After a fun filled couple of days in Port Elizabeth I headed for adventure, a zip-line through the tree tops of the indigenous Tsitsikamma rain forest. This had been on my to-do/bucket list for a long time. During my 2010 visit to South Africa I blew it off and I was not going to let it slip by again. [pun intended.]
Plenty of preparation
I called Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours in the morning and got a reservation for early afternoon. Three hour tours depart every 30 minutes and are limited to a maximum of 8 people per group. I went with a couple from Cape Town on their honeymoon who had bungee jumped early that day. That experience is Not on my list.
After meeting our guide Marius and his assistant Chantel we were handed our rigging and sat to watch a very thorough safety briefing and orientation film.
Next we were kitted up, as in expertly hooked into our gear of full body harness, pulleys and climbing equipment. We talked about breaking, done with one extra-padded gloved hand by simply pulling down on the cable with barely any pressure.
We were given a water bottle that slipped into a pocket on the harness. And then we took a little drive in the safari-like truck through some cleared forest dodging stumps along the way.
The first step is the hardest
I watched the others hesitantly slide across before me and even though I fully trusted the equipment and guides that first step off a platform set butterflies in my stomach. I overly used the brakes and slowed down to a stop about 15 feet (4.5 m) from the landing platform. It was actually nice to just be quietly siting in a perfectly safe harness hanging 98 feet (30 m) in the air while I wondered how to move. A hand over hand exercise on the cable jerked me along and a helping hand by Chantel got me standing on the platform. Click, click, as she unhooked my safety line from one place to another disconnecting the gear so quickly and confidently.
How much pressure for braking is a preference and takes practice. Because each run drops a bit to the next platform it’s easy to get moving rather fast. Almost flying like a bird through the tree tops, a zip-bird by the sound. Soon I got the hang of it and was sliding like a pro.
Feeling like Tarzan’s Jane
I’ve walked through some of the Tsitsikamma forest but this provided such a totally different perspective being up off the ground. I was glad to be the third to slide as I had more time to just gawk at the magnificent forest. Sometimes it felt like the trees were just at my fingertips while the huge ferns below seemed miles away.
Many of the platforms are built around giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees that are up to 700 years old. The rigging system takes into careful consideration not to damage these ancient Yellowwoods.
Didn’t really see, but did hear, many birds. Too bad I missed the elusive Narina Trogon. Yet this Knysna dwarf chameleon was hanging around on one of the platform trees. Our guide shared many interesting facts about the forest ecology.
At one point we had to walk across a narrow plank with the joking Marius rocking the board. Funny guy.
I tried to talk Marius into trading jobs as he’s a very good naturalist and has never seen Grand Canyon. But he wouldn’t go for it.
All too soon it was over. How could three hours slip by so fast on these 10 slides, the longest of which is 328 feet (100m). Like a kid at Disney I wanted to run around and get in line again.
My shoulders were stiff and sore that night but by morning felt back to their typical ache. Would I do it again, you bet. In fact there are a couple more zip-line tours in South Africa that are now on my list for the next visit.
I paid extra for their cameraman to take photos. Unfortunately the discs were blank when I got home to finally play them, my netbook doesn’t have a player. But Matthew and I worked it out by him dropping the images in my Dropbox. Oh yea, and while they processed the photos we three had sandwiches for lunch included in the tour cost.
The concept of guiding people through the upper canopy of a rainforest originated in Costa Rica where adventurous biologists devised new methods for accessing the forest canopy in order to conduct research on the undiscovered canopy ecosystem. The idea soon developed into a breathtaking form of eco-tourism which allowed people to enter and experience a previously inaccessible natural environment.
Zip-lines in South Africa
Stormsriver Adventures Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours
The first of it’s kind in Africa. Construction of the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour has been done in accordance with strict civil engineering standards. This environmentally conscious company recycles, uses natural biodegradable soaps, bio treats waste water to ensure protection of the natural resources, and plants indigenous trees. Participating in the tour makes a significant difference to the lives of many local people without compromising the pristine environment. As of 2003, they were the first “Fair Trade” accredited adventure company in the world. Community projects include clothing distribution to the poor, environmental education, animal welfare, education school feeding schemes for children, Aids awareness, education and counseling, training and development of local communities, local procurement of goods and services, development of small community based business, and assisting local crafters.
Tours are conducted in all weather conditions but can be cancelled in the interest of safety. Ages from 7 to 70. No pregnant ladies. Maximum weight 264 pounds (120 kg). Start your tour on Darnellstreet in Stormsriver Village, the town is adorable with many accommodations available. Cost me $45US (R450) including a meal and I paid extra for their photographer. Prices can change.
The Ceres Zip Slide Tour is located just south of Ceres. The longest zip-line tour in South Africa offering eight slides, totaling a length of .86 miles (1.4 km). I drove right past this one driving down Michell’s Pass on my way to stay at Rhodene Farm for the night but will return because I loved the Skurweberg Mountains that surround the area.
Karkloff Canopy Tour is located north of Durban out of Howick. This 2 hour adventure comprises nine platforms and eight slides through the Karkloof indigenous forest.
Magaliesberg Canopy Tour is about a 1 1/2 hour drive west of Johannesburg. This tour of 11 platforms slides through the ecology and geology of the second oldest mountain range in the world, the Ysterhout Kloof which is estimated to be 2,400 million years old.
Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour is located northeast of Johannesburg and east out of Polokwane. This 2 1/2 hour tour slides high above a sparkling river, waterfalls and forest floor.
Drakensberg Canopy Tour is located west of Estcourt. This 3 hour tour is set within the Blue Grotto Forest. I’ve hiked in the Drakensberg before and the setting is magnificent. Too bad I missed this adventure then but now I have yet another excuse to return.
Malolotja is Swaziland’s first canopy tour located in the northwest part of the country in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. This tour consists of 11 elevated forest platforms, 10 slides and a 164 foot (50 m) long suspension bridge that crosses the Majolomba River.
I was not paid, sponsored, compensated or reimbursed for this tour. Maybe next time.
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