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adventure

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.

Paragliding Over Reunion Island (With Video)

Sorry for the delay in my final #GoToReunion blog post. I can’t believe my Reunion Island trip was two months ago. (Where has the time gone?!)

I was delayed because it took me a while to figure out how to cobble together my shaky video footage from our Reunion paragliding adventure. Well, actually I never did figure it out. My lovely and talented friend Fiver came to the rescue and figured it out for me.

Before I show you the video, a few words about paragliding. I had never been paragliding before and didn’t really know what it was about. Perhaps there was a time when doing something like this would have made me nervous. But over the last couple of years I’ve bungeed off bridges and swung from stadiums and done all kinds of ridiculous things. I’m pretty much up for anything these days.

Basically, paragliding is attaching yourself to a sail-like parachute, running off the edge of a big hill, swooping around in the air for a while, then landing. Paragliding solo obviously requires a lot of training, but pretty much anyone can paraglide in tandem with an instructor with no training whatsoever. That is what I did.

Apparently Reunion Island is a particularly good place for paragliding because the climate and the wind patterns allow for it all year round. Also because Reunion Island is incredibly beautiful. But if you’ve read my other Reunion posts then you already know that.

Here are a few pictures.

Paragliding-takeoff-pointThe takeoff point.

Paragliding-NatNatalie prepares for takeoff.

Paragliding-shadowThe shadow of me and my instructor, Jean, just after we went airborne. I had to run a few steps before we took off, but hardly at all. I was strapped in quite comfortably in a sitting position in front of Jean, and he did all the steering. It was easy for me to hold my camera.

Paragliding-feetObligatory foot shot.

Paragliding-view2More of the view.

Paragliding-viewI think this is my favorite shot.

The whole experience lasted for about 30 minutes and I loved all of it, save for the last five minutes or so when I started to feel nauseous. If you’re prone to airsickness, I recommend taking an over-the-counter remedy like Sturgeron the night before paragliding. My landing was a bit clumsy, as you’ll see in the video, but not at all painful.

The airsickness and embarrassing landing were totally worth it. This is the closest to flying (as in actual flying, like a bird) that I’ve ever experienced. No motor, no walls or windows, and no terror. Just cool, rushing air and a beautiful view.

If you suffer from vertigo or a serious fear of heights, please don’t paraglide. My friend Dee decided to try it despite suffering these afflictions, and I think she wished afterward that she had just stayed on the ground. Read Dee’s funny post, which features my pre-paraglide interview with her.

And now for my video, courtesy of Fiver. The video includes my shaky paragliding footage and a few other highlights from the trip. Enjoy.

We paraglided with Parapente Reunion. Here’s the website. (Sorry, it’s in French.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Reunion Island blog post series. I’ve received a few questions about visiting Reunion over the last few weeks, so just to recap:

1) Reunion Island is a French “department”, meaning that it’s part of France. Reunion’s currency is the euro and the main language is French.

2) South Africans, Americans, and Europeans do not need a visa to visit Reunion.

3) Reunion is a four-hour flight from Johannesburg.

Go if you can. Reunion Island is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.

My trip to Reunion Island was courtesy of Reunion Island TourismAir Austral, and Destinate. Opinions expressed are my own.

That Day When I Flew Over an Erupting Volcano

I’ve just returned from a weeklong trip to Reunion Island with six other blogger/writer/photographers, as part of a camapign called #GoToReunion. We experienced so many amazing things during those seven days; by the end of the week I was already struggling to remember what we’d done at the beginning.

Yesterday I began the long, slow process of sifting through my pictures from Reunion, trying to wrangle them into some kind of order so I can edit them and put them into my blog. I started with our first major activity — a 40-minute helicopter tour of the island with Helilagon. As I scrolled through the pictures, the memory of that experience returned, and my jaw slowly dropped. If not for these photos I might have convinced myself that the Reunion helicopter ride was a dream. It was that surreal.

I haven’t yet sifted beyond my photos of the helicopter ride. I need to blog about it before the memory fades.

07-VolcanoDid I actually fly over a lava-spewing volcano on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Well yes, it appears I did.

