How often do you get the opportunity to zip at breakneck speeds through a beautiful forest? And to make it even more enticing, this forest just happens to be one of the larger mist belt forests in South Africa, boasting a huge number of endemic species of fauna and flora! Words & pics by Rowan Buhrmann
This magnificent forest is located within the Karkloof Nature Reserve just outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal. And thanks to the team at Canopy Tour SA, we are able to experience what most of us would have left up to the resident Samango monkeys. Thankfully, the Karkloof Canopy Tour has proudly been introducing us land-lovers to the ways of the forest dwelling, branch-swinging Samango monkeys since 2003.
This wasn’t my first experience of the Karkloof Canopy Tour, as I had previously done this tour with my family five years ago. Being a young, adventure seeking teen, my first visit was all about speeding through the trees and having my breath taken away by the sheer height above the canopy. However, having grown up (slightly), this second trip into the treetops meant so much more.
We started our safety briefing at about 11:30ish on what was a gloriously sunny day in Howick. I remember sitting down in the wood cabin wondering if we would be back before lunch because I was already starting to feel hungry. But that was pretty much the last time my stomach featured! After the safety briefing, we immediately made our way down to a waiting 4×4 which took us on a scenic trip up into the forest above.
The trip up into the forest gave us time to chat with our guides, with Robs (one of our guides) informing us that this was his first time and he was still in training… This prompted a couple of nervous laughs as we were trying to determine if he was being serious or not. Thankfully not though! He had actually been involved in the canopy tours since its inception way back, making us all feel that much more at ease. This is the strategy in all the Canopy Tour operations – they employ local guides and train them in all things from ecology to safety.
Upon arrival in the forest, we leapt off the 4×4 and with much (nervous) anticipation, began the short walk deeper into the Karkloof forest. Amazingly the first platform, aptly named the ‘Rabbit hole’, wasn’t even visible from the path below. This trend has been meticulously followed through on all platforms, with the forest trees taking first priority (after our safety of course!). The guides gave us a great demonstration about how to handle the slides and how we wouldn’t go tumbling down into the canopy below thanks to the strong safety line!
The rabbit hole was a great introductory slide for those of us who were a bit nervous, as it wasn’t too fast or too long. The next slide, called ‘Last Chance’, was a different story! Before setting off along this slide, our guides asked if any of us were chickening out, because from here on out, there was no turning back… Thankfully no one decided to take the walk back, as Last Chance was a blast! At 150m long, it took us across a valley in the forest which seemed to drop a 100m’s below. With views across the valley in the direction of Howick to our right, and the dense forest below and to our left, we were now well and truly ‘swallowed up’ by this dark green living mass called the Karkloof forest.
There was something magical the second time around. Knowing what to expect with each slide, I had more time to actually take in everything around us. It was at the third platform that I was really taken aback by everything… Perched on the edge of a cliff, with the platform seemingly just hanging off the rock face, I felt like I was part of the forest, like one of the many ferns making these rocks their home. What a privilege it is being able to get this close to some of the wonders of the Karkloof forest.
The guides were super clued up too – informing us about the amazing (and OLD) yellowwood and stinkwood trees that the canopy tour was built around. We even had the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of them! At about the halfway point, we enjoyed a snack break high up at the start of the somewhat ironically named slide, ‘shorty’. But I will leave you with this, and say no more about the slides, as you really do need to try this out.
‘ This the strategy in all the Canopy Tour operations – they employ local guides and train them in all things from ecology to safety ’
At the end of the tour we had a chilled walk back through the forest, listening to the chirping of birds, the gentle rustling of leaves and the peaceful trickle of the stream – a great ‘wind down’ after our adrenalin pumping adventure! Getting back to the base, we were invited to a light lunch on the veranda… we hardly noticed the forest nearby or the kids having fun playing on the lawn – we were too engrossed in excited chatter, reliving our epic adventure.
And what an adventure this day was. We met some awesome people and had an absolute ball of a time. This is what memories are made of!
words – Rowan Buhrmann / pics Karkloof Canopy Tour & Rowan Buhrmann
Check out the article in Responsible Traveller digital mag