by Rizel Delano

Karkloof Canopying

Playing Tarzan and Jane

Karkloof Canopying
Karkloof Canopying
Karlien’s directions from the N3 onto the Midmar Dam (Howick) turn-off through the Natal Midlands were clear and I walked into the office with a huge grin. Karlien mirrored my smile with bright sparkling teeth and words tumbling from her lips, welcoming me like a long lost friend.

“Welcome to Karkloof, it’s wonderful to have you here. Follow me, have some water or juice. We’re just waiting for the others before strapping you in.”

I signed the indemnity form, releasing the company from any responsibility for my antics and rubbed my sweaty palms on my upper legs, waiting for the action to begin.

“Good morning ladies and gentleman, my name is Derick and the guides on my right are Sizwe and Busizwe. Your safety is of the utmost importance, so please listen to the instructions carefully to avoid any injuries or accidents. This 3-hour adventure takes you to seven canopy level platforms, built to international civil engineering standards. Each platform is joined by nearly a kilometre of heavy-duty steel cables - the longest stretch being 180m - that zigzags down an untouched valley of indigenous forest.”

My heart pumped faster when Sizwe fastened the straps of the harness around my waist. I turned to Derick and asked, “Who came up with the canopy glide idea?”

“Well…” Derick’s eyes shined eagle bright, “It originated in the rainforests of Costa Rica where biologists devised the system, allowing them to explore the ecosystem of canopy tree tops.”

I insisted, “But how did it get into South Africa?”

Derick continued, “Mark Brown, who designed and constructed two of these structures in Costa Rica, came back to South Africa and formed an alliance with a local facilitator. The first canopy tour in Tsitsikamma was launched on the Garden Route in October 2001. The popularity of this adventure led to the birth of Karkloof Canopy Tours, which is now the biggest in Africa.”

We stopped at the first platform called, ‘The Rabbit Hole’ where Sizwe talked us through the procedures, “You’ll be hanging into your harness, attached to a pulley and you'll slide along the cables between each platform, one at a time. The first glide is only 40m long and we’ll go slowly so you get the feel for it. Busizwe will go ahead to meet you as you land on each platform.”

We watched Busizwe closely, trying to memorise what he was doing and when he disappeared through the trees, Sizwe turned around, his face glowing with the challenge, “Who wants to go first?” 

I jumped, “I will,” clapping my gloved hands together. Sizwe took one of the straps attached to my harness and clipped it onto the cable overhead and attached the pulley to the other, ensuring it was tightly closed.

“Okay, now you grab with your strong hand onto the cable stretching it out behind you. To slow down, pull down on the cable. To accelerate, lift your hand loosening the grip so you can glide freely, but keep your hand on the cables forming an ‘O’ with your fingers. Keep your feet bended slightly in front of you, leaning back into your harness. Do you understand?”

I nodded and reached for the cable, prickles running up my spine. I crouched down and made my feet leave the platform, sinking into the air hanging free like a bird. I pressed my helmet down, securing it into position. I released the grip, my heart flipped, my stomach churned and away I went!

“Whoooooweeee…” I knew the roar was nothing like Tarzan’s but for the first time I knew why Jane joined him.

Adrenalin and energy spurted through my body. I felt wispy and laughter pealed from my lips. I landed on the next platform, reaching for Busizwe’s hand, pulling myself up onto the ledge. Busizwe’s teeth flashed in the sunlight, “Lekker, hey?”

“Yebo gogo! It’s sooooo cool!” And he strapped me to the safety cables, preventing me from falling off the structure.

“Okay, the next slide is 150m. Speed up until you see my signal to stop, enjoy…” and off he went.

I released my grip on the cable to a slight touch and sped to the other side. A Knysna Loerie passed about one metre in front of me. I gasped in wonder, my heart tripping in my chest.

“You were lucky,” Sizwe commented after my chirping about it, “There's also Emerald Cuckoos, Raptors and Cape Parrot here.”

Busizwe turned and clipped the pulley on the cable, “Okay guys, let’s continue.” I looked at the slanted rays of the sun fanning through the branches above, aping a scene from Greystoke: Legend of Tarzan. Busizwe looked down into the gorge, and then up into the sky, sunk into the air and vanished through the branches, just like Tarzan when he returned to the forest after realising that his heart was there all along. And I wondered how he constructed his canopy glide throughout the forest, building a safe ride for Jane.

www.karkloofcanopytour.co.za  

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