I’ve been lucky enough to ride in a few helicopters in recent years (see here and here), even as recently as last month during the national Instameet. I confess that I’d become a bit blasé about it. Another exotic trip, another helicopter ride. Ho hum.

However, nothing could have prepared me for the Reunion Island helicopter ride. My previous helicopter trips were like tricycle rides in comparison.

Boarding-copterMy friends Carlinn and Mike (right), getting ready to board the chopper. Like me, they had no idea what they were in for.

The ride started out as I expected — we took off and skirted the ocean, with pretty views of the island’s western beaches and coastal towns. This was nice. But then we turned eastward, toward the island’s interior. The helicopter began to climb.

Did I mention that Reunion formed over a volcanic hotspot? The island is basically a big pile of volcanic rock bubbling above the surface of the ocean. The tallest peak on the island, Piton des Nieges, is a dormant volcano more than 3000 meters (9842 feet) tall. Piton des Neiges is surrounded by three massive calderas, or cirques — giant, lush-green craters surrounded by soaring waterfalls and dotted with quaint villages accessible only by foot.

On the other side of the island is Piton de la Fournaise, an active volcano that has erupted more than 100 times in the last 400 years. Piton de la Fournaise has been erupting on and off this whole year. It was in rare form during our visit last week.

I’m doing my best to describe Reunion’s geography, but I’m no geographer and it’s a useless endeavor anyway. People had told me all of this before, too, but I didn’t get it until that helicopter crested the edge of the cirque. Below there was nothing but green. Above was nothing but blue. Ahead was a rocky precipice, and beyond that, white clouds.  The pilot was speaking into my head phones but I couldn’t understand a word — his French accent was strong and the background noise was loud. The copter’s engine revved. Then we made a little hop, my stomach lurched, and we dropped over the precipice into the Cirque de Mafat. Everyone in the helicopter screamed, literally, with delight.

My photos serve no justice at all. Half the time I was too excited to take pictures and I struggled with reflections on the windows. But I’ll show you what I’ve got.

11-Inside-copterThis wasn’t the actual moment when we went over the precipice into the first cirque. But I think the photo communicates what that moment felt like.

02-WaterfallsEmerald green mountainsides, cliffs, magical waterfalls…the usual.

01-WaterfallsA cliffside covered in waterfalls.

03-WaterfallsI mean really, what the actual f*ck? I think I was screaming again at this point, in disbelief.

04-WaterfallsThis canyon, pictured here and in the photo above, is called the Trou de Fer, or Iron Hole. There are six waterfalls dumping water about 200 meters (600 feet) down. We took several flips through this canyon so everyone got a good view. 

08-ValleyI’m not sure where we were when I took this.

Then we flew across the island to the active volcano.

05-VolcanoNo, this is not the moon. It’s Reunion.

06-VolcanoI’m just going to leave this here.

I could barely breathe after the volcano. But there was more magnificence to come.

09-ValleyI think this is the same river valley that we walked through a few days later.

10-Tiny-townsTiny villages in the Cirque de Salazie. Look closely at the insanely curvy roads. Those roads made me car sick later in the week.

12-MountainsBlue and green for days.

12-CoastFinally, back to the western coast. Check out that turquoise coral reef.

And then we landed.

The Reunion Island helicopter ride ranks firmly in the top five most incredible experiences of my life, hands down. But this is only the beginning of my #GoToReunion story. Wait for it.

My trip to Reunion Island was courtesy of Reunion Island Tourism and Destinate. Opinions expressed are my own.

I’m Going to Reunion Island (!)

I’m a strong believer in limited exclamation point usage, which is why the above exclamation point appears in parentheses. (I underuse exclamation points but I overuse parentheses, as you can see from this sentence. Go figure. Every blogger has her own punctuation quirks.)

Anyway. I’m more excited about this upcoming trip than I have been about any other trip in a long time, so I couldn’t resist the exclamation-point-parentheses combo. I’m going to Reunion (!) and it’s freaking exciting.

Reunion Island, or Île de Réunion en français, is a tiny, volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, quite close to Mauritius. Although Reunion is close to mainland Africa (a four-hour flight from Joburg), the island is actually part of France. I have several friends who have been to Reunion, and I’ve yet to encounter anyone who hasn’t said it’s one of the most amazing places they’ve ever been.

