have terrible European-type weather.

SAHPA Requirements
Visiting pilots have to become temporary members of SAHPA. This is a legal requirement.

Check the SAHPA website on for the details, or contact the SAHPA Secretary on ++27-12-668-1219 or email her on SAHPA.

Knowledge about flying sites

Fresh Air Site GuideFRESH AIR SITE GUIDE - 5th edition BY GREG HAMERTON. Contains the site rules for most sites in South Africa. A must for all visiting pilots.

Reminder #1: Sites can be lost for the local pilots should a visiting pilot not be aware of all the rules for the site. Landowners are notoriously difficult. Please ensure that you know the latest rules for a specific site.

Reminder #2: Any book containing rules that can change at whim (of the landowners), even Greg's book, is outdated the moment it appears in print. ALWAYS contact a local club official or the landowner or the person controlling the site to check on latest requirements.

Order directly from Funwings CC or call (011) 609-1678 or fax 086-618-2057.


Flying sites are often far apart or situated at off-beat destinations. Public transport in South(ern) Africa falls far short of the systems in use in UK, Europe and even the USA.

Some instructors or businesses will supply the transport when there are groups of pilots. It is sometimes possible to call on the friendship and friendliness of the local pilots for your transport needs, but one might not get exactly what one wants, or might need a lot of patience. If you are wanting more independence or are part of a small group, then it is far better (and cheaper) to hire a suitable vehicle to travel in. It helps allow for versatility in plans as well.

Depending on the destinations and the type of roads you would be travelling on, a normal car or combi-type small bus would suffice (Toyota Hi-Lux or VW Combi). Occasionally a 4x4 vehicle would be more suitable. Trips that include Namibia, the Kalahari Desert, or the Okavango Delta definitely require a 4x4. Most flying sites can be accessed by normal car, or will have locals around who could help with getting to take off. Make a point of hiring a vehicle that can be driven easily on rougher dirt roads, i.e. avoid low-slung luxury vehicles.

Europcar Car Hire in South Africa Click Here or click on the banner (save this link in your Favourites or Bookmarks folder).

Fun Ventures Paragliding School Tours

Get advice and information on interesting flying trips AT NO C O S T from Fun Ventures Paragliding School for single travellers or groups. Write to Fun Ventures (or send a fax to 086-618-2057) and give the following details: The above information will assist with providing pertinent information to ensure that all pilots can enjoy the experience.

Extremely experienced pilots and instructors are able to provide insight and knowledge of the best flying sites for the levels of pilots, the type of equipment, the locals that can assist or guide, etc.

We will give you ideas for a complete guided tour for groups, and a quote, if you are interested.

We look forward to your email! Write to us at Fun Ventures or send a fax to 086-618-2057.


(The masculine gender has been used to simplify the text, but is meant to include people of all genders.)

Without wanting to scare foreign visitors, it must be acknowledged that we have had our fair share of foreign visiting pilots who have had serious and even fatal accidents while flying in our beautiful country. This is attributed to the following factors:

Risk Management
Some would ask: "What is risk management?"

Here is as detailed a description and explanation as it is possible to give in words.

One of the fallacies of flying our equipment is that it is really necessary to fly close to the mountain in order to stay up. Hence many pilots will fly close to the ridge because that is how they were trained, or because they were told that that is the only way to stay up, and/or they see many other people do the same and get away without having accidents. It is also called "scratching".

Risk management includes recognising when it is dangerous to fly close to the mountain, and taking appropriate action to put more distance between oneself and the mountain, as well as for the pilot being able to assess himself and his abilities for the day.

Why should a pilot do that? The reason is simple. Should something go wrong, such as the glider suffering a big collapse or tuck, then one needs space to correct the problem. Being too close gives the mountain a chance to prove that it is harder than a pilot's body. Personal factors, such as having an "off" day, feeling sick, or having other personal factors contributing to slow decision making, or incorrect decisions, also require more space (wider margins for error) to correct problems.

When can a pilot fly close to the ridge?

One can do that ONLY when the ridge/mountain is soft, and the wind is absolutely straight and smooth onto the ridge. A soft ridge is a sand dune, or a hill with thick vegetation, or very thick kikuyu type grass, or perhaps thick snow (and no rocks below it).

All other mountains are HARD! Especially those in the interior which might have a fantastic green cover, but when one looks closely, it is easy to see that the grass is unable to cushion any fall.

As conditions "deteriorate", for example the wind gets stronger, then the pilot should put more distance between himself and the ridge.

The reasons to increase the space between the mountain and the pilot as the likelihood of collapses increases, are
The risk of a collapse or other problem increases when any one of these factors are present, and even more should more than one or all of them be there.

The pilot should also put even more space between himself and the mountain in these conditions when he decides to fly higher performance gliders, as they generally need more space to recover from collapses than the lower rated gliders.

This is not to say that a pilot should never fly close(r) to the mountain. Pilots can do that, provided that they KNOW that they are taking a risk, and that they are prepared for the chance that there could be a serious accident should they encounter unexpected turbulence.

There are many, many pilots who do not have accidents while flying close to the ridge. Perhaps they were lucky and did not get severe turbulence, or perhaps they were very experienced and extremely aware and coped with the problems. A pilot must not be lulled into flying close to the ridge by seeing others doing that. One of the biggest reasons for accidents while flying close to the mountain is complacency - thinking that "they got away with it, I will too" or "they got away with it, so there is no turbulence" or "I have done this umphteen times without a problem, so not to worry".

A pilot should also allow wider margins for error in situations where there are personal factors involved that could prove risky to himself. These could include:
Having the knowledge and using it to keep oneself safe, is the only answer. When it is not possible to find a thermal and stay up when flying further away from the ridge in unsafe (for the pilot) conditions, then rather land and fly again the same day or the next day. Better than lying in hospital.

Another aspect of risk management is to understand that opening Big Ears close to the ground could lead to a serious accident, should they open unevenly, especially in strong, rough conditions. A pilot should not open Big Ears at less than 100m above the ground. Below that, he should land with them. (See the articles on Big Ears elsewhere on this website.)

Please practice good risk management while flying in South Africa, and enjoy the flying and our fantastic country.

Laura Nelson
August 2006

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