Skip back a few millennia and we were all arboreal primates. We’ll never know for sure what those ancestors of ours looked like. But in Tsitsikamma National Park, you can discover the primate within by swinging through the canopy – 30m up.
In fact, whizzing is a better word, for instead of bombing through the forest on the end of a vine, Tarzan-style, you’re strapped into a high-tech harness and sent careering along a steel cable that’s strung between two trees. But you can yodel as much as you want.
Each cable slide – there’s a circuit of eleven – leads to a timber platform high up in a mighty outeniqua forest. Here, as you catch your breath, a guide sorts out your karabiner clips, gives you a few nature notes and gets you ready for the next slide.
The platforms and slides may stir up childhood memories of monkeying around in tree houses, but in fact they’re state of the art. Cleverly engineered using tensile forces, leverage and rubber blocks instead of bolts to keep the trees as pristine as possible, the whole circuit is based on a system designed by ecologists working in the Costa Rican rainforest. They used their cables to collect specimens and data. Trust the adventure-mad South Africans to use theirs just for fun.
The longest and steepest slides are the best: with a good shove, you can hurtle along at up to 50km/h, hyped with excitement. But on the gentler ones, there’s more time to enjoy the scenery: the light and shade playing on the foliage above, the intricate forms of the giant ferns below, the passing birds and staring monkeys. Or you can just soak up the rich, unfamiliar smells – the musty whiff of decaying vegetation mixed with the damp freshness of new growth – and the heart-pounding sensation of exploring a new domain.
A Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is available via Stormsriver Adventures (www.stormsriver.com).