Reunion Island has become a popular holiday destination for South Africans, as it’s a relatively short flight and South Africans no longer need a visa to go there. Hence, my upcoming trip. I’ll be going to Reunion for a week with six South African blogger/photographers — Natalie, AndyDaréll, Tony, Mike, and Carlinn — courtesy of Reunion Island Tourism and Air Austral, to show the world some of the best experiences that Reunion Island has to offer.

When I saw the itinerary for our trip, it blew my mind. We leave on Sunday and I cannot wait to get there.

I don’t want to give away too much about what we’ll be doing on Reunion. But my outfit in the photo below provides a hint.

Heather-Reunion_edited-1

You can’t see it very well but I put a real exclamation point on my sign, not even with parentheses around it. (Photo: Michelle Schenck)

You’ll be seeing a lot of Reunion blog posts after I get back, and maybe even during the trip if I get a free moment. But in the meantime, follow the hashtag #GoToReunion on Instagram and Twitter to see what we’re doing in real time. I think your mind will be blown too.

(PS: I’m going to Reunion!)

South Africa’s Wild, Wild Coast: Part 1

We round a bend and there it is: a metal gate with a sign for Dwesa/Cwebe Nature Reserve. Finally! I was starting to feel like we’d never make it. Now we’ll have just enough time to get to the beach before sunset.

The smartly dressed park ranger, a stout woman with curly hair and a wide smile, walks out to greet us. We exchange the usual pleasantries.

“We’ve booked a chalet in the nature reserve,” I tell her.

The ranger looks confused. “You’re not booked at the hotel?” she asks.

“No. A self-catering chalet.”

“Eish! You’ve come the wrong way.”

The ranger explains that this is the entrance to the Haven Hotel, which is inside the Dwesa/Cwebe reserve on the north side of the Mbhashe River mouth. The self-catering chalets, however, are on the south side of the river mouth. There is no bridge across the river mouth. To reach the chalets, we’ll have to backtrack and drive about 40 kilometers to the other side.

It takes my brain a while to absorb this news. We left Durban at 7:00 this morning and it’s now after 4:00. The sun is very low in the sky already — winter days are short in the Eastern Cape.

Mistake #1: Attempting to drive from Durban to Dwesa in one day.

Forty kilometers (about 24 miles) is an easy distance to cover under conventional circumstances. But this is the Wild Coast, in a region of the Eastern Cape formerly called the Transkei. The roads out here are not conventional. For the past two hours, we’ve been averaging 25 to 40 kilometers an hour on a rough, rutted dirt track.

Transkei scenery

The Wild Coast/Transkei. Beautiful, but it’s a bitch to navigate.

About an hour ago, we came to a fork in the road. Google Maps told us to turn left, but there was a sign for the Haven Hotel to the right. The left fork had no sign.

We’re going to Dwesa, we thought, and the Haven Hotel is in Dwesa. (Actually the Haven is in Cwebe, which adjoins Dwesa. But we didn’t know that at the time. It’s all very confusing.) So we went right at the fork. Google Maps continually nagged us to turn around, but we ignored it.

Mistake #2: Ignoring Google Maps.

So now we sit at the wrong gate with the friendly park ranger, considering our options: 1) We can check in at the Haven, if they happen to have a room. But we’ve already paid for our chalet and the Haven is more expensive. 2) We can backtrack and try to reach the other side of Dwesa, and our cozy chalet, before dark. Or as soon after dark as possible.

“If you leave now, you might get there by 6:00,” the ranger suggests. Option #2 it is.

Ray can see I’m not coping well. “Let me drive,” he says.

I climb out of the driver’s seat of our rented Nissan Qashqai SUV. It was a free upgrade from the Toyota Avanza that we originally reserved. Thank goodness — we could never have made it in a smaller vehicle.

Ray turns the car around and we head off again.

Mistake #3: Not staying at the Haven.

The late afternoon sun illuminates the walls of thatched, pastel-painted rondavels. Herds of livestock and domesticated geese saunter across the road. Gangs of teenage boys jog past, chanting and holding up long painted sticks. There must be an initiation ritual tonight.

