Ziplining Grabouw Elgin Valley, South Africa

Elgin Valley Vista

For years I’ve wanted to experience ziplining. Saturday was the day, and it didn’t disappoint! The adventure was rich with adrenaline rushes, indescribably beautiful South African landscapes, and good company.

Heading Out

I discovered Cape Canopy Tours with the help of a Hermanus kayak 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 clear on land but wind, tides, and waves put the kibosh on kayaking. Weather permitting, I’m scheduled for a Walker Bay sea kayak trip later this week.

Walker Bay Nature Reserve – Open Africa

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 a local fish – galjoen, kabeljou, and steenbras.

Rocky Fynbos Hillside

Elgin Valley

Elgin Valley canopy tours take place near Grabouw in the spectacular Hottentots Holland Mountains. A South African World Heritage Site, it’s a “pristine, previously inaccessible” wilderness area about forty-five minutes from Hermanus. The endemic floral diversity is spectacular. Mammals include klipspringer (Oreotragus), baboon, leopard, and grey rhebok. Shy nocturnal animals, Cape leopards are rarely seen.

Backroad to Zipline Platforms

Cape Canopy Tours

Cape Canopy Tours 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 the safety briefing wasn’t preparation for a stunning aerial perspective of the Cape Overberg!

Hottentots Holland Mountains

There were six fun people in my 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 before.

After the briefing, we were fitted into harnesses, helmets, gloves, and jackets. Our adventure began with a 30-minute ride over rough backroads in an open 4×4 safari vehicle. The views were amazing as we drove over bumps, potholes, and puddles from an overnight rain. 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!

Waterfall Ravine

Eleven Ziplines

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 abundant rivers, waterfalls, rocky ravines, and fertile valleys. Near the end, we passed over an 82 ft. suspension bridge situated above a double waterfall.

Cape Canopy Ziplining – Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust

The zipline process begins when you step onto a wooden platform where a guide 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 – the right for right-handed people. Tightening your hand over the cable slows you down, but the guides told us not to do that without their signal.

Cape Leopard – TimesLIVE

The other hand goes around harness lines under the cable. As you lean into the harness and pull knees to chest – the guide releases the cable, and off you go!!

Walker Bay in Distance

Wind and Speed

Our wild card was the wind. 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! Of course, the longer the slide, the faster you go. The guide waiting at the next platform puts on the brake to slow you down for landing. The most difficult part (for me) was trusting in the brake. Without it, you would slam violently into the mountain on the other side!

Hike to the First Zip

The speed you travel depends on the length of the zipline, your weight, and the wind. The guide waiting takes all things into consideration in deciding when to pull the brake. Our guide was skillful and my landings were soft and painless.

Fynbos Hillside

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 sounds, it really wasn’t – maybe more so for the guide. Focusing on signals is challenging when you’re moving fast.

Tiny Bird Sculpture Last Zip Platform

Euphoria

Ziplining time passed quickly and at the end, it seemed like a dream. The hike to the vehicle pickup point brought us back to reality. It was an unforgettable experience that I hope to repeat! My zipline video is attached – minus the screams

Elgin Panorama – Visit Winelands

I’ve booked a four-day, three-night slackpacking hike in July on the Blue Mountain Trail. The trail is 31 miles long and “winds through wilderness, forests, fruit and wine farms, and lush fynbos fields”.

Elgin Basin Vineyard – Wade Bales Wine Society

The trail covers some of the same terrain we zipped over in Bot River and the 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.

Hottentots Holland Landdroskop Road – CapeNature

Cape Agulhas and Struisbaai – Tip of Africa

Cape Agulhas Southernmost Tip of Africa

Surrounded by rugged beaches and peaceful De Mond Nature Reserve, the seaside villages of Cape Agulhas and Struisbaai seem to “melt into one another”. From Hermanus, it’s a two-hour drive east via R316 and R319 through rolling hills, sheep farms, and bright yellow fields of blooming canola! It’s hard keeping your eyes on the road, and I pulled over often.

