THE quiet stillness of the forest is punctuated by occasional screeches – some compulsory, others involuntary.
Sometimes it is the unusual song of a native bird or the call of the fearless tree-swinging monkeys. But most of the time, the sound comes from much larger flying objects – adventure seekers flying from tree to tree across the forest canopy.
Armed with buckets of courage, although rather small buckets, we are set to take on Stormsriver Adventures’ Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour – a unique eco-wilderness adventure that takes place in the magnificent Tsitsikamma indigenous rainforest on the Garden Route.
The first of its kind in Africa, the canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 metres above the forest floor.
There are ten slides in total, ranging between 17 and 91 metres long – each criss-crossing the forest from tree to tree and ending on a platform constructed in the trees. An engineering feat of note, made all the more impressive by the incredibly small footprint that was left in the construction process.
Great consideration was taken to disturb as little vegetation as possible, and the wooden platforms encircling the trees are attached with great care so as not to harm them.
Concept to completion, it took fourteen and a half months to construct the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour system.
After a quick coffee we head to the briefing room where we sign indemnity forms and view a short video on safety guidelines and how to brake.
We are assured that strict safety procedures are in place and that we would be connected to either the cable or platform at all times.
And important to remember: always keep your hands behind the pulley – otherwise your glove might get stuck - something you do not want.
We are ready to be kitted out – full body harness, pulley, gloves and safety helmet. Although fitting snugly around my waist, the outfit is definitely not flattering.
A short drive into the forest and it is time to monkey around.
Channel your inner-adventurer
Surrounded by ancient Yellowwood and gigantic Hard Pear trees, forest ferns and tree orchids – nature in all her incredible splendour – acting lead guide, Likhaya Nabom, secures my harness to the first 17 metre long cable, “Your strong hand must always be on the cable, while holding onto the top of the harness with your other hand.”
And off I go . . . gently gliding across the forest as a new world unfolds.
But as I approach the landing pad, my pulsing adrenaline causes me to brake too hard and too early – despite the instructions on how to brake by using a leather-clad hand to grasp the cable, resulting in a stop before the platform.
Not to worry, you can always pull yourself towards the platform.
There are also braking devices in place should you forget or be unable to brake in time.
On the other side, I am secured to a cable fastened around a 500 year old Outeniqua Yellowwood standing 30 metres tall (although not the biggest tree on our trip), while I wait to zip to the next platform.
The platform, as with the other platforms, offers a unique vantage point over the forest canopy with beautiful views.
Besides the breathtaking views and pristine environment, bird lovers will delight in the abundant bird life with the opportunity of spotting a Knysna Loerie or the elusive Trogon.
The forest is also home to several mammals, most common of which is the Vervet monkey, as well as porcupines, caracals, bush pig and Cape leopard.
Once at platform three, I realise two things: one, that I am really high up and, two, there is no turning back unless I take the Escape Route (better known as the chicken run) now, or wait for the second escape route at platform 8.
But turning back is not an option . . . and I cross the suspension bridge to the next platform.
This is where it becomes the kind of fun that demands screaming – as instructed by our guide. This zip line is significantly lengthier, higher and, as a result, faster.
It is followed by a gradual declining zip line, allowing us to zipline in cruise mode with both hands stretched wide open in the air.
Throughout the adventure, Nabom helps us and provides interesting facts about the forest. One such interesting fact is the Platform of Love (platform seven).
Why Platform of Love?
Nabom smiles: “Apart from being the smallest platform – thus forcing members of bigger groups to stand close together – it boasts three successful marriage proposals.”
Then, sporting a “beard”, there is Uncle Sam at platform 8 – at 600 years old, the oldest Outeniqua Yellow-wood in the forest.
“The beard is in fact lichen, a composite organism that arises from algae living among filaments of multiple fungi in a symbiotic relationship,” says Nabom. “With reference to the beard, the tree was named Uncle Sam. A nickname given to the United States of America.
“However, the fungi are killing Uncle Sam, and he is not expected to reach over 1 000 years.”
And as we reach platform 9, we can spot the Witklip River, just before zipping down the longest cable of 91 metres to platform 9.
Reaching the final zip line, I can still feel the rush: my heart beats a little faster and the sound of birds calls me back.
The tour ends with a short walk, but somewhat challenging if you are unfit and not used to climbing wooden stairs, out of the forest to the waiting vehicle.
About 2.5 to 3 hours.
Five years to 70 years.
Lee-Marque Jansen: 042 281 1836 or email@example.com.
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