Flying sites

F

The first step to finding a flying site is to search online, then ask around at your flying club, other pilots, or social media groups for that area. Arm yourself with as much information as possible to stay safe, stay legal, and stay out of trouble.

South African paragliding sites

There are pilots and clubs all over South Africa, but the majority of the community and launches (and, dare I say: the most varied and best flying conditions) are found in the Western Cape.

SA Paragliding map & database

Below is a map I am working on, the SA Paragliding Map:

Save the link (or this page). You can open it on your computer at home or phone on launch. It is based on Greg Hamerton’s Fresh Air book, with permission. You can filter sites for Basic (IPPI 4) or Sport (IPPI 5), and it also has a short list of friendly landing sites (Friends) and other sensitive sites, where you shouldn’t land (Foes).

For now, I’m only making the Western Cape sites visible, but you can see and export all the raw data in the following spreadsheet. If anything is wrong or missing, please let me know.

Western Cape windrose

The Western Cape Windrose shows sites that could be considered based on different wind directions.

The Western Cape Windrose

Rules, Airspace & sensitive sites

Make sure you have the appropriate permission to access and take off from any of the sites in SA. Some sites are only for experienced pilots (IPPI 5 / Sport), others you will need to get permission, others you need to register, others you need to get an in-person site briefing, some allow tandem flights, and others don’t. Once your feet are off the ground, there are very important rules that you should follow (both in the air and for where you plan to land). Non-compliance could be anything from some angry words to potential arrest and jail time. I created a separate page for this: Airspace.

Popular Western Cape sites

I’m creating separate pages with some relevant information for some popular (but surprisingly tricky) sites

Western Cape wind guidelines

Below are rough guidelines on the surface wind speed for some Western Cape sites for licensed pilots (the wind higher up above takeoff could be a lot stronger, do your research). If you’re a student, ask your instructor.

  • Hermanus: Up to 18-20km/h (and even 22-24km/h, but then you’ll have to have good ground handling and wing-killing skills)
  • Porterville (PV — Dasklip, Pampoenfontein, Kardoesie): Up to 18km/h
  • Piketberg (PB): Max 12km/h
  • Sir Lowry’s Pass (SLP): Max 12km/h (but for beginners around 8km/h and below, since the wind creates a strong venturi at takeoff, you will need to be on-point with your ground handling skills or you’ll end up in the bushes or parking lot).
  • Franschhoek (FH): Ideally 6-10km/h. Anything forecast in the double-digits (more than 10km/h) means it will probably be PUMPING at launch (and makes bottom-landing a safer alternative than top-landing), since the whole Franschhoek Valley constricts at that point.
  • Langebaan (LB): Max 24km/h (launch lower down the slope; you can fly and land in slightly stronger wind, depending on skill)
  • Noordhoek Peak (NP) Strong SE not good, should be light S or SW. Whatever the forecast says, add 8-10km/h for thermals and another 5km/h for wind compression. If it’s close to 30km/h it’s definitely blown out.

Cape Town & Western Cape site research

The Glen Paragliding Club’s two Whatsapp groups (one for flying-only discussions; the other one is a bit more general and chatty) are an excellent place to learn about local sites, ask questions, and join pilots on outings.

Note that many of the paragliding sites require IPPI 5 (Sahpa Sport licence) and/or a briefing and sign-off (by someone formally authorised, not just some random pilot on the hill). Lion’s Head and Signal Hill can be extremely tricky with fast-changing dangers; both see a lot of incidents and accidents by visiting pilots.

Transport and Retrieves

Many sites in Cape Town can be reached by Uber/Bolt. Others, you might want to share a ride with some other pilots (airmanship: don’t be a dick and offer to share petrol costs and snacks).

