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Sue & Annie take to the skies

written by
Sue van Winsen
Sue van Winsen

Flying high with Cape Town Helicopters

With butterflies in her stomach, Niarra Travel’s Content Writer, Sue van Winsen, embarked on her first helicopter flight with Cape Town Helicopters, joined by Niarra’s Head of Reservations, Annie Lin. It was a journey that promised not just adventure, but a glimpse into a company deeply rooted in community upliftment and responsible tourism.

As a person who greatly appreciates having both feet firmly on the ground at all times, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first-ever helicopter flight. It had been a stormy few days in Cape Town, but the weather was set to clear, and having made the journey over from Johannesburg just for this experience, there was no turning back.

I was reassured by having Niarra’s Head of Reservations, Annie Lin, joining me for the ride – and this would be far from her first helicopter flight. She joked: “At least these helicopters have doors!” – and I couldn’t have agreed more!

5 Cape Town Helicopters Waiting Area

As we arrived at the impressive terminal for Cape Town Helicopters on the pier of the V&A Waterfront, we were warmly welcomed by the smiling and spirited CEO, Neil Warren, who would also be our pilot for the morning.

Immediately, we could tell this was a helicopter operator with a difference – a company that has deeply considered every detail of the guest journey from the moment you step through the door. Before we knew it, we had cappuccinos in our hands and were being shown the art adorning the hangar walls – painted by none other than the great Nelson Mandela. Neil told us that the next gallery exhibition would be showcasing artworks from a nearby community made entirely out of recycled plastic – an example of the creative ways they seek to uplift those around them and spread the economic benefit from their operations through innovative collaborations.

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Consideration for others is the golden thread that weaves through every aspect of their business – evidenced by their helicopter fleet which has been upgraded to focus on noise reduction. Neil explains that in any destination like Cape Town, where you have centralised tourism, you will encounter an excess of air traffic which can detract from the experience for those on the ground.

He says their mantra is: “Make one day without spoiling another”, which it achieves through its fleet of Airbus Helicopters which have been certified to operate in noise-sensitive areas. This is done through the enclosed ‘Fenestron’ or ‘Fan in Fin’ which replaces the conventional tail rotor systems and is safer, quieter and more efficient.

Added to that, the helicopters feature air-conditioned cabins, 260-degree, open-air glass cockpits, Bose noise-cancelling headsets and elevated forward-facing theatre-style seating which ensures every guest has a perfect view.

2 Fleet

Along with its impressive fleet, Cape Town Helicopters has developed a menu of special experiences that go far beyond the typical 15-minute scenic heli-flip over the Cape Peninsula. From flights landing on the beach in Saldanha for a mussel and oyster lunch, to heli-biking across the Jonkershoek mountains, each experience has a sense of theatre, with a series of developing surprises that make an impact on people’s minds and hearts.

For Annie and I, Neil had a few surprises up his sleeve, and once we were strapped in with our headsets on, within seconds we were airborne, soaring over the Atlantic Ocean and along the coastline with what felt like completely effortless grace as we gazed down at the sailboats and ships below and toward Robben Island in the distance. It was a city I thought I knew well, but a landscape that seemed completely transformed from this unique aerial perspective.

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Soon, we were flying over the fynbos-filled Misty Cliffs, a spectacular viewing point where only a few have stepped before. Ordinarily, this is where you would be served a delicious Cape-wine paired mountain picnic – but the clouds were moving in, and Neil had more in store for us, so we were soon back in the sky and headed towards the Cape Winelands to discover “Napoleon’s Secret”.

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Landing on the lawn of Klein Constantia wine farm, VIP Guest Liaison, Alan Wickstrom, was waiting for us with a 4x4 game viewer. Hopping aboard, he took us on an incredible behind-the-scenes tour of the working wine farm, with the highlight being the opportunity to taste its most famous creation, Vin de Constance, at a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the vineyards and across the winelands. While in exile in the 1800s on St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte would only drink Vin de Constance, and that is just one of the fascinating tales about this historic farm, which also features legendary figures like Jane Austen and George Washington in its illustrious 300-year history.

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This was one of many wine experiences offered by Cape Town Helicopters, with a huge range to choose from including stops at Hartenberg renowned for its regenerative farming techniques that include the use of Ankole, Nguni and Dexter cattle in the vineyards, and Klein Goederust, the first and only 100%-black owned wine farm in the Franschhoek Valley. All include lunch, hosted wine-tasting experiences and special access to parts of the farms usually off-limits to visitors.

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Just as the clouds started to gather, it was time to take to the skies for the last time, flying over Cape Town’s green and leafy southern suburbs and returning to the V&A Waterfront. As we touched down, the rotor blades slowing to a halt, despite my initial nerves I felt an undeniable tinge of sadness that our adventure had come to an end. Back with my two feet on solid ground, I’m looking forward to perhaps even more helicopter adventures in my future… with or without doors!

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