I love places like this. But there’s no time to get out and take photos, no time to talk to the locals and find out what life is like here. We need to get where we’re going, as quickly and safely as possible.

Dwesa geese

I actually took this photo on a different day. But it’s similar to what we saw that afternoon. Except the road pictured here is much, much better than the one we drove that evening on the way to Dwesa.

We follow the GPS over endless hills, through countless valleys. Ray drives slowly, carefully, avoiding deep chasms and big rocks. Ray is very patient.

The sun disappears behind the mountains, and we begin to climb in earnest. We find ourselves on a steep, narrow mountain pass with no guard rail. “I’m not going to look,” Ray says, referring to the gaping drop-off to my left. We descend, skittering on the sparse gravel, then climb again, hugging the side of the mountain.

Twenty-five kilometers to Dwesa, according to the GPS. The light is fading fast.

We later learn that we could have avoided this entire harrowing experience if we’d taken a different, slightly longer route from Mthatha, via the towns of iDutya and Willowvale. But Google Maps doesn’t seem to know the difference between good roads and bad roads. The non-harrowing option was never suggested to us.

Mistake #4: Following Google Maps. (Yes, Mistake #4 contradicts Mistake #2. Because Transkei.)

Suddenly, a loud clunk. A sharp rock that Ray didn’t see. The car becomes harder to control. Ray pulls over and gets out.

“There’s a flat,” Ray says.

A walnut-sized puncture in the left-front tire. Inevitable, I suppose.

I’ve survived 25 years of driving life without ever changing a tire. Until now. Fortunately Ray knows what to do.

We empty our luggage from the trunk and pile it on the side of the road. Haul out the full-size spare tire and the jack. Set up the emergency reflector. I struggle to raise the jack, balanced awkwardly on the rocky, dusty road, while Ray labors to loosen the lug nuts. We’re each stabbed repeatedly by a thorn bush, which is pressing against the side of the car.

A vehicle approaches — a single man in a bakkie (small pickup truck). I wave and the man waves back. But doesn’t stop.

Jack is raised, flat tire is off. We can’t get the spare tire on though. The jack isn’t quite high enough. Ray digs out the space under the wheel and I try to raise the jack higher, twisting the small, awkward wrench.

Ray nearly has the new tire on. “We need some light,” he pants, sitting back on his heels. I look inside the car and see my iPhone in the cup holder. Without a thought, I pull open the door.

Mistake #5: Opening the passenger side car door while changing the passenger side tire.

A loud bang as the car door explodes into my face. Ray reels back, stunned. “Oh my god, are you okay?” I’m crying, afraid Ray is hurt. But he looks fine. Luckily he wasn’t under the car when it fell. The jack has collapsed and the car tilts awkwardly. My face hurts.

I put my hand to my face and feel swelling above my eye. “I hurt myself, ” I moan. Ray is hugging me. “You’re bleeding,” he says. He strips off his t-shirt and holds it tightly to my face. I sob, the sound echoing across the valley. Far below, the young male initiates are still chanting.

What the fuck are we going to do now?

“It’s okay,” Ray soothes. “We’re okay. I’ll call the Haven.” He gently puts my hand on his t-shirt, which is still against my head. “Hold that there.”

Ray is on the phone, calling the Haven. (Cell phone signal is surprisingly strong around here.) “My girlfriend might have a concussion,” I hear him say. While he’s speaking to the Haven staff (who are nice but ultimately unhelpful), another bakkie approaches. This one stops.

We’re saved by an angel named Luwazi and Luwazi’s friend, whose name I never learn. Luwazi has a sister in Joburg and he used to stay with her in Northcliff. He and his friend are expert tire-changers (duh, they live in the Transkei). We’re ready to go in under 15 minutes.

I’m feeling so much love for Luwazi and his friend. They have truly saved our asses. I hand them R300 ($25). “I wish we could give you more,” I say, and I mean it. But from the size of their smiles, I can see that R300 goes a long way in the Transkei. We follow them until the next turnoff to Dwesa.

