It was another lovely sunny day in Somerset West when Francis and I, along with son Julian who was home for a few weeks, left the comforts of Easy Five to go ziplining at Cape Canopy Tours. Having chosen to live in South Africa, we have made a commitment to trying new things – even if they scare the heck out of us.
It was an easy, 40-minute drive to the Hottentots Nature Reserve, about 11 km from the town of Grabouw. We arrived early (unlike us) for our 11 a.m. tour so we had time to have coffee and a snack. At 11 we were called into a small room to fill out our forms and for some instruction. Our lead guide, Katleho, showed us the equipment we would shortly put on and how it worked. It was comforting to know that there are not one or two but three lines connecting each person during the ziplining for safety. Somewhat less comforting were the safety reminders about hand placement (not in front of the pulley!!) but Katleho assured us we would all have fun.
We were seven in our group; a couple had brought their teenage grandchildren and a medical student bravely came on her own. Once we had all of our gear on, including coats and helmets, we got into the vehicle that would drive us up, up, up the mountain. As we all introduced ourselves to each other, I finally had to ask, “Am I the only one here who is scared?” I was so relieved when some of the others shared their trepidation. This is not the type of activity I typically do.
We were warned the ride would be a bumpy one and it was; we were driving up a rough road etched out of the mountains. Beautiful scenery, though, as we bounced around. The number of flowers and plants in the fynbos are startling. Then we arrived to the location of the first platform. Gulp.
The first one to zipline was our other guide, Gustav. He would be there to signal us and make sure we had a safe landing on the platform there. Katleho, who also goes by KG, gave us another demonstration of the equipment and explained how we should watch for hand signals if we needed to slow down. The youngest in our crew went first and he made it seem so easy. I watched Karyn (the medical student) and my Moran men go across and then it was my turn.
I stood up on the step where I was hooked in with all three ropes and my heart was pounding so hard I could hear it. My hands were in position – left hand holding the three ropes in front of me, right hand gloved and curved on the zipline behind me – but I couldn’t do it. I told Katleho “I don’t think I can do this.” He looked at me and calmly let me know that I could do it and would do it and would be fine.
Somehow, I managed to step off the side of the mountain and wheeeeee, off I went to the other side. It was a fast line so I did have to slow down (which requires applying pressure with your gloved hand on the line without grabbing the line) but I made it. I was happy and, well, I had actually enjoyed it despite my fear! There were 12 more “slides” (as they call them in their literature) to go.
The second one was easier, although making that step into the void was still a challenge. It’s at this one that we have our last chance to walk away but everyone stuck with the tour. We got to remove our coats, which was a relief. Though it is cooler in the mountains, the day was warm and so were we.
Katleho and Gustav were fun and full of energy and we learned quickly to follow their instructions and trust them even if they said “no braking” and it felt like you should. I learned that if your gloved hand is a little further behind you than just behind the pulley it stops you from swinging so much. It worked! Some of us had experiences where we didn’t quite make it to the platform but each time we were brought in and never did we feel unsafe. Poor Gustav had quite the workout on one slide where a few of us didn’t make it (the high wind slowed us down) and he had to come out and pull us back. However, he had been teasing us all and having some fun with us so when it was my turn to be pulled back I asked him if he could go any faster.
We zipped over waterfalls and awesome scenery. Francis yelled “wooooooo” at almost every slide. He was really enjoying himself! We were like butterflies flitting from one side of a mountain to the other. Some of the slides were short, others were long, but you just had to look down and see what was beneath your feet. We clapped and shouted when those in our group made it to the other side and Francis and I could see how this would be a great team-building event. We walked across a suspension bridge over a pool of mountain water and it felt like we were in a movie.
The last slide is the longest one: 320 m. We could look up and see where we had started, 1,000 m above sea level. We all had to make sure we had enough zip to make it all the way across so legs had to be together and pointing in front of you. We all did well though when Francis came he did a total 360 degree rotation halfway across where the wind was strongest! More “wooooo” and then he landed safely on the platform, saying he wished there were more slides to go.
It was 3:45 and we had to hike up to catch our ride back to the base. The hike was 1.3 km long and mainly uphill. More gorgeous views, though, and opportunities to see the vegetation close-up and view the many interesting rock formations that dot the mountains here. It was nice to remove the gear, which was heavier than you’d think. On the drive back Gustav pointed out a rock that looked just like a shark.
They served us a light meal at the base and it was quite tasty. My guys opted for the Springbok pie while I went for the spinach and feta. It was 4:30 or so by the time we left.
Thank you, Katleho and Gustav for a wonderful time. I would not have been able to do it if not for your expertise, good humour and total focus on our safety.
If you are visiting this part of the Western Cape and want a little (safe) adventure, try Cape Canopy Tours. (And you don’t have to take my word for it – last year, Lonely Planet called it the second best new attraction in the world.)
At the time of our visit, we paid R695 per person, which includes park access.