The Karkloof Canopy Tour – An adrenaline fuelled rush through the tree tops
The Karkloof Canopy Tour is probably the most well-known outdoor activity in the Natal Midlands, attracting people from all walks of life in search of the adventure of a lifetime. Situated amidst the beauty and greenery of the majestic Karkloof Valley, the tour involves traversing from one wooden platform to another along a pair of steel cables (with a two ton breaking strain) suspended high above the forest floor.
Those in the industry refer to this traversing as ‘zip lining’ because this is exactly what takes place as participants ‘zip’ along the cables at speeds of up to 80km/h. The Karkloof Canopy Tour has its roots in the balmy rainforests of Costa Rica where adventurous biologists, eager to record the diversity of animal life found at the canopy level of the forests, devised a system of cables and platforms that enabled them to explore this previously inaccessible ecosystem.
This new development soon heralded the onset of a breathtaking eco-tourism activity that not only allowed people access to the upper realm of a rainforest, but raised awareness of the many challenges that these endangered ecosystems face. Certainly there couldn’t be a more appropriate venue for the tour than the picturesque Karkloof Valley –home to some of the most spectacular scenery KwaZulu-Natal has to offer.
After arriving at The Karkloof Canopy Tour office I made my way to the assembly area where I, along with the rest of my tour party, received a customary safety briefing followed by the compulsory signing of an indemnity form. After being kitted out with a variety of equipment, which included harnesses, helmets and a pair of thick safety gloves, we boarded a Landcruiser and were driven to the starting point of our adventure.
Having a natural, almost primal fear of heights, I knew that traversing between the various platforms was going to present a tough challenge. In fact, I already knew that going ‘solo’ was likely to be impossible and it was for that reason that I requested a ‘tandem’ adventure where I would be accompanied by a trained guide at all times.
There are seven platforms and eight ‘foefi’ slides in all and after arriving at the first platform, our guides explained some basic techniques of the trade. In a nutshell these techniques involve pulling down gently on the cable to slow down and lifting your legs as you approach a platform so as to ensure a safe landing.
The first cable was quite short (about 30m) and basically constituted a practice run. Entrusting all braking manoeuvres to my guide (a standard procedure for the tandem adventure) I took the plunge and was soon whizzing along the cable. After reaching the second platform without a hitch I began to relax a little although I was still quite nervous considering the challenges that lay ahead.
But this merely proved to be the calm before the storm when I realised the second slide was a 170m monster with the valley floor seemingly thousands of feet below. If I had been a little scared before embarking on this adventure I was now absolutely terrified. With or without a guide it was now clear that just completing the tour was going to be a monumental challenge.
Somehow I summoned the courage to proceed and soon both my guide and I were traversing what seemed to be the entire expanse of the valley. Within seconds we were approaching the third platform but then what I had been dreading the most happened, my guide braked too early leaving both of us suspended in mid air still metres short of the third platform.
Too shocked to do anything I remained as calm as possible while my guide wriggled past me and skilfully hoisted me (along with the help of a colleague) onto the platform. While I was assured that this manoeuvre was all in a day’s work for the guides, I was still gripped by fear as my trembling legs could attest to.
After a couple of deep breathes and a silent prayer I was ready to proceed with my ‘Tarzan and Jane’ adventure although by now I was seriously beginning to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. My fears proved to be unfounded though as I quickly grew accustomed to zipping along the cables, which is a tremendously exhilarating experience.
Soon we had come to the end of our adventure and while making the short walk back to the office I began to reflect on my experience. Billed as a ‘unique eco experience’ given the fact that guides are instructed to provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the adventure, the Karkloof Canopy Tour is actually tailored more for out and out thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies than nature lovers.
My reasoning for this is that there is hardly any time to appreciate the beauty of nature while tearing along a steel cable at 80km/h. Your adrenaline is pumping so much that all your senses are heightened to such an extent that it becomes impossible to concentrate on individual aspects of your surroundings.
Only once you have reached a platform and have had time to gather your breath is it possible to take in the beauty that surrounds you. However, there’s a constant feeling of being rushed as you mentally prepare yourself for the next ‘dash between the tree tops’ and our guides, as friendly as they were, did not really mention much about the area’s flora and fauna.
Back at the office we were treated to a light lunch of juice, sandwiches and salad which was included in the tour price of R450 per person. For R150 extra you can request a CD containing photos (taken by the guides) of the outing.
If it’s purely thrills that you’re after then The Karkloof Canopy Tour is most certainly worth the money given the guaranteed adrenaline rush, but if you are a quite and cautious sort or if you have a genuine fear of heights, then this adventure could prove to be rather daunting. It’s also quite taxing on the body (whether you choose the ‘tandem’ option or not) requiring a fairly strong core to lift heavy legs as you shoot between the tree tops.
While I certainly don’t regret embarking on this activity given the thrills I experienced, I’m not sure if I’d do it again. It’s an adventure that’s not for the faint hearted and although all precautions are taken to ensure the safety of participants, the signing of an indemnity form means that there must be an element of risk involved, however small.
Karkloof Canopy Tour Contact details:
Telephone: +27 (0)33 330 3415
Address: Karkloof Valley, Kwazulu-Natal Midlands