In visiting theme parks and other venues for the sake of riding roller coasters, there are those who focus solely on the major and regional parks. There are those who will sometimes go a little out of the way to visit smaller venues that may have a shameless coaster credit. Then, there are those who plan a day trip, complete with a flight to another country for the sake of riding that country’s one roller coaster……..which is what this day was all about! Now to be fair, the coaster itself is a decent one, as it is a Schwarzkopf looper called Gwazi at a place called Lion Park Resort. The journey to ride it though came with several bumps in the road, and would prove to be an experience like no other that I have had in my time as a theme park and roller coaster fan.
That brings us to Johannesburg International Airport, early in the morning for a short one hour flight to the town of Gabarone in Botswana. This flight was courtesy of South African Express, a subsidiary of South African Airways. Because this was one of the smaller routes with a smaller regional aircraft, going through the gate would lead to a bus that transports you over to your plane, and then you walk up the tarmac to get to the ramp to board the flight.
The flight itself was a bit odd. It was only about an hour long, but made longer because as we approached Gabarone, the pilot began the descent, then all of the sudden threw the plane into full throttle to climb back up. After a few moments of wondering what was going on, the pilot made the announcement that the sun was in a position that made it impossible to see the runway, so we would have to circle back around and try again. I don’t know if it was a case of trying to land the other direction, or if he just went “blind” into the sun with some repositioning, or if the sun’s position changed enough after circling back around to do it again, but luckily we managed to land safely.
That would bring our plane to Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. The airport essentially has one open hall in the middle of the building, and one seating area for the gates, which you simply walk right on the tarmac to get to and from the planes. While the airport does have one jetway, it appears to be very lightly used.
On a side note, this would be my second country visited in Africa, and thirteenth overall.
The first bump in the road I experienced was that I had not scheduled transportation to get to the park I was planning to visit as it was difficult to find any information, so I thought “Perhaps I could just see how much a rental car would cost?”. As I went to the desk and found that it would have cost a base of $150 without any other costs, I took a pass on that, and instead went to a transport company and booked a ride to the park, and a return ride to the airport afterward. This would prove to be quite helpful because while I had phone coverage in South Africa, I had no such service in Botswana, so I was essentially going without a means to contact anyone if something happened. It was more like my first few international trips where my phone went to airplane mode the whole time unless there was Wi-Fi, only in Botswana, there was very likely not going to be Wi-Fi until I got back to the airport.
On the ride to the park, we went around the core of Gabarone to start, and most of the remaining ride was in the more rural areas after the first stretch. The highways that we rode on consistently had roundabouts which would have been difficult to navigate not being used to the driving style of people here, so I was glad to have a driver to do the driving for me, plus I was able to get some pictures along the way.
One concern that came about as we were riding was that the driver had never actually been to the area of the park, and it seemed as though this park wasn’t going to have a huge sign, so I was worried that A) we would likely get lost trying to find it, or B) we would just pass right by it without knowing it since I didn’t think there would be a sign for the place. But then, after driving over 30 kilometers away from the airport, out in the middle of nowhere there was one lone roller coaster standing above the Botswanan trees, and thus I felt some relief to have found it without doing a bunch of circling around and getting lost. While I did have a little worry that the driver picking me up would be a different one who wouldn’t know where to go, I figured that I could cross that bridge once it comes. Now it was time to ride.
Pulling into the park, I had a moment of thinking “what am I getting myself into?” It was kind of hard to fathom the fact that I had come to this remote part of a foreign country, with no cell phone service, for the sake of riding a coaster. It was surreal for sure.
Once we pulled up to the gate, it was a bit ahead of the park’s opening time, and it happened that there was a school group that was at the park to visit for the day. As I waited behind them to pay my admission into the park, I had a fun interaction with a couple of these children who were probably between 4 and 7 years old. As I waited, I started to put on some sun screen, and one of the kids asked “What’s that?” and I tell him “It’s sunscreen”, which a little girl followed up by asking “What’s sunscreen?” It was a funny experience because I would never have thought to hear such a question as it is a pretty common item for me to use, but for most of them, they probably have not been around many Caucasians who fry in the sun really easily. So I explained to them what it did, and some of them started asking if they could have some.
Upon entry into the park, you could tell it was going to be a slow day as it was essentially to school group, myself and maybe four or five other parties over the course of the day. The park does feature a variety of flat rides, some of where were in various states of assembly. While some rides didn’t look fully assembled, they still ran them. Some rides didn’t even have a barrier around them and yet the children still rode them. While I imagine for a small park in a country like Botswana could get away with this, I couldn’t help but think “Never in America.”
