Namibia is famous for gliding - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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Namibia is famous for gliding

Avatar of inke inke - 02. January 2019 - Sport, Tourism

Gliding over the Kalahari in Namibia. © Bitterwasser

Brigitte Weidlich

Gliding high in the sky like a bird, silently, without any disturbing engine noise – gliders know what they are talking about, when they enthusiastically describe their favourite pastime. The good news: thermal conditions in Namibia are excellent for gliding.

Did you know that Namibia is internationally known as a gliding hotspot with favourable thermals? The name Bitterwasser is legend among the gliding fraternity worldwide.

Farm Bitterwasser lies some 170 km southeast of Windhoek on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. In earlier days it was known as Diamantfarm (Diamond Farm). The farm, just eight kilometres away from the tiny settlement of Hoachanas, boasts a geographical peculiarity which is ideal for gliding: vast and absolutely flat plains, also called (salt) pans, among the red dunes of the Kalahari. The Bitterwasser pan has a diameter of several kilometres – an ideal spot for gliders to get airborne and touch down again.

Successful trials

Peter-Jürgen Kayssler (1924 - 1999), a farmer and enthusiastic glider pilot, leased the farm in the 1950s. He realised that during the hot summer months the thermal conditions prevailing there might be excellent for gliding. One day he decided to try it: he had his glider launched with a winch – and it worked perfectly! 

The news spread fast and in 1960 the first glider camp was held on the farm. It quickly became clear that the gliding sport had a future on the fringe of the Kalahari. The best time for gliding at Bitterwasser is from November to the end of January. 

Although he was a fulltime farmer, Kayssler developed Bitterwasser into a glider haven, supported by friends. What started as humble camp sites became more advanced accommodation over the years. The term lodge was still unknown in the seventies.

The large pan is ideal for gliders to take-off and land. © Bitterwasser

Niche market for Namibian tourism 

In the meantime the first group of gliding enthusiasts from Germany arrived at Bitterwasser and were equally amazed at how favourable the conditions were for gliding and soaring (using thermal lift).

The first internationally recognised world record in gliding was established in 1976. Gliding pioneer Kayssler started a tradition which is still cherished today, by planting a palm tree for pilots who set world records and accomplished other achievements. Visitors arriving at Bitterwasser for the first time are always amazed at the avenue of palm trees leading to the lodge buildings. The lodge has been transformed into a modern facility with all amenities tourists could wish for.

After Namibia gained independence in March 1990, the country became even more famous as gliding hotspot. Peter Kayssler celebrated is seventieth birthday in 1994 – a time to reflect on how to shape the future of his lifetime achievements regarding Bitterwasser, the dream destination of gliding enthusiasts. 

A group of Namibian, German and Swiss gliders bought the farm in 1994 and established the Bitterwasser Company. Farming and tourism activities continue. During the annual gliding season – November to January – the natural runway, the pan, is a busy place. Some thirty gliders are up in the skies every day. In November 2018 the 1.000 km range was exceeded by 50 flights. “Fantastic conditions for gliding”, various pilots commented.

Glider pilots need to submit proof of a certain number of flying hours, produce a medical fitness certificate and follow Namibian and international civil aviation rules. Several types of gliders, or sailplanes, are available at Bitterwasser.

Gliding all year since November 2018

Three more gliding clubs exist nearby. Together with Bitterwasser they form the umbrella organisation Soaring Society of Namibia (SSN).

The good news is that since November 2018 gliding is possible throughout the year for FL145 (flight level 14,500 m) and the entire Namibian airspace may be used.

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