It’s pitch dark. Ray is shirtless, driving under 20km per hour with the high-beams on, dodging pedestrians, cows, and holes in the road. I’m still holding the t-shirt to my head but I’m not bleeding much. I can tell I’m okay.

I look at my phone: it’s just after 6:00. It feels like midnight.

We reach the Dwesa gate between 7:00 and 7:30, after navigating an endless maze of twists and turns. It’s been 12 hours since we left Durban. There’s an elderly man standing just outside the gate, his bakkie stuck in the mud. We stop next to him.

“Are you okay?” Ray asks.

“Oh, yeeeees. Someone is coming for me.” The man has a beautiful face. “Where are you going?” he asks.

We point to the sign for the nature reserve. “Ohhhh, it’s very nice there,” the man says. “The road is bad out here but once you’re in the forest, it’s good.”

We wave goodbye to the kind old man and approach the park entrance. There is a gatehouse, curiously dark and abandoned, but no gate. We drive through, into another world.

The journey isn’t over yet.

Read Part 2.
Read Part 3.

Herding_edited

How (Not) to Jump Off a Stadium

The Commonwealth Games, an Olympics-like sporting competition involving athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations, are headed to Durban in 2022. The 2022 host city won’t be officially announced until September 2015, but it turns out that Durban is the only bidder. (Edmonton, Canada, initially submitted a bid but later withdrew it.) So…yay! It’s not 100% confirmed but the Commonwealth Games are most likely coming to Africa for the first time ever.

(Incidentally, the Olympics have also never been held on African soil. WTF? This needs to change.)

Last weekend I was invited to Durban, along with a few other journalists/bloggers/instagrammers, to do fun things in the city and create some hype for the Commonwealth Games bid. Mainly we hung around Moses Mabhida Stadium, built for the 2010 World Cup and one of the most beautiful stadiums in South Africa.

Mabhida roof

Looking up at the roof of Moses Mabhida Stadium. See that narrow walkway going across, near the top of the frame? Store that away for later.

Our morning started with breakfast on the Durban Beachfront, which is one of my favorite places to hang out in Durban. I drank a smoothie and watched the cyclists roll past, soaking in the sun.

Biking Durban waterfront

Durban beachfront Instagram.

We made our way over to Moses Mabhida and watched some kids run on a track outside the main stadium.

Runners

Future 2022 competitors? Perhaps.

Dane and Roy

Future 2022 competitors? Definitely not. (Thanks for the amazing photo-op, @dane_forman and @roywrench.)

We took a private tour of the stadium, which was awesome.

Roy in stadium

There’s nothing like walking across the pristine green field in a huge, empty sports stadium. Look closely: See the rope hanging down in the middle of the arch? Store that for later.

Stadium seats

Beautiful ocean-themed seats in Moses Mabhida Stadium.

After lunch we gathered in the headquarters of Big Rush Urban Adrenaline to prepare for “The Big Swing”. The Big Swing departs from that tiny walkway across the top of the stadium that I pointed out earlier. The Swing is kind of like a bungee jump, except you’re strapped to the rope from your torso rather than your feet. Jumpers experience a 60-meter (200-foot) free-fall and a 220-meter (720-foot) arc through the air above the field, before being hauled back up to the platform.

It’s kind of like a bungee jump. But not. Store that away for later.

Anyway, we went to Big Rush and those of us brave enough to jump got kitted out in our harnesses.

Big Rush office

Here I am with some other jumpers. I was too busy smiling for the cameras and didn’t listen carefully to the briefing. (Photo: Big Rush Adrenaline guy whose name I didn’t get.)

Most of the jumpers opt to climb up the arch to the Big Swing platform, using a steep stairway. But my group opted to ride to the top on the stadium SkyCar and enjoy the viewing platform before our jump.

Stadium viewing platform

A family enjoys the view from the top of Moses Mabhida. Read more about the SkyCar and viewing platform.

From the viewing platform, it’s a short walk down to the jumping platform. We inched our way down, with a strap attached to a cable on the walkway (just in case).

Babalwa on stadium

Babalwa, one of the journalists in our group, looking a bit nervous about her impending jump. How great is that view?

