Africa, January/February, March/April, November/December, Travel Guide

Guide to Porterville and Wilderness, South Africa

Monday 17 February, 2014
Looking north along the main Porterville ridge. Photo: Greg Hammerton

Looking north along the main Porterville ridge. Photo: Greg Hammerton

Not only the theatre of XC dreams, but mountain and beach flying too


Africa’s big distance game park! South Africa has held more XC records over the years than any other country in the world. Booming upwards on another desert rocket into a cumulus-peppered sky and heading off on your way to another personal best, you’ll realise that this is one of the planet’s flatland nirvanas.

Yet South Africa’s widely varying terrain can actually serve up so much more than committed big distance desert flying. Two of the country’s most popular, yet most diverse, sites are Porterville and Wilderness.

Porterville has hosted several big competitions and is now arguably South Africa’s best known free-flying location. The main launch at Dasklip Pass sets you up perfectly on a 100km west-facing escarpment from which great out-and-returns can be made with relative ease. Out front to the west lie flat plains that lead 80 km to the coast; heading east behind launch opens up wild African terrain that only the bravest dare challenge.

Porterville now has a second launch at Pampoenfontein, three kilometres from Dasklip Pass and 200m higher.

Rob Manzoni runs The Flyers’ Lodge in Porterville, offering both accommodation and support for visiting pilots. The Flyers’ Lodge is a focal point for visiting and local pilots, with Rob giving knowledgeable advice on flying and conditions.

Wilderness, in contrast, is a sublime coastal soaring site, the place to come to after the interior has served you up too many late-night retrieves from epic XCs. There are 15 different soaring sites close by, six of them within ten minutes’ drive.

Wilderness itself is a seaside town on the Garden Route, a scenic section of the South Africa’s south-east coast. It’s a popular tourist destination only five hours’ drive from Cape Town. Visitors can watch dolphins and whales as well as enjoying many outdoor sports, including flying. Most of the take-offs are low soaring sites and many have an airspace ceiling of 465m ASL. Du Toits, however, is an inland site facing north, from which the local guru Jan Minnaar has flown 93km.

Jan and his partner Khobi Bowden run the excellent Cloudbase Paragliding school, which offers advice and pilot support for locals and visitors.

Porterville: typically strong South African inland desert flatland and ridge flying along the main north-south running ridge, foot launched from Dasklip Pass.

Wilderness: mellow coastal soaring looking out over the ocean and landing on the beach.

Porterville: November to March for the best XC conditions.

Wilderness: November to mid-April. Avoid mid-December to early January as the sites and accommodation get crowded.

Cloudbase:Porterville – mainly blue thermals stopping at inversions between 1,200m and 1,800m. 4,000m is the agreed legal ceiling.
Wilderness – coastal soaring with airspace restrictions.
Launch: Porterville: Dasklip – 713m
Pampoenfontein – 900m
Wilderness – 18m to 150m

Porterville – 233m
Wilderness – The beach

Porterville – drive up to a HG ramp.
Wilderness – some launches are HG friendly.

Porterville: head out into the flats and climb above remote homesteads in the company of some of Africa’s finest birds. North to Renosterhoek and back – 90km. A thermal ridge run, but getting back can be tricky if the wind swings too much to the south.

To Clanwilliam – 100km. Head north along the ridge past Teenage. Cross into the back valley at Bumpy peak, over Citrusdal, north in the valley to the constriction, then continue up the valley to Clanwilliam Dam.

Wilderness: Paradise Ridge – an easy 20km out-and-return in a sea breeze with plenty of photo opportunities and a chance to see dolphins, whales and sharks.

Porterville: Bombing out in really remote places and meeting some of South Africa’s diverse fauna.

There’s an air force training area to the west.

Wilderness: Chilling out too much and having too good a time.

Porterville: Rob Manzoni’s renowned Flyers’ Lodge sleeps 20 in eight private, air-conditioned rooms and offers a refreshing pool and even more refreshing bar. The Flyers’ Lodge offers a complete holiday package for pilots including guiding, retrieve, airport transfer and even laundry.

There’s great camping at the Waterfall campsite, which also has cottages. The Twin Trees and The Palms offer self-catering apartments nearby.

Wilderness has excellent pilot accommodation. The Cloudbase B&B, run by Jan Minnaar and Khobi Bowden, has five rooms. Cloudbase also offers a full pilot support package.

Cloudbase aside, Wilderness is a tourist destination and so offers accommodation of all levels.

For courses, guidance and pilot support see Rob Manzoni in Porterville, and Jan Minnaar in Wilderness.

Porterville: has lots of waterfalls to explore and wildlife galore to experience, or head to the coast – an hour and a half – and lounge on the beach or play in the sea, Strong coastal winds in the afternoon make for great kite surfing. Cape Town is two hours away.

Wilderness: This is a family holiday paradise. Sports-wise there’s golf, fishing, surfing, sailing, diving, horse riding and tons more. Hop on a boat and go whale and dolphin watching, or just chill on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Porterville: If there are any – this is a desert area – head to the beach or take a trip around the winelands and sample the excellent local produce. Or chill at the Flyers’ Lodge pool and Speed Bar.

Wilderness: The area is well known for its wonderful climate; the region receives only 700 mm of rain a year. If you catch a rainy day head out dolphin and whale watching or visit the nearby national park.

Porterville: Rob Manzoni gives daily weather briefings at the Flyers’ Lodge.

Wilderness: Cloudbase are the best source of all flying information here, including weather.

Both locations are best reached from Cape Town. Porterville is two hours away and Wilderness five.


Cloudbase Paragliding

Porterville: Rob Manzoni and the Flyers Lodge

Wilderness: Jan Minnaar at Cloudbase Paragliding

General flying in South Africa: SAHPA, the national association

Greg Hammerton’s sites guide to South Africa

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