africa · travel

Hanging Out with Abseil Africa

Because when you’re crazy enough to chase after adventure, you’ll get it.

Now this is a nice place to hang out...

It was the first time we met rain clouds in Africa that morning. It was drizzling all the way as we walked from our hostel to Abseil Africa‘s office in Longstreet. Not long after we parked our drenched butts onto their couch, the group started to discuss the Plan B in case we can’t push through due to the weather.

I was holding my breath, a bit on the fence on this one. Unbeknownst to the others, I was secretly wishing that the trip would be postponed, because I forgot to pack proper running shoes into my knapsack, and I didn’t want to be known as the ditzy girl who failed to prepare and slowed everyone down with her flip-flops.

“Okay guys, we’re going!”, our guide announced, making everyone’s faces light up. That’s not to say that Abseil Africa weren’t concerned at all about safety; quite the contrary, actually. Our guides were in a long, serious discussion with management about the day’s weather forecasts, and after a few more checks, they were reassured that the clouds are going to clear out once we get to the gorge by Steenbras River.

There's no way around the pun --- this gorge is gorgeous.
Pardon me, but there’s no way around the pun — this gorge is gorgeous.

After about a 2-hour drive, we arrived at the Sunbird Guest Lodge, our jump-off point for the hike. Breakfast came along with Abseil Africa’s package; the pastries and fruits were delish, and the coffee was divine. What won my heart about the lodge was the handsome Siberian Husky who strutted around the table as we ate. Oddly, he would ignore all the treats on your plate, but would snatch off and eat the table napkins from your hand if you weren’t watching.

They were right about the weather — the sky was miraculously a perfect blue over Steenbras. Once we had our fill, our guide gave us a few more tips about the hike, and then we set off from the lodge, crossed a bridge and got onto the gorge’s trail. It was hard to keep my concentration on where I was stepping; the views along the trek were magnificent. Giant rocks streaked with yellow and orange surrounded you, jutting off from the ground diagonally, making you think you were walking lopsided at a strange angle. Patches of green were everywhere, from bushes at your feet to those bursting out from the gorge’s rock face.

Rock pools at Steenbras gorge

After around half an hour, we finally reached our first stop — the much-inviting rock pools. With not a soul in sight, it looked like your personal overgrown spa. Of course, Abseil Africa promised an adrenaline-filled adventure, and it was here where we were to go kloofing (basically, hurling yourself off a cliff into the water). With how fast everyone ditched their clothes for their swimsuits, you could tell all of us were psyched to do the jumps.

Everyone had a go at the 7-meter dive. It was fun to watch those who jumped without hesitation, those who have obviously done this before, and those who have waited their whole lives to do this. We all cheered on the guys who hesitated a bit on the top, and applauded wildly once they literally took their leap of faith onto the absolutely-refreshing water. The 7-meter dive was a warm-up; the guides rounded up the brave and led them onto the 14-meter, 18-meter, and 22-*freaking high*-meter jumps. Suffice to say, our rowdy cheers boomed all around the gorge for each diver.

If you're going to hurl yourself off a cliff, this would be a really gorgeous place to do it.
If you squint a bit, you can probably see the diver on the left assessing his would-be leap-of-faith.

If there were any hesitation on the cliff jumps, then we clearly had to get over that on our next stop — a 65-meter abseil down the Thunder Falls. Yes, it really is as amazing as it sounds. They had us fitted with helmets and harnesses, before we clambered over the narrow bluff on top of the waterfalls to wait for our turn. As I felt for natural grips on the rocks and looked at the sharp drops right next to my feet, I paused for a moment to question what I did for fun. The trails we took were not walks in the park; lose your common sense for a minute and you could be looking at a life-changing injury. Was it really worth flirting with danger, all just for a surge of adrenaline?

And I'm off!

Okay, time to squint a bit again --- that's me hanging somewhere in the middle of a 65-meter abseil.
Okay, time to squint a bit again — that’s me hanging somewhere in the middle of a 65-meter abseil.

The answer is a resounding YES.

There were a few jokes about the rope being strangely flaky, as I left the security of my seat at the jump-off point and maneuvered myself down onto the rock face. From their expressions of sheer expression, though, I could tell that our guides were no-nonsense about safety protocols. They were even more focused on this than me!

As I lowered myself down the wall of rock, I caught a glimpse of the waterfall whooshing past in a merry song right to my side, and I heard a gasp and a squeal of delight escaping from me at the same time. Everything seemed to go on slow-motion, and I was agape at how magnificent the waterfall looked close-up from that angle. All I wanted to do was steer my way closer for a surreal shower. I think I wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking nature would be on that instance, and I would have readily spent all day dangling there, several meters off the ground, if only we didn’t have to pack up before nightfall.

Indeed, life is such that everyone can’t be a daredevil all the time, but it’s in these snatches of seeming insanity that we feel alive, that we remember and appreciate what real beauty is like. It’s hard to describe, but I feel like it’s in these moments that my brain gets magically uncluttered, and I’m free to zone in on everything that is and will be important to me in the end. Call me a sentimental hippie, but for me, it’s like Nature’s magic ‘reset’ button, to remind me how I’ve seen nothing yet, and how much more lies in wait to wow me.

As if we weren't wowed by Mother Nature all day, a dazzling sunset bids us goodbye as we make our way back to Sunbird Lodge from the gorge.
As if we weren’t blown away by Mother Nature all day, a dazzling sunset bids us goodbye as we make our way back to Sunbird Lodge from the gorge.

If you want to feel the same rush, check out Abseil Africa’s Kamikaze Kanyon trip — the ZAR 895 tag price comes with transportation to and fro Longstreet, three meals and a day’s worth of abseiling, hiking and cliff-jumping. Life realizations come for free.

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