We walked slowly down to the platform where the swing takes place. We had to wait for quite a while for the other jumpers to finish. One by one, they climbed down a steel ladder onto the platform. We could hear people screaming as they jumped but couldn’t really see over the ledge to the platform. So we settled on the steps and waited.

Waiting to jump

My colleagues, waiting to jump. I love the expression on Peter’s face (bottom left). I think he was the most scared.

Finally, it was our turn. Babalwa went first, quietly. Then me.

Heather before jump

Saying my final goodbye. (Photo: Dane Forman)

I bungee-jumped last year, off the Bloukrans Bridge in the Western Cape. The Bloukrans jump is the highest commercial bungee jump in the world, about three times higher than the Big Swing. So I figured this jump would be easy. Ha! I frequently underestimate my capacity for fear in situations like this.

Heather about to jump

Note how tightly I’m clutching that rail behind me. (Photo: Dane Forman)

And now, the jump. Remember how I said the swing is kind of like a bungee, but not? Remember how I said I didn’t pay close attention during the briefing?

When bungee-jumping you’re supposed to dive outward from the platform, so the rope attached to your feet (and the backup rope attached to your back) won’t hit you in the face. I was so good at that last year. I swan-dived out from that incredibly high platform and bungeed like a mo-fo. Here’s video footage to prove it.

For the Big Swing, I was advised to jump straight out, body upright and feet pointed down, so I wouldn’t get entangled in the rope attached to my chest. I didn’t listen though. So instead of jumping outward with my feet down, I tried to swan-dive like before.

Heather jumping

I don’t have any GoPro footage this time. But you can see from the way I’m jumping (diving) and the position of the rope that I’m not doing it right. (Photo: Dane Forman)

The jump still went fine, but I wound up getting rope-burn and an ugly bruise on my arm. That’s what I get for disregarding instructions. But it was all in the name of promoting the Commonwealth Games, and the jump was totally worth it. Hanging in the air, surrounded by silence, and looking out over the Indian Ocean as I was hoisted back up to the platform was the best part of the experience.

Heather after jump

Finished. (Photo: Roy Potterill)

For your information, here’s what a proper Big Swing jump should look like:

Roy jumping

My friend Roy swung like a mo-fo: Arms akimbo (you can also hold onto the rope), feet pointed down. Watch a video of proper Big Swing form here.

Anyway, we all jumped, we all survived, and it was awesome. Then we walked down.

Walking down stadium

Following Babalwa down the archway.

I love the fact that Moses Mabhida Stadium has become a proper tourist attraction in addition to a sporting venue. I can’t wait to watch the Commonwealth Games there in 2022. Maybe I’ll go back to watch the games in person and do the Big Swing again. Feet first.

My trip was provided courtesy of Durban 2022. All opinions expressed are my own.

I Jumped Off a Bridge. Here’s the Video.

I’ve already mentioned my birthday bungee jump a couple of times (see posts here and here), but it’s taken me more than a month to edit the video footage from the GoPro camera I wore during the jump. I’m finally ready to tell the story.

Bloukrans Bridge

I jumped from the Bloukrans River Bridge, on the border of South Africa’s Eastern Cape and the Western Cape provinces. Bloukrans is a bit more than an hour’s drive from Knysna, where I stayed during the Knysna Oyster Festival. The bridge is 216 meters (709 feet) high. I can’t believe I jumped from that seemingly tiny space at the top of the arch. 

The Bloukrans River bungee jump is run by Face Adrenelin and is the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. There are higher places in the world to bungee-jump (see list here) but apparently the other places aren’t commercial, whatever that means.

At any rate, I don’t see myself doing any non-commercial bungees so I’m pretty sure this is the highest bridge I’ll ever jump off of.

I didn’t have much time to psychologically prepare for the jump, which was a good thing. I mentioned off-hand that I might like to do it and somehow, a little more than 12 hours later, I found myself in the car on the way to Bloukrans. I had never bungee-jumped before, nor had I even seriously considered it.

Pre-jump selfie

Pre-jump phone selfie.

