Living On The Edge: A South African Adventure
From bungee jumps to cage diving, Heather Richardson experiences South Africa’s white-knuckle adrenaline rushes on a coastal road trip.
Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. Find her on Twitter: @HG_Richardson.
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One of the many terrifying things about bungee jumping is how you are attached to the bungee. I watched suspiciously as a single strap was wrapped once around and then in between my padded ankle braces and clipped to the bungee cord.
Although there was also a safety rope hooked onto my harness, I couldn’t help thinking there should be a more intricate system for securing me to an elastic cord before I was hurled off a bridge 216 metres above the ground. But it was too late for cold feet. Two men took me by the elbows and ‘hopped’ me onto the platform above Bloukrans River, just a tiny sliver of water far below.
I found myself perched underneath Bloukrans Bridge about to complete the world’s highest bridge bungee jump as part of an extreme road trip from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth – a stretch known as the Garden Route – ticking off South Africa’s adrenaline rushes along the way.
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Table Mountain: The Scenic Route
We flew into Cape Town and, barely pausing for breath, caught the cable car straight up Table Mountain to face our first challenge. Most people take the cable car or hike up the mountain, admire the views of the ocean, the city bowl and the surrounding mountains, before heading back down via the same route. Not us. That would be far too simple.
We were here to abseil down Table Mountain: the world’s highest commercial abseil, at 1,000 metres above sea level. As my harness was secured, I was assured that nothing could go wrong. ‘You’ve got double the amount of safety ropes required,’ said the instructor, as I stood on the edge of the drop, my back to the view.
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‘Lean back,’ he commanded, as though this was a completely natural thing to do when stood on a cliff edge. Ignoring my body’s resistance, I cautiously shifted myself backwards over the void and smiled manically for the camera. Then, lowering my butt further over the edge, I took a tiny, tiny step back and down, so my feet were flat on the rock face. And one more. And another step, clinging on to the rope, which I fed through my gloved hands. I made my way slowly down, attempting to bounce confidently like the pros, but only succeeding in sliding inelegantly down the cliff face.
Twisting round, I took in the view. Cape Town is a gloriously beautiful city, spread out at the base of rugged mountains at the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. But I didn’t have much time to enjoy it on this occasion.
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Sharks and Shivers
Over the following week, we zip-lined through mountains, quad biked through vineyards and went canyoning down a river in pursuit of bigger and better challenges. South Africa is not short on ways to raise the pulse, and we never had to drive far before we found ourselves at the next stop.
‘Shark!’ went the call from the boat behind me and we all took a lungful of air and disappeared underwater.
In Gainsbaai, we forewent the usual height and speed factors for something considerably more chilling. Even in two wetsuits, I was still shuddering with cold as the frigid ocean lapped against my neck. ‘Shark!’ went the call from the boat behind me and we all took a lungful of air and disappeared underwater.
The great white shark emerged grandly from the murky water, gliding past us, one cold white eye checking us out, no doubt wondering what on earth these humans disguised as seals were doing in a cage submerged in freezing water. Due to the visibility, I found that actually the best views of the shark were from the deck of the boat, which had the added benefit of not being flesh-numbingly cold.
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Back on dry land, we drove further down the coast to tackle the longest sandboarding ride in the country on ‘Dragon Dune’. The snowboarders in our group didn’t take long to wax up their boards to build up speed on the practice dune, while the rest of us worked out whether we were regular or goofy. Then, putting our best foot forward, we slid down the sand dune, arms thrown out wide for balance. Sand is much slower than snow, so staying upright when moving wasn’t too tricky – until the bottom, which is where I inevitably ended up on my backside.
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Moving on to the Dragon, we opted for bodyboards instead of sandboarding, hurling ourselves down the dune, sand flying everywhere as we sped face-first down the slope. We arrived at our refined, sophisticated hotel later that evening with a desert-worth of sand in our jeans, trainers, hair and ears.
The climax of the trip was, of course, the bungee jump. As I stood there, determinedly staring straight ahead, my legs bound to the bridge by a single strap, I tried not to think about what lay beneath me – or rather, the lack of what lay beneath me.
Far too soon, it was time. ‘Three, two, one,’ the guys chanted, gripping my outspread arms. I took a breath. ‘BUNGEEEE!’
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I jumped. Or more accurately, I fell. As I plummeted down, screaming all the way, I didn’t feel the kick of the bungee cord as it pinged me back up into the air, loosened and dropped me again. After the initial rush of the free fall and the surge of adrenaline, the experience felt quite serene. Breathless and grinning like an idiot, I looked around as I rose and fell, swinging upside-down over the tree-covered valley, before I gradually came to a stop.
Suddenly, a man appeared next to me. ‘Hello’, he said, helping me sit up and attaching me to his harness in which he had whizzed down from the bridge above. ‘How was that?’
‘Amazing!’ I replied, a little hysterically.
A while later, as I enjoyed a well-deserved beer, fear forgotten, I looked out at the bridge and realised that I couldn’t really remember how the free fall had felt, such was the intensity of the moment. Oh well, I thought. I’ll just need to come back and do it all again.