DISCOVERY: Zip along Africa’s longest tour line

Saturday October 5 2019

Zip lining over Oribi Gorge in South Africa.

Zip lining over Oribi Gorge in South Africa. PHOTO | EDGAR R BATTE 

SUSAN MUUMBI
By SUSAN MUUMBI
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In the south of South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal province lies Oribi Gorge. And in the gorge is Lake Eland Game Reserve, the perfect destination for an adrenaline junkie.

On a cold, windy morning, our group of 10 journalists from all over Africa arrived at the reserve ready for a thrilling adventure of zip lining, a canopy walk and horse-riding.

But, first things first. The activities started with signing an indemnity form. The company had taken all precautions to keep us safe, and, in the event of a mishap they would not be held responsible. After all, we had voluntarily brought ourselves to the reserve for the adventure.

The 2,500-hectare park is home to the longest zip line tour in Africa, with 14 slides over 3.3 kilometres and 300m above ground at the highest point.

The zip line is open to children and adults. A notice says that the tour is an “extreme activity” and that management can “withhold any/all persons from partaking in an activity should they show signs of intoxication”.

After a quick demo on how to zip line safely, conducted by limber young women, we were kitted up and harnessed. Two pairs of gloves protect your hands; a soft knitted one on the inside and a large hard leather one on the outside. And a helmet to protect your skull, just in case...

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At the start of each section of the zip line is a concrete platform with a pillar to which two cables are attached—a main cable and a safety cable. Each cable is 16mm thick and can hold up to 18 tonnes.

The instructions were to sit into your harness, hold the main cable with your stronger hand and the safety cable with the other, and just go. To slow down as you approach the next pillar, pull gently on the main cable.

And so we went, one after the other. The first line is probably the scariest because you don’t know what to expect. It’s fairly straightforward, though. And fast. And thrilling. And the rush is exhilarating.

Before you know it, you’re at the other end of the line being unclasped by one of the women so that she can hoist you onto the next line.

The second one is easier, if you choose to carry on. Of our group of 10, a couple made it to the first stop, a few more to the fifth stop, and four to the end of the 14th line.

After the fifth stop, there’s no turning back. The longest zip line is number six, 680m long and 300m high. From here, you have to commit to the rest of the tour, which includes zip lining over Lake Eland.

Our next stop was the canopy walk. This is similar to the one at Nyungwe park in Rwanda, which is 90m long and 60m high. The walk at Lake Eland is 80m long and 100m high. From up here, we could see right across the rocky gorge on both sides, and into the valley.

The bridge can take up to 70 tonnes of weight, so there’s no fear of it collapsing. The bridge sways slightly and is one way traffic, and the amazing views are certainly worth the walk.

The gorge is approximately 400m deep, and almost five kilometres wide at its widest. It derives its name from the oribi, a small antelope that lives there.

The day’s thrills ended with a horse ride through a section of the park. My horse, called Spirit, was brown with a wide, white stripe on his forehead.

Tall and majestic, at least according to me, Spirit knew exactly where he was going and only needed slight nudging. He seemed, however, quite hungry and stopped often to graze. I had to pull on his bit to remind him that we had a tour to complete.

Horse riding around Oribi Gorge in South Africa.

Horse riding around Oribi Gorge in South Africa. PHOTO | EDGAR R BATTE

The horse tour took us a short way into the park and back, not too far because we were all inexperienced riders. We saw some bushbuck on a hill in the distance.

If you go horse-riding, expect a bit of a sore backside at the end of the ride.

Other activities offered at the game reserve include a non-motorised scooter tour, game drives, mountain biking, walking, fishing, picnicking and paintballing.

And after all the activity, we were famished so we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch at the restaurant.