23 August 2013 by Tara Turkington

Reaching new heights on the Karkloof Canopy Tour, KwaZulu-Natal

Calling all adventure junkies – the Karkloof Canopy Tour is a fun, if rather terrifying, experience.

Howling like Tarzan is not optional

When my friends said to me, 'Let’s do the Karkloof Canopy Tour!' I agreed without thinking.

I had somehow momentarily forgotten that I am scared of heights. As a child, I remember being dared to climb over the wall into the neighbour’s garden. I got to the top, then couldn’t bring myself to jump down. I sat up there for what seemed like hours, trying to gather the courage to throw myself off the wall. It was only when the neighbour’s Dobermanns approached at high speed, teeth bared, that I was able to fling myself downward into my garden.

Listening to a briefing on the first platform

Same thing with the high diving board at school: once I was 3m up, there was just no way I was going to plunge headfirst (or even feet-first) into the pool. I retreated gingerly down the diving-board steps.

So there I found myself on a sunny Saturday morning at the top of a forest canopy and at one end of a zipline in South Africa’s second biggest indigenous forest (at Karkloof, near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal – the biggest is Tsitsikamma, apparently). There I was with eight long ziplines ahead of me, no way to get off and no cellphone reception to call a friend with a helicopter.

Yes, it was beautiful, in the dappled light of the forest, with massive, soulful trees and birdsong all around. But it was very, very scary. For those who haven’t yet done a 'canopy tour' (the term is a euphemism for high-speed, heart-stopping, adrenalin-loaded zipline), the procedure goes something like this...

You get yourself on to a small wooden platform that is so high up you can’t see the ground through all the leaves of the forest canopy.

You try not to twirl at high speed, but how exactly you avoid this I never found out. You howl involuntarily like a sick Tarzan as you hurtle towards the next platform.

You get into a sitting position (coaxed by the guides or driven by peer pressure or sheer ignorance), with one hand behind you attached to the zipline (you wear industrial gloves) to act as a brake. Then you launch yourself off into the air, towards another wooden platform that is so far away through the trees you can’t even see it. You try not to twirl at high speed, but how exactly you avoid this I never found out. You howl involuntarily like a sick Tarzan as you hurtle towards the next platform.

The guides, of course, alight lightly on each platform as though stepping gently on to a kerb. For the less skilful, you might find yourself not braking enough and approaching the platform faster than a forest buzzard snatches up an unsuspecting mouse; or you brake too much and end up dangling metres away from the platform – in which case you need to turn your body around and attempt an undignified backwards-gorilla manoeuvre toward the platform.

You go in small groups (ours was eight in all), one at a time along the ziplines and to the platforms. And did I mention you go fast? Some of the ziplines are more than 150m long and are so steep you move at 60km/h along them. Three hours and eight ziplines go by in a flash.

Some people are natural pros...

One of the things that kept me going was that a member of the group had undergone a heart transplant. What an amazing guy. Surely, surely, if he could do it, so could I. At least that’s what I told myself.

Looking back, I’m not sure I would readily do this all over again. Then again, there are many zipline experiences throughout South Africa. The company that runs the Karkloof Canopy Tour, Canopy Tours South Africa, also runs canopy tours in the Tsitsikamma Forest, Hoedspruit, the Magaliesberg, Magoebaskloof, the Drakensberg and Malolotja in Swaziland. They’re also planning to open one in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, near Grabouw in the Western Cape, in December 2013.

Hmmm, now that I’m thinking about it, the Magaliesberg one, in particular, looks great. And I’m sure my kids would love the experience. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll choose to forget again that I’m afraid of heights…

  • Find out more about the Karkloof Canopy Tour: www.karkloofcanopytour.co.za
  • For more info on other canopy tours run by the same company, visit: www.canopytour.co.za
  • The Karkloof Canopy Tour costs R450 per person and lasts for about three hours. It is suitable for (brave) kids. You can opt to go on your own along each zipline, or in tandem with a guide.

The views are worth all the sweaty palms

Category: Adventure, Attractions


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