Bredasdorp Dutch Reformed Church

Cape Agulhas

Cape Agulhas headland is the southernmost tip of Africa – where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. The point lies near Cape Agulhas lighthouse at the end of a wooden boardwalk. It’s marked with a stone plaque where visitors snap selfies.

Cape Agulhas Boardwalk

The exact location where the Agulhas and Benguela currents meet is said to “fluctuate seasonally” between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. But the official meeting place, decided by the International Hydrographical Organisation, is unquestionably Cape Agulhas.” In the past, I’ve visited and hiked Cape Point – another pristine coastal area.

Struisbaai

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“Historically, Cape Agulhas was known to sailors as particularly hazardous – notorious for winter storms and huge rogue waves that can reach a spectacular height of 30 metres (99 feet). It’s no surprise that the area is littered with shipwrecks. One of which – the Meisho Maru – lies in Agulhas National Park.”

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Struisbaai

Struisbaai is an old South African fishing village with a beautiful natural harbour. Although some development has taken place, “Struisbaai is relatively untouched by the rigours of over-development”.

Many fishermen live in Struisbaai, but it’s also becoming a popular place for tourists and leisure activities like fishing, horseback riding, hiking, paintball, quad biking, diving, and kiteboarding. Paintball and kiteboarding are new to me. At Struisbaai Harbour, I watched kiteboarders, in awe of their nimble moves!

Napier Dutch Reformed Church

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Struisbaai has the longest beach in the Southern Hemisphere, reaching almost 8.5 miles along the coast.

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Napier Farmstall

Napier Farmstall and Restaurant

Like Cape Agulhas, the waters off Struisbaai have traditionally been treacherous for shipping. More than 30 vessels have run aground since 1673. One of them was the Dutch ship “Meermin that stranded in 1766 after a mutiny by the Malagasy slaves she was carrying. Another, the French ship Jardinière, sank 28 years later”.

South African Blue Crane – National Bird of South Africa.

Blue Crane in Courtship Dance – Roland Bischoff

On the way to Cape Agulhas I stopped at Napier and Bredasdorp and took a few photographs. These small towns are rich in South African history and stories!

Lodge De Mond Nature Reserve

Napier

Napier is a rural village located under Soetmuisberg Mountain between Caledon and Bredasdorp. There wasn’t much happening when I passed through. It’s a “blend of century-old cottages and modern houses”. Historically, blacksmithing was Napier’s primary craft.

Lunch Stop Napier Farmstall

Routes 316 and 319 between Hermanus and Napier are a favorite gathering spot for flocks of the endangered Blue Crane, South Africa’s National Bird. Sadly, I didn’t see cranes.

Gorgeous Cape Agulhas Seagull

Napier was founded in 1838 through a dispute between two neighbors, Michiel van Breda and Pieter Voltelyn van der Byl, over the location of the community Dutch Reformed Church. Michiel van Breda wanted the church sited on his farm, Langefontein, while Pieter Voltelyn van der Byl wanted it built on his property, Klipdrift. Neither van Breda nor van der Byl would give way, so they built two churches.”

Bredasdorp grew around Van Breda’s church, while Napier, named after Sir George Thomas Napier the British governor of Cape Province, developed around Van der Byl’s.

I stopped at Napier Farmstall for lunch. Farmstalls are popular and have delicious home-baked goods and fresh farm produce. The specialty at Napier Farmstall is a black pan breakfast served all day. It’s a mix of beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, onion, herbs, and spices served in a black pan. Several locals were enjoying brunch and the warm, sunny spring weather.

Media Photo Heuningberg Nature Reserve Bredasdorp

Napier has interesting old buildings. During 1810 – 1820, the Feeshuis (Festival House) was used as slave quarters and later a wine cellar. It was restored in 1988 to celebrate Napier’s 150th anniversary. The Napier Dutch Reformed Church was built “in the form of a Greek cross with teak interior and a yellow copper pipe organ”.

Meeriman 18th Century Dutch Hoeker

Bredasdorp

Bredasdorp is said to be the first town or ‘dorp’ established in South Africa. It’s the economic hub of the region and lies on the slopes of a high hill known as the Preekstoel (pulpit), surrounded by giant proteas and wheat fields. The proteas grow on the ridges of the hill and are one of the main products of the district.

