Mark Samuel experiences the rush of a lifetime hanging out above the unspoilt Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve
I quickly got the knack of controlling my speed without pulling my shoulder out of its socket. It’s all about the amount of squeeze-force you exert through your thick leather glove, and when to apply that force. You don’t want to stop too soon before the next timber platform arrives, or travel too slowly down the cable: that would just defeat the point. Then, you also don’t want to wait too long to slow down and rely too heavily on the zip line’s braking mechanism, which is controlled by your attentive guide at the end of the run.
Tucked away high in the Hottentots Holland Mountains above Grabouw and Elgin, about an hour’s drive away from the Mother City, is a new zip-line tour well worth the outing. The Cape Canopy Tour is well run and beautifully scenic. And, as if you’d need any more reason to check it out, the owners have created jobs for local young people by training them up and offering them a stable, and fun, employment option. Who could object to their ‘office’ being amid pristine mountains, surrounded by fresh air, fynbos and thriving bird life, with the burbling upper reaches of the Riviersonderend down below?
We started our day with the safety briefing at the base, then boarded a canopied 4×4 for an exhilarating half-hour ride as we wended our way along a rough track. After just a short walk at the other side, we reached the first of the expertly crafted timber platforms fastened to the sides of the river gorge.
The project took close on a year to complete, with all of the 13 platforms connected to their neighbours by means of thick steel cables.
You may be itching to get going by now, but it’s only once the guide clips your pulley system securely on to the cable – along with the two additional carabiners and lines for added safety – and your ‘rear’ hand is snugly ensconced in a leather glove, that you let go and commence the adventure of a lifetime. Seriously, it’s four and a half hours of dangling and sliding that’ll have you whooping with delight.
The longest of the 12 runs is over 300m, taking you hundreds of metres high above the gorge, sailing past birds of prey and way above the treetops. Down below, the river guides you on your path as you zigzag and criss-cross your way from cliffside to cliffside.
Midway through, we stopped to refuel with a snack while perched on a platform overlooking a spectacular mountain vista. Each time you reach one of the wooden structures, your guide follows a careful safety procedure of first clipping your safety lines on to another cable that has been fastened into the rock face, and only then releasing your pulley. You wait for the others in your party to whoop their way to the platform, before you all commence the cable run to the next.
It was with a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration – and a touch of regret, because it was all over – that my shoes touched down on platform 13. I could happily have zipped down another 12 runs, at least.
The one-kilometre hike out the gorge at the end might be a little challenging for some, but you’re welcome to walk at your own pace if all that playing Tarzan has left you a little out of breath. Then it’s the 30-minute 4×4 ride back down the mountain to the base, where you get to enjoy a light meal (and a couple of drinks, if you like) with all your recent zip-line companions.
Hands down, this is the best zip-line adventure I have experienced (and I’ve zipped my way through a few).
Choose your own ZIP-LINE adventure
The Cape Canopy Tour is just one of seven zip-line adventures within the Canopy Tours South Africa company. The others are in the Drakensberg and Karkloof (KwaZulu-Natal), Magaliesberg (North West), Magoebaskloof (Limpopo), Malolotja Nature Reserve (Swaziland) and Tsitsikamma (Eastern Cape). For more info, visit www.canopytour.co.za.
There are also plenty of other, very good zip-line adventures spread across SA. Check out Ceres Zip Slide Tours (www.ceresadventures.co.za) up in the mountains above the little fruit-growing town, or one of the Acrobranch outdoor parks found in Cape Town, the Garden Route, Johannesburg and Centurion (www.acrobranch.co.za). You will find more exciting zip lines dotted around the Cape at SA Forest Adventures (www.saforestadventures.co.za).
GOOD TO KNOW
What to take
You’ll need sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots; a small daypack with sunscreen, water and snacks; a decent hat; and a warm top, in case the weather turns a bit chilly. And don’t forget your camera, but only if it can be securely strapped on for safety’s sake.
Heading out from Cape Town on the N2, take the R321 left at Grabouw. Follow it through the little town, head up the hill, then swing left again on to the R321 heading towards Villiersdorp. Heading up the pass, turn left immediately after the scenic dam near the top, into Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, which is controlled by CapeNature. The guys at the gate will tell you where to go.
The tour costs R595 pp (you receive a R40 discount if you have a Wild Card). It’s open to most ages, and only a moderate (to low) level of fitness is required.
Cape Canopy Tour, 021 300 0501
Photography Rory Keohane/HMimages.co.za
(This article was first published in the summer 2014/2015 issue of AA traveller magazine)