For some sites (and most cross-country adventures), you might want to pay a retrieve driver who can pick you and your buddies up, no matter where you land. The general agreement is to pay them a daily rate, and usually, they will drive your car (or quote you a price per kilometre if using their vehicle). Some numbers I’ve collected over the years:

  • Janno (+27 84 540 1947) Based in Porterville.
  • Carina (+27 60 441 6158) Based in Porterville.
  • Enzo (+27 65 915 3898) Porterville
  • Gideon (‭+27 (73) 221-5431‬) Porterville
  • Cassidy (+27 61 287 3529)
  • Elo (+27 78 677 4997)
  • Sybe (+27 73 034 5465)
  • Andre (+27 76 731 1557) Based in Cape Town
  • Mia (‭+27 663078978‬) Based in Cape Town; might have limited time from Feb 2023 due to studies
  • Abdul “Manie” (‭+27 (65) 928-8250‬). Works for local paragliding legend Scott Baker.

More useful SA links

  • Glen Club Paragliding Flying Sites
  • SAHPA site guide (some useful information, especially for the Western Cape’s main sites, including a page specifically for Table Mountain National Park)
  • Greg Hamerton’s Fresh Air is still the most comprehensive book of South African paragliding sites, even if it hasn’t been updated since 2006; ask your club or instructor if a paper or digital copy is doing the rounds

Acronyms & abbreviations

I made a list of the common (and sometimes confusing) abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology: Acronyms.

Other South African paragliding sites

Barberton

Superb flying in the Makhonjwa Mountains; also an annual friendly competition is held here, called the Baberton Open.

Andrea 0791801488 runs Barberton Adventures and will help organise permit and gate key access. Willie 0718063673 and Anton 0834621616 are local pilots who might give more info. Astrid does recovery trips back to the top +27 82 959 6670

Oubos

Close to the Oude Bosch Padstal. One of the best Eastern Cape XC spots. Hawkwind Paragliding Club manages access (day rate R100, annual rate R400, contact them for access & info). Ideally, post-frontal with SW flow. S to SE (with interior northerly component) causes a low cloud base and inversion. The best way is to judge the cloud formations from 10 am, best takeoff around 12 and later.

Wilderness / Sedgefield

Excellent place for training and flying along the Garden Route. Reach out to the local schools for more information, many sites have registration or other requirements.

More flying site resources

The following books, apps, and websites might also be handy in finding launches and routes:

Paragliding Map (web / iOS / Android). The free version has some decent information but it might be worth paying for the upgraded version that includes weather forecasts.

The Paragliding.Earth website is a bit outdated, but I’ve found a few sites this way.

Paragliding Forum has a flying sites section and the forum could be a place to search the name of a takeoff you are researching.

XContest has a really handy tool (called Worldwide flights search) where you can zoom in on a map and search for flights that took off from (or passed through) a section on the map. You can see the date and track log of those pilots. I’ve reached out to some of these pilots and in the process got information, made flying friends, and went on adventures together (like Tinder for pilots).

Thermal Heatmaps is a clever project that shows you find probable points of thermic lift. It’s of greater value to beginner XC pilots (an ace wouldn’t need a map to find lift, they will look at topography and weather). It is a good starting point to find XC launch and lift spots, especially when visiting a new site. You can export the hotspots for your hiking app (or vario).

Burnair (web, iOS, Android) is developed by the legend Bernie Hertz (who visits South Africa most summers) with things like takeoffs, landings, and dangers, right in the map (desktop before you fly; mobile app during flight). For now only in German but ridiculously useful.

The book Oliver Guenay – Best Flying Sites of the Alps (ebook/PDF/paperback) was very helpful during my first flying trip to the Alps.

International paragliding sites

One of the best things about my paragliding kit is that it can fold up into a backpack that can travel with me. It has helped me make friends and go on incredible adventures on the road. In addition to the resources above, I’ve created a specific page on the topic, which includes information on how to find sites on the road. See Travelling.

I also try to leave a flight report / how-to guide if there wasn’t good or recent information on the sites. Some of them are below but do a fresh search for up-to-date information.

About me

Werner van Rooyen

Formerly Business Development and Marketing at Luno (where we went from eight nerds in a tiny office to hundreds of people spread over three continents) and before that Marketing at PayFast. Currently investing, paragliding, and doing research, mostly in Mexico.