Napier Thatched Roofs

Bredasdorp was named after the first mayor of Cape Town, Michiel van Breda (1840 – 1844). Van Breda introduced the animals on his farm, Zoetendals Vallei, and is known as the father of the merino sheep industry in South Africa.

Bredasdorp is best known for its Shipwreck Museum, “the only one of its kind in the country”. The museum has a collection of artefacts from ships wrecked along the Overberg coast, including cannons, china, coins, buoys, and ships bells. Bredasdorp’s parsonage was restored with pieces salvaged from the shipwrecks. A room in the Museum pays tribute to a South African author I’d never heard of, Audrey Blignault, who was born in Bredasdorp.”

Meisho Maru Shipwreck

Meisho Maru Shipwreck

Canola Field

The Heuningberg Nature Reserve on Van Riebeeck Street in Bredasdorp is “a must for nature lovers and birders. The Reserve offers short hikes in nearby mountains”.

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse

Cape Overberg Nature Reserves South Africa

The entire Overberg is an exquisite nature reserve and floral kingdom with richer fynbos than any other area in the Cape. I arrived in July – the heart of winter – but the weather was dry and warm. During August, we’re still waiting for winter and have only had a few significant storms. The reservoirs aren’t as dry as Cape Town’s, so Overberg’s drought isn’t as severe. I’m adjusting to fynbos pollen, sea air, and the all-encompassing rogue wind which rattles all and rises and falls as it pleases!

Most buildings in Hermanus don’t have heating systems like we use in the US – they don’t need them except during a few winter months. Interior heat comes from fireplaces and portable room heaters. Yesterday it was almost 80 degrees, and last night I didn’t need to build a fire!

Sculpting Old Harbour

Cape Overberg Nature Reserves – Atlantic and Indian Oceans

Nature Reserves on my exploration list include nearby locations spread out along the coast of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The biggest decision is which direction to go – east toward Betty’s Bay or west to Gansbaai. East or West, both directions delight the eye:

If you enjoy nature, the communities in these areas have much to offer and are ideal for a peaceful, active retirement. I’ve considered relocating on a permanent basis but am not ready to commit fully. My renewable visa expires in 2020, and I have no idea if there will be more restrictions. Obtaining the first long-term visa was arduous.

Other than Hermanus, these are some areas of consideration. They offer interesting people, outstanding inexpensive restaurants, diverse outdoor activities, volunteer opportunities, hiking trails, and white-sand beaches:

Hermanus Cliff Trail, Beaches, and Whale Watching

This hiking blog – Walking the Cape – written by locals describes easy and challenging hikes. It would take months to complete them all! Yesterday I spent time hiking the Hermanus Cliff Path that begins at New Harbor and hugs the Atlantic coast to Grotto Beach and Klein River Estuary. If you hike the whole trail, it’s about 8 miles. The path isn’t difficult and the coastal scenery is gorgeous – photos attached.

Now I have several new “favorite” beaches for warmer weather, including Kwaaiwater, Voëlklip and Kammabaai. There are many small private coves and beaches along the Cliff Trail but getting down to them is dicey. I stopped for a few minutes to ponder the sea and saw surfers climbing up from the beach – boards in hand – on an almost invisible path hidden by fynbos.

Watched a group of 7+ whales for over an hour near Dutchies Restaurant at Grotto Beach. The whales were having fun – no breaching but lots of spouting, pec slapping, and tail fluking. With binoculars, it was amazing watching them!!! Locals say whales can sense a crowd of spectators and sometimes show off for their audience. Like humans, you see more whales on clear sunny days during mid- morning or afternoon.

A woman from Hermanus told me about an experience she had at a small sheltered beach when suddenly a mother whale and her calf appeared near the shoreline. She said the calf looked about the size of an elephant and seemed to be getting a lesson from its mother on how close to get (or not get) to the beach. It was listening to its mother, and after a few practice runs could come close to the shore and then gracefully steer itself back out to sea.

Map of Cape Nature Reserves