Another highlight of the park is the lion area, which probably influenced the name of the park. Here they have lion enclosure that allows visitors to see them up close, and staff can teach them about the animals.
One of the other main draws to this park are the pool and water slides. Especially on warmer days like this day, it would have been a great day to have brought my swim trunks, but I had not thought to do so as I wasn’t entirely sure how this day was going to go.
But the main reason I had taken this effort of booking a flight and a ride to the middle of nowhere in Botswana was Gwazi. The classic Schwarzkopf looper. This ride stands pretty much on it’s own from the rest of the park, helping it to really stand out.
Now, even after having made it to the park, riding Gwazi was going to prove a challenge. For one, the park has restricted hours of operation, which I was aware of as a friend of mine had been here before, and as I wrote to the park online, they confirmed the hours of the coaster.
But as the first hour of riding came up, I would learn of a problem. There was a sign posted on the coaster entrance that said it was closed due to power issues. I asked someone that may have been a manager about it, and she said that they get limited electricity because of their remote location, and that there was an issue with the electricity to the roller coaster. My heart sank just a little as I thought that I was going to be out of luck, and that I was going to have wasted a day and the money to get to the park. But as I spoke with her, she did say that an electrician from the local power agency was on site to work on it, and that they were trying to get it running again, so there was hope.
So in the meantime, I took to the other rides in the park, even if there was a little concern that something might fall apart as I rode it. Fortunately that was not the case.
I had met an Afrikaans family from the Northern part of South Africa who were camping at the park for the weekend. I’m fairly certain that I was the first American that some of them had met, but they were very friendly and I would have several conversations with them during my time in the park, especially with the grandfather. The parents even had their two kids lead me around the park onto some of the rides and said they would help keep an eye on Gwazi in case the park got it running. One of the rides we did together was the Ferris Wheel, and while it is not the biggest one I have ever ridden, it was high enough to offer some good overviews of the park.
While riding the Ferris Wheel, I heard an all to familiar clanking sound, and I turned back toward the coaster to see that they were testing it! So as soon as we got off, it was straight to Gwazi to ride it! The parents and grand parents along with a few other visitors would come to ride as well. It was as good as many of Anton’s other coasters are, if not just a little more satisfying knowing that the effort I took to get here to ride it was not for nothing. I took a spin in the back, followed by one in front, and that would be that. While there was one more period of operation, it didn’t come back up that time, but I was okay with it as my quest was a success!
Afterward, I felt that it was about beer-thirty, so I went to the bar for a cold one, this one being the Windhoek Light from Namibia.
After a bit more time of chatting with my newly met friends, and another spin or two on some of the other rides, the time came to head back to the gate to catch my ride to get back to the airport. While I ended up with a lot of time to kill there, I don’t know if I was so worried about it, as I wanted to make sure that I was back there and didn’t miss my flight back to Joburg, especially as I was going to have an early morning the next day. The ride back did provide some excellent views of the nearby Kgale Hill.
Upon returning to the Airport, I went ahead and got all checked-in, and through customs. After some waiting, it was time to catch the flight to go back to Johannesburg.
On one hand, I do wish I would have planned this day out a little bit better so that I could have done a bit more with it, at the same time, there was a fun adventurous aspect of it that came with the bit of randomness to how I went about it. Needless to say, if anyone is planning to come to Lion Park Resort for this coaster specifically, just be prepared for there to be some potential issues like what I experienced.
Up next, it’s time to go further into the wild side of South Africa while knocking off an item that many people have on their bucket lists.
See more of 2018 South Africa Trip:
1: Flight to Atlanta & Delta Flight Museum / 2: Arrival to South Africa / 3: First Day in Durban /
4: Second Day in Durban / 5: Last Day in Durban / 6: V&A Waterfront / 7: Cape Town City Sightseeing Tours /
8: Table Mountain / 9: Ratanga Junction / 10: Rugby at Newlands Rugby Stadium / 11: Cape Town Walking Tours /
12: Cape of Good Hope / 13: Boulders Beach Penguins / 14: The Last of Cape Town / 15: Cape Town Water Shortage /
16: Sightseeing Around Johannesburg / 17: More Johannesburg Sightseeing / 18: Botswana Day Trip /
19: Kruger National Park, Day 1 / 20: Kruger National Park, Day 2 / 21: Kruger National Park, Day 3 /
22: Gold Reef City Resort & Amenities / 23: Apartheid Museum & Rand Show / 24: Gold Reef City Theme Park /
25: The Return Home