Here’s how it works: You arrive, sign a few forms, pay, and then step on a scale. The Face Adrenelin guy writes your weight on a your hand (!), and you walk to a small pavilion to get outfitted with a complicated set of straps and harnesses. Then you troop down to the bridge with a group of 10 or 12 jumpers (along with friends and family who want to watch but not jump) and walk out to the platform.

Bloukrans walkway

Walkway to the platform.

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Instagram I shot on the way to the platform.

View from bridge

View from the bridge.

I don’t remember much about what happened once we reached the platform. I guess I was too nervous to notice anything.

I was the third person in my group to jump.

Mark jumping

This is my friend Mark jumping. In reality he jumped after me. But I’m trying to build suspense.

I think my video tells the rest of the story.

Before you watch the video, here are a few tips/observations:

1) If you’re wearing a scarf, remove it before bungee-jumping. This may seem like an obvious tip but you’d be surprised how many obvious things one neglects to consider before diving off a very high bridge.

2) Your feet are strapped together before you jump and this is rather uncomfortable.

3) Jumping off a bridge is hard. (Again: Obvious.) As I stood on that ledge, every cell in my body begged me not to jump and I had to willfully disobey all 37 trillion of those cells. The moment after I jumped was the purest moment of sheer terror that I have ever felt. It was also curiously awesome.

4) I nearly cried for joy when a guy appeared out of thin air to haul me up to the bridge after my jump. That’s because for the final 20 seconds that I was hanging there, I felt certain that my feet would slip out of their straps and I would plunge 50 meters into the river. Apparently it’s common to feel this way even though there is virtually no chance of it happening. And afterward someone reminded me that I had another strap around my shoulders as a backup. If I ever do this again I’m going to comfort myself with these reminders during the jump.

5) My video editing is extremely poor but I personally think the amateurish quality enhances the video’s effectiveness.

Here it is:

2Summers Bloukrans Bungee Jump from Heather Mason on Vimeo.

Despite the sheer terror, I really loved this. Maybe I’ll do it again when I turn 80.

Things I Was Wrong About: Oysters, and the Highest Bungee Jump in the World

I’m in Knysna this week, as a guest of the Knysna Oyster Festival. When I originally got this invitation a few months ago, I accepted because I’d heard Knysna is lovely and I knew it would be a great place to spend my birthday.

I didn’t plan to eat many oysters though. I used to think I didn’t like oysters, but it turns out I was wrong about that.

eating oyster

My first oyster of the week, from Quay Four Restaurant in Knysna. I learned that I actually love oysters once they’ve been doused with lemon juice and Tabasco. (Photo: Theresa Lozier)

I also used to think that I would never go bungee-jumping in a million years. I was wrong about that too.

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These images are from a GoPro camera — courtesy of my new Instagram buddy @scrumpyjackson — that was strapped to my head during the jump. There is video footage too, which I cannot wait to share but it will take me a while to get it edited and ready for prime-time. I’ll do a full-on post about the jump in a few weeks.

I went bungee jumping on my 40th birthday, which was yesterday. In fact I leapt from the highest bungee jump in the world, on the Bloukrans Bridge about an hour north of Knysna. The bridge is 216 meters high (that’s more than 700 feet) and my jump was somewhere between 160 and 180 meters. This was the most terrifying and amazing thing I’ve ever done. I would totally do it again.

The bungee jump was the highlight of my trip so far. (In fact it was one of the highlights of my 40-year-old life.) But I’ve done many other fun things in Knysna already and there is a lot more to come. My time and my internet connectivity are seriously limited though, and my computer battery is about to die. So this will have to do for now.

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Here’s to 40 more years of doing things that I used to think I would never do.

I’m off to scarf some more oysters.

Zip-lining Through the Magaliesberg on an Autumn Easter Weekend

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.

Autumn at Modderfontein

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 Magaliesberg Mountains.

Nina zip-lining start

My friend Nina zips through the Magaliesberg.

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 Magaliesberg Mountains where you can go zip-lining, but we did the Magaliesberg 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 Magaliesberg is more like a collection of medium-sized hills. I learned this weekend that the Magaliesberg 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.

Zipline prep

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.

Zip-liners in bakkie

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).

Tiny Nina

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 ziplining

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 Magaliesberg 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.

Heather ziplining

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.