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What It's Like to Land at the Tiny Safari Airport of Hoedspruit, South Africa

February 18, 2014 at 12:40 PM | by | ()

We love it when our travels take us to slightly more unusual airports, and this one in South Africa certainly fits the bill. Hoedspruit (HDS) lies 280 miles northeast of Johannesburg on the eastern edge of the Limpopo province, towards the border with Mozambique. The most likely reason for venturing out to HDS is the same for which we came: the proximity to world-famous Kruger National Park.

Only one airline (South African Express) and two cities (Johannesburg and Cape Town) offer scheduled service to Hoedspruit, using small, single-aisle Bombardier jets or prop aircraft. The link to Johannesburg is twice-daily throughout the week, with one daily flight to Cape Town only available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. A few charter airlines will also make the hops.

Hoedspruit’s location and level of traffic could easily fool you into thinking this is just a tiny airport, but that impression would be wrong; only a section (officially Eastgate Airport) is for commercial use, with the airfield being unexpectedly vast due to its use as a military base and, even more interestingly, as one of the emergency landing spots for the now-grounded Space Shuttle.

You get a sense of its scale after landing, as your plane taxis over to a corner where aircraft usually park for disembarkation. Try for a window seat, so that you can see various ‘underground’ hangars, which appear like rolling grass waves alongside the airfield. The US Air Force used Hoedspruit as a base for the relief effort in Mozambique after Cyclone Eline in 2000.

Once you’ve made your way down the steps, it’s a short walk to the “terminal," a small single-story structure with a courtyard where, upon departure, you can wait for boarding al fresco.

Car hire is available, but most Kruger safari lodges will be able to arrange a pick up, and driving in this part of South Africa is probably not something most tourists are inclined to do.

We paid 2,300 South African Rand (about $210) for a return from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo to Hoedspruit.

[Photos: JasonD]

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