Nearly four years after my move from America to South Africa, I’m still disturbed by holiday season-inversion. Celebrating Christmas in summer is surreal, and I will never adjust to my July birthday — which used to be a summer rite of passage — now falling in the middle of winter.
However, Easter in autumn (or fall, as we Americans call it) is a holiday season-inversion that I actually enjoy. Autumn isn’t so different from spring, after all, and somehow this holiday lends itself well to the end of summer. Easter is also a bigger deal in South Africa than it is in the United States. Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays so everyone gets a four-day weekend.
Fall colors are more muted here than they are on the East Coast of the U.S., but still beautiful. I shot this during a weekend Instagram gathering at Modderfontein Dam on Joburg’s East Rand.
I did quite a few cool things over this Easter weekend, including a great Instawalk (see photo above) and lunch at a delicious Turkish restaurant in Mayfair. (You’ll have to wait a bit for that post.) But my most notable Easter weekend activity was a zip-lining adventure in the Magaliesburg Mountains.
My friend Nina zips through the Magaliesburg.
Ziplining is one of those activities that I would never think to do myself. But my friend Nina organized the outing and I followed along. It turned out to be a great daytrip — something different from the more popular Joburg daytrip activities like visiting an animal park or touring the Cradle of Humankind.
There are a couple of different places around the Magaliesburg Mountains where you can go zip-lining, but we did the Magaliesburg Canopy Tour at Sparkling Waters Hotel & Spa. Sparkling Waters is about 90 minutes from downtown Joburg, west of the Hartebeespoort Dam. (While technically a mountain range, the Magaliesburg is more like a collection of medium-sized hills. I learned this weekend that the Magaliesburg is the second-oldest mountain range in the world, which explains why the mountains aren’t very big.)
We arrived at Sparkling Waters at 9:45 a.m. We were promptly greeted and briefed on our upcoming adventure. Within 20 minutes, I was decked out in zip-lining gear and ready to go.
Zip-lining gear is not super-attractive. (Photo: Nina Neubauer)
There were eight people in our group. Our friendly and hilarious guides, Thabiso and Lenah, loaded us into the back of a bakkie (pickup truck) and off we went into the bush. We disembarked on the edge of a gorge called Ysterhout Kloof.
Our group is on the right. We were paired up with a friendly family of four. (Photo: Thabiso, our friendly and hilarious guide.)
I vaguely remember zip-lining once before as a kid, on a school camping trip somewhere in the Appalachians. I imagined this experience would be much the same but it was actually nothing like I remembered. Rather than zipping down one long, straight line, as I remembered doing before, we crisscrossed back and forth over the gorge on lines of varying lengths and heights. The shortest “zip” was about three-to-five seconds (about 50 meters) and the longest was maybe eight or nine seconds (140 meters).
Nina wins the prize for most stylish and graceful zip-liner: She occasionally went no-hands (not sure that’s really allowed but she looked good doing it) and yelled “Geronimo!” as she zipped. Unfortunately I never got a good shot of her from the front. (I took pictures with my phone. Thabiso said I could bring my camera but I decided it would be too cumbersome.)
Jen approaches the end of a run. The scariest part is right at the end, before you reach the platform. Lenah clearly delighted in terrifying us by pulling the brakes at the very last second. Don’t worry though — it’s 100% safe.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this experience. It’s called a “canopy tour”, but I had never thought of the Magaliesburg as forest-like so I wasn’t sure what that meant. I feared the scenery might be a bit boring. But sailing over the gorge, with sandstone cliffs above and thick vegetation below, was beautiful and quite exhilarating. The longest line, at 140-meters, really allowed me to enjoy the view and the feel of almost-flying.
Nina also wins the prize for best photo of the day, taken with her tiny point-and-shoot. (By “best”, I obviously do not mean “most flattering”.)
I think zip-lining is the perfect compromise for someone looking for an outdoor adventure but not quite up for bunjee-jumping, skydiving, or other such death-defying activities. Incidentally, this was a good warm-up for me because there is some possible bunjee-jumping and sky-diving in my future. Wait for it.
Our zip-lining experience cost R495 (just under $50) per person, including a light lunch. The outing lasted about two hours. Visit magaliescanopytour.co.za for details.