The Orlando cooling towers in Soweto

Soweto, the Adrenaline-Seekers’ Capital of South Africa

I was in a speeding car with three other people, careening toward the Orlando Towers — a decommissioned-power-station-turned-entertainment/adventure-center — in Soweto.

“I wonder if they’re going to make us bungee?” someone asked.

“There’s no way I’m doing that,” said Meruschka, as she wove in and out of traffic in our Volkswagen rental.

“Me neither,” said Jenna.

“I don’t want to do it,” said Paul.

I sat in the back seat, trying not to feel carsick, only half paying attention to the conversation. “I’ll do it,” I said, not really thinking I’d have to.

The Orlando cooling towers in SowetoThe Orlando cooling towers in May 2014. I didn’t have time to take proper photos during my most recent visit. (Read about the history of the Orlando Power Station.)

View from the top of Orlando TowersView from the top of the Orlando Towers in September 2015, when I took photos with a group of bloggers during the Soweto Wine Festival. (We didn’t jump that day.) The narrow walkway in the middle is the part that you bungee from.

Looking down from the Orlando TowersLooking down from the top of the tower, also shot in September 2015.

Meruschka had invited me and two other friends to participate in an Amazing-Race-type treasure hunt around Joburg called KnowJozi, sponsored by Bidvest Car Rental. There were eight teams of four people, each team armed with a Bidvest rental car and a series of clues to lead us around the city. None of us had any idea what we would be doing (in fact we didn’t even know who the sponsor was) until we arrived at the Soweto Theatre at 9:00 that morning.

I agreed to participate in KnowJozi because: 1) I hadn’t had the chance to hang out with Meruschka for a while; and 2) I’m always up for the challenge of proving that I know Jozi. I didn’t think there was any way that the people organizing the event would ask us to dive 100 meters off a giant cooling tower with no time to physically or emotionally prepare ourselves.

I was wrong.

When we arrived at the Orlando Towers, we found out that one member of each team must jump. (Well I guess we didn’t HAVE to jump. But we certainly didn’t want to look like wusses in the eyes of the other teams.)

I had already volunteered, so…I jumped.

Jumping off Soweto’s Orlando Towers

Unlike the last time I bungee-jumped, off the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa’s Western Cape, I didn’t have a go-pro and we weren’t allowed to take phones or cameras to the top of the tower with us. But my team did record a few video clips from below, and I put together an 18-second film. Enjoy.

I just bungeed.
Published on Instagram after my jump.

[On an unrelated note: The advertising rights to the Orlando Towers, previously owned by FNB bank, have been purchased by Vodacom. I assume that both towers will eventually be repainted, but right now one of the towers is only partially finished and the other hasn’t been started yet. So far, I think the new design is hideous — let’s hope it improves.]

After my bungee, we ran back to our car and spent the rest of the morning racing around town doing various things. I can’t remember much of it, as I was carsick and in a post-bungee daze. But it was fun.

I enjoy bungee-jumping. I never expected I would and it’s still not necessarily an experience that I would seek out if it weren’t presented to me. But I like that terrifying feeling of diving head first into thin air and then hanging there, suspended, looking at the world upside down. It’s strangely beautiful. Also, I thought that the Orlando bungee-jump might seem anti-climactic after the Bloukrans jump, which is the highest commercial bungee-jump in the world. But it wasn’t. Upside-down Soweto is every bit as beautiful as upside-down Bloukrans — just in a different way.

Heather bungee-jumping off OrlandoThat’s me.

Saturday’s experience got me thinking about how cool it is that Soweto, South Africa’s largest township, has become a haven for adrenaline junkies. In addition to bungee-jumping from the Orlando Towers, you can free-fall inside one of the towers (I found this idea terrifying, but my friend Adriaan did it this weekend during the Bidvest thing and said it wasn’t so bad), as well as abseiling, base-jumping, and paint-ball. Soweto Outdoor Adventures, also located on the grounds of the Orlando Towers, offers quad-biking tours, go-karting, camping, and various other adventurous activities.

Orlando Tower free-fallA look inside the tower where the free-falling takes place.

Then there are the bicycle tours offered by Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, which are not strictly adrenaline-inducing but still super-fun and — at the very least — a great workout.

MK marching in Soweto on the weekend of Nelson Mandela's deathOne of my favorite photos of all time, which I shot during a bicycle tour with Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers in December 2013.

I’ve said this before, but tourism in Soweto isn’t all about history and the legacy of apartheid. It’s also about food and culture and adventure and fun. The history brought me to Soweto in the first place, but the fun keeps me coming back.

Who knows…maybe I’ll bungee over Soweto again someday. I might even free-fall.

My Orlando Tower bungee-jump was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Sine August 15, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    You didn’t! I guess if you’ve done it once, you’ll d it again. Nothing, I mean NOTHING sounds as scary to me as bungee jumping. I shudder just reading this. My hat off to you! And I didn’t know the adrenaline junkie thing about Soweto, but you are right. There IS more to it than history.

    • Reply 2summers August 15, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      I’m actually also kind of confused about how I keep doing this.

  • Reply autumnashbough August 15, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    I can’t decide if you are cool or crazy.

    But your team owes you, for sure.

    • Reply 2summers August 16, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Hopefully I’m both.

  • Reply Jaina August 25, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Woohoo! Well done you for doing it. I’ve never bungee jumped, but would love to one day!

    And love the idea of bringing a different type of tourism to an area that’s traditionally seen as quite historical and political. Encourages different types of people to come check it out.

    • Reply 2summers August 26, 2016 at 10:14 am

      Thanks Jaina. It’s funny how many crazy things I try when I’m simply presented with the opportunity. Hope you’re doing well!

  • Reply WIN an adventure of a lifetime with Cadbury Dairy Milk! | Mzansi Girl October 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    […] haven’t done the Orlando bungee, but my friend Heather did, and you can read about it here. I did go up to the top of the towers though, and the view was epic! A cage lift takes you up 33 […]

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