Wednesday, November 25, 2009
“Don't wear a skirt”, my sister-in-law told me. This comment should have fueled my suspicious mind; but it didn't. I thought we were in for a delicious breakfast at some quaint country retreat, that the Midlands meander is famous for. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Those that know me well, know that I have an atrocious sense of direction, and I suffer from vertigo. As road signs began pointing the direction to the Karlkloof indigenous forest, the penny still didn't drop. Even my sister-in-law's cheesy grin didn't give away the fact that I was about to face my fear of heights.
We pulled into the parking area of the Karlkloof Canopy Tour, only to realise that the surprise was a 3-hour eco-adventure through the magnificent indigenous forest. I secretly cursed my sister-in-law for not informing me of her plan, so that I could be better prepared. Not wearing high heel boots would have helped some, and taking copious amounts of rescue remedy would have calmed the butterflies that were doing Thai kick-boxing in my stomach, as the reality of the situation set in. In retrospect I am glad that she never told me, as I may have managed to conjure up an excuse not to go along, and after experiencing this eco-tour, I enthusiastically recommend it to all. After all, as the saying goes “ Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the conquest of it”.
The tour started with us being kitted up with full safety harnesses, pulleys, ropes and helmets. I felt as though I had enough safety equipment to climb Everest; all that was missing was an oxygen mask. I suppose I should have found this re-assuring, but all it did was send the butterflies into a panic-induced frenzy – Oh for some rescue remedy, or a stiff gin and tonic.
The very competent guides checked and re-checked our safety gear, and instructed us on the dos and don't s of whizzing through the air on a cable 30m above the ground, before taking us on a short but scenic drive to the starting platform.
There were seven in our group, including a well-known SA rugby player, but I won't name drop. There are two guides per group. One leads the way, and waits on the next platform, while the other sends each adventurer on their way, gliding through the air like a flying fox. When you reach the other side, the first guide is there to safely clip you to the platform, while you wait for the others. In this way, you are always clipped onto either the cable, and a second safety cable, or the platform on which you are waiting.
The canopy tour involves travelling from one platform to another, along a steel cable suspended up to 30m above the forest floor. There are seven platforms, joined by eight 'foefie' slides, the longest being 170m! As you zig-zag through a pristine forested valley, (try) keep your eyes open as the scenery is spectacular as is the abundant bird life. You have time to catch your breath on each platform, while the guides fill you in on the flora and fauna of this Midlands forest ecology. You will have the opportunity to spot Emerald Cuckoos, Knysna Loeries, a wide variety of raptors and if you are lucky, the elusive Narina Trogon or endangered Cape Parrots. The forest is also home to a variety of mammals, but it is the vocal calls of the Samago monkeys that you will remember best as they swing through the trees.
If you are worried that you will miss out on all these sights by not being able to keep your eyes open as you speed down the cable, you have the option of going tandem with a guide. If you are not sure of your capabilities, then this is a good option. I conquered the first two slides on my own, but failed to keep my eyes open, and had to rely on the others in our group shouting 'Brake! Brake!' for me to stop in time and not plough into the platform. I then chose to go tandem with a guide, allowing me to take in the views, as I didn't have to concentrate on not crashing. There are places when you have to lift your legs to avoid branches, so keeping your eyes open is definitely an advantage.
Canopy tours originated in the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica, where biologists devised a system of cables and platforms to explore and study the previously inaccessible upper forest canopy. This soon evolved into a successful form of adventure and eco- tourism, raising awareness of the plight of the world's endangered rain forests. Construction of the Karlkloof Canopy Tour has been done in accordance with strict civil engineering standards, and a full environmental impact study was done, and approved by the department of environmental affairs before construction began.
We are more likely to regret those things we haven't done, than the things we have done, so if you find yourself in the Midlands area, be sure to try swinging through the trees.
" Life is NOT a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- ’WOW, what a ride!!! "
Tel: +27 (033) 3303415 or (076) 2412888
Group size: Maximum 7 per group.
Departure times: Every hour from 8:00 to 15:00.
Tours are conducted in all weather conditions.
Daily numbers limited.
Who can go: Anyone between 7 & 70 years old!
Cost: R395.00 includes refreshments, lunch, guides and all equipment