Pilanesberg National Park, Northwest Province, South Africa
One of the most amazing parts of working within the tourism industry is that I get to experience incredible activities and explore some of the world’s most beautiful places. One of my long-time client Mankwe GAMETRACKERS invited us for a Hot Air Balloon Safari.
This was truly a breathtaking experience. We had to get up really early… and when I say early, I mean 3:00 in the morning. We left at about 4:00 and it was about a 45 min drive from where we stayed in Rustenburg to the Bakubung gate at Pilanesberg National Park. We waited a bit at the gate as they had to pick-up the other guest from Sun City and Bakubung Bush Camp. Once they arrived our lovely guide explained all the rules and regulations to us, gave us some really cozy ponchos for the cold and off we went.
It was about another hour’s drive to the launch site, which is right in the middle of Pilanesberg. Yeah, that’s right… in the middle of Big 5 country. . If one hour seems long just remember that we are driving through the park and as such, we saw some of the wildlife, such as impala getting ready for dawn and jackal family crossing the road to return to their burrow.
Mankwe is the only Hot Air Balloon Operator in South Africa that takes off from within a National Game Park
As you drive up to the launch site you are met with the most wonderful sight of the Hot Air Balloon being set up and its flame lighting up the pre-dawn sky. We got out and were given the instructions not to move too far away from the balloon as this is still African Bush and we can’t see where the wildlife might be hiding. Off in the distance, we saw some wildebeest grazing calmly, while watching the action.
We hopped into our basket which is about 1 m high, 5 compartments with space for 2 people in each and a compartment for our pilot, Tony. The basket had a soft material bottom for easy landing comfort. We then got instructed on what to do when it comes to landing – which was to duck down, relax your knees and hold onto the rope handles inside your basket compartments.
The takeoff felt like when you dream you’re flying and you just lift off the ground. Once we were in the air we moved like a cloud…gently floating over the wildebeest who looked at us with mild amusement and curiosity.
It was a really peaceful experience and even though I had my fears and doubts the night before – all of them washed away as we floated over the park. Serenity washed over me as the sun peaked over the mountains to greet us. Looking down we saw impalas, some guineafowl jumping down from their sleeping spot in a tree, wild hares, more wildebeest, a big herd of elephants and a rhino who was not sure what to make of this strange sound and smell.
We floated so hight that cars became as small as ants!
When it was time to land Tony tried his hardest to make sure we did not land square in the dam. This would not have been ideal for just a few moments before we floated over the dam and spotted a few hippos and a crocodile lounging in the sun of the bank. But with Tony’s great skills we came down safely for our landing with 2 hops of the basket. The hops were not as hard as I imagined when they explained it. Actually, I made it way worse in my own mind. The Mankwe team had to jump onto the basket to get it to stay on the ground and once we were secured Tony let the big flat dome at the top of the balloon open to allow the hot air to escape and the balloon to deflate.
Our feet firmly on Mother Earth we were greeted by our guide with some lovely mimosa to celebrate our flight! We got to chat a bit more with our flight companions and get to know them better… People from all over the world! Sisters from Iran, A couple from Seychelles and an older gentleman from Brazil who’s wife decided it was way too high for her liking. We got some great badges of bravery as well which is a really sweet and memorable token.
The next part of our adventure was gamedrive thru the park towards Bakubung Bush Camp. On our way we saw about 6 white rhinos ( my camera decided to go flat here and we missed an opportunity to snap a few pics), we also saw some more elephants as well as Kudu, wildebeest, impala, warthogs and many other animals.
At Bakubung we where greeted with the most delicious spread of buffet breakfast. There was something of everything! Bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, freshly baked and custom filled pancakes, fresh fruits, fruit juices, various types of bread, samosas, sausages, different cheeses, and crackers. We got to chat a bit more with our new friends and get to hear some of their adventures. Tony gave us each a certificate to go with our badges of bravery…
After breakfast, we were shuttled back to our car at the gate. I ate way too much and could not lift myself into the safari truck so had to sit next to our guide… Shameless, I know!
It was really a magical experience and one that was well worth the wait. Yes, we waited a few day to actually be able to go up as the Mankwe team only allows flights if they are sure the weather conditions are ideal for safety reasons.
BOOK YOUR NEXT AFRICAN ADVENTURE WITH MANKWE GAMETRACKERS
If you want to book your own Hot Air Balloon Safari just visit Mankwe GAMETRACKERS website by clicking here
(If you are a Tour Operator just contact them for some great rates)
Some Tips for your Trip:
- Book your Balloon Safari for the first day of your arrival. That way if they have to skip a day due to weather your trip will just be moved to the next day.
- Take a hat along for the heat from the Balloon Burner
- Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes and clothing for easy climbing in and out of the balloon
- Take something warm like a jacket and dress in layers as it might start off cold but get warmer as the morning goes.
- Make sure your camera is fully charged and that it has a secure way of strapping on to you – if it falls from that hight nothing will be left.
- If you are taking a digital camera be sure to take a nice lens that can shoot at long distance as you might get some really amazing shots – and remember to wrap that strap around you.
- While driving towards the launch site, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for animals that might be roaming in the bushes.
- Chat with your fellow guest, they all have amazing adventures to share.
- Ask questions to both your guide and pilot as they love to share their knowledge PLUS your fellow guest would love to hear more.
- And lastly – Be sure not to over-do it at the breakfast buffet as this might make getting into the truck really hard! 😜