Sweeping down into breathtaking waterfalls, zooming above the meandering Umgeni River carved into lush green verdant slopes – which flows from the Drakensberg mountains and empties into the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa – and hovering over sandstone cliffs; the Valley of 1000 Hills experienced from a helicopter will definitely be etched into your memory for a while, if not forever.
JNC Helicopters Tel +27 (0)31 563 9513; www.jncheli.co.za
The rolling landscape looks simply spectacular and tranquil from a distance. Looking at the dramatic valley of an infinite number of hills, sculpted by eons of water emptying into the ocean, the pristine landscape is as captivating as it is inspiring.
Tyler Van Der Merwe is a pilot for JNC Helicopters, based at Virginia Airport on the East coast of South Africa, in Durban North.
“The flight will approximately be an hour in duration,” crackles the fresh-faced Tyler, as we take to the blustery hot skies. It’s 38°C outside.
The rotor blades are spinning and it’s all rather loud, but our headphones keep the noise pollution to a minimal and allow us to communicate with Tyler via intercom.
We follow the golden beachy shores of the Durban coastline where it’s subtropical climate and 300-plus days of sunshine make it a holiday-goer’s paradise. Tyler eventually turns in towards the mainland and heads to the city and beyond.
The Zulu Kingdom’s 960 metre “Table Mountain,” emKhambathini, rises ahead of us. The Shongweni Dam glitters below us and leads to the thundering waterfalls, which gives Shongweni its Zulu “Column of Smoke” nickname.
We navigate through the skies with ease, speeding up and zipping through gorges with precision. The helicopter is surprisingly responsive and versatile, probably thanks to its ability to move laterally in any direction. The amazing panoramic 360-degree glass cockpit allows for an exhilarating 3D-like flying experience, which allows passengers to become immersed in the stunning scenery.
“If you want a better view of the city I’ll fly closer and even right over [Moses Mabhida] Stadium so you can get some great photos,” Tyler suggests, as our journey nears its end. With its distinctive arch and iconic architecture that reshaped Durban’s skyline, the 60,000 seater Moses Mabhida Stadium, one of the host stadiums for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, looked miniature at our feet.
Experiencing the freedom of flight is both liberating and humbling. Being in the sky not only allows you to experience the exhilarating speed of flight, but also the freedom from Earthly concerns that only a helicopter can afford. Filled with new found wonder and appreciation for the landscape that surrounded us, I alight from the helicopter with an enviable thought: Tyler definitely has one of the best jobs in the world.