For years I’ve wanted to experience ziplining. Saturday was the day! The adventure didn’t disappoint and was rich with adrenaline rushes, beautiful South African landscapes, and good company.
I discovered Cape Canopy Tour through a local company – Walker Bay Adventures. After four attempts at joining a Cape Town kayak group and as many cancellations due to wind and swell in Table Bay, I gave it up. It can be crystal clear on land when wind, tides, and waves put the kibosh on kayaking. Weather permitting, I’m hoping for a change of fortune and a fun Walker Bay sea kayak trip later this week.
It’s early for whale season but there are interesting birds, fish, and animals in and around Walker Bay – sun and sugarbirds, cormorants, pelicans, herons, penguins, otters, dolphins, seals, sharks, and galjoen, kabeljou, and steenbras.
Elgin Valley canopy tours take place in the spectacular Hottentots Holland Mountains near Grabouw and Hermanus. A “previously inaccessible” South African World Heritage Site, the Cape Floral Region is a biodiversity hotspot in a “pristine wilderness”. Mammals in the area include klipspringer (Oreotragus), baboon, leopard, and grey rhebok. Illusive Cape leopards also live in the area, but the shy nocturnal animals are rarely seen.
Cape Canopy Tour
Cape Canopy Tour is noted for its safety and high-quality zipline structures and equipment. We began the day with a safety briefing. Our guides explained how the ziplines work and what to expect. I quickly learned that a safety briefing wasn’t ample preparation for the breathtakingly stunning aerial perspectives we experienced!
There were six fun people in the group – a couple from Ireland and a family of four from the UK – father, two daughters, and young son. I was the only first-timer, as everyone else had experienced ziplining.
After the briefing, we were fitted with harnesses, helmets, gloves, and jackets. Our zipline adventure began with a 30-minute ride over rough backroads in an open 4 x 4 safari vehicle nicknamed oreotragus. The views were amazing as we drove over bumps, potholes, and puddles left by an overnight rain. Soft white clouds framed the mountain range and created interesting shapes, shadows, and colors. The truck dropped us off, and we hiked a short distance to the first of eleven zipline platforms!
There were over 8,000 feet of ziplines – the longest was 1,100 ft. Each zip point had a small plaque describing the length of the slide and the nature and geology visible in the surrounding wilderness area. There were rocky ravines, fertile valleys, and abundant rivers and waterfalls. Near the end, we passed over an 82 ft. suspension bridge situated above a stunning double waterfall.
The zipline process begins as you step onto a wooden platform and one of the guides connects you to the zipline cable. You wear heavy leather gloves; one has a reinforced palm for the hand that rests lightly over the cable behind the pulley. Tightening your hand over the cable slows you down, but the guides told us not to do that without their signal.
The other hand goes around harness lines beneath the cable. As you lean into the harness, pulling your knees to chest – the guide releases the cable, and off you go – yahoo!!
Wind and Speed
Our exciting wild card was the wind, and it was substantial! At the first zip platform, we were given the option to reschedule, but everyone wanted to continue. It took me several zips to relax and get into the free, magic feeling of flying through the air on a zipline! The longer the slide, the faster you go. At just the right time, the guide waiting at the next platform on the other side puts on the brake to slow you down for a gentle landing. The most difficult part (for me) was trusting the brake. Without it, you would slam violently into the mountain on the other side!
The speed you travel depends on the length of the zipline, your weight, and the wind. The guide waiting takes all these things into consideration in deciding when to pull the brake. Our guide was skillful, and my landings were soft and painless.
In heavy wind during the second or third slide, I missed a signal to tighten my hold on the cable and slow down. I’m still not sure what happened, but suddenly the cable stopped, and I was hanging in the middle of the slide looking down at the valley below – yikes. The guide zipped out to meet me and ferried us both back to the other side. Scary as that may sound, it really wasn’t – maybe for the guide, but not me. Focusing on signals is challenging when your heart is racing and you’re moving fast.
The time passed quickly! At the end, the experience seemed like a dream, but the hike to the vehicle pickup point brought us back to reality. Everyone in the group received a personalized zipline video – minus the screams – via email.
I’ve booked a four-day, three-night slackpacking hike in July along Blue Mountain Trail. The trail is 31 miles long and “winds through Overberg wilderness, forests, fruit and wine farms, and lush fynbos fields”.
The trail covers some of the same terrain we zipped over in Bot River and Elgin Valley as well as areas of Kleinmond, Paardeberg, Kogelberg, and Palmiet. All are part of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. I’m hiking most days in preparation, as it will be a tough three-day hike for me.