Give it Zip – Step down, hang loose, let go. You’re in Ceres on one of the longest ziplines in Africa…
Words: Karen Watkins
Pictures: Karen Watkins and Supplied
Our guide pointed to a large nest and told us it took 28 days for Hammerhead chicks to incubate. “The Khoisan believe that, if you damage the nest, lightning will strike,” said Mandey Cupido. But there was no way we would see these unusual birds, because certain people were screeching like Fish Eagles on steroids.
Who would have thought there would be an adrenaline-pumping adventure in the heart of the sleepy Ceres valley? But there we were strapped into harnesses, wearing helmets and gloves and on a cliff-face with sweaty palms and butterflies in our tummies, wondering what the heck we were doing.
Owned by brothers Gabriel and Greg le Roux, Ceres Zip Slide Adventures just outside Ceres has eight cable lines totalling 1.4km in length – the longest span is 291m across the gorge while the shortest is just over 98m – making it one of the longest ziplines in Africa.
On the way to Ceres we travelled through the snaking Mitchell’s Pass, and stopped for lunch at the Toll House Country Bistro, next to the restored historic Tolhuis, once a pay point below the railway crossing for travellers on their way to the Diamond Fields. It’s one of the few historical buildings in the area, as most were destroyed on 29 September, 1969 when an earthquake struck (there were apparently 125 aftershocks).
Nowadays the Toll House offers traditional dishes that include walky talkies (tripe and trotters), savoury snoek tart, roosterkoek, Cape tamatiekos (tomato lamb stew) and waterblommetjiebredie. Their signature dish is kiep-in-a-cup (chicken and mushroom pie, baked in a tin cup).
We stayed at Fairfield Mountain Cottages on a working fruit farm off the road to Prince Alfred Hamlet beneath the rugged Skurweberg mountains. The historic farmhouse is fitted with rietdak ceilings, open hearths, lime-washed cupboards, art deco couches and a huge loft. Outside is a plunge pool and a secluded braai area with views across fruit orchards and the valley.
Next morning, after signing an indemnity form, we were kitted out with harness, helmet and gloves. The bottled water strapped into our harnesses was most welcome seeing as the Bokkeveld wasn’t living up to its name as one of the coldest places in the Western Cape.
We headed out for about three kilometres to a private nature reserve, and climbed a ravine towards the Koekedouw Dam. With such views over the valley it’s not surprising that Ceres is named after the Roman goddess of fruitfulness, and is the centre of one of the most important deciduous fruit-producing areas in the Western Cape.
The heat hit us as we climbed onto the road and followed a footpath to the first platform. Down below, surrounded by slangbos, the pools have been created by shifting tectonic plates, and have eroded over the years.
A smiling, confident Mandey Cupido explained the dos and don’ts and how the specially designed and patented braking system of the zipline worked – safety was stressed throughout our adventure. Mandey then expertly attached the first person onto the 16mm cable. “Don’t worry, this is a great cure for vertigo,” she reassured us, adding that the cable could take a weight of 16 tons. “Just remember to keep the mechanism above the cable, and brake until you see the guide’s sign.”
And we were off, sliding 130m on the first cable, 40m above the gorge at an average 55km per hour. “Yeeeeeoooweeeee,” came a cry. Was it a distressed bird? Was it a tortured animal?
Those left behind on the platform were quaking in their boots. Our group was big and I was at the back, becoming extremely nervous as I watched the others set off across the abyss. One of the girls in our group didn’t reach the end in time and had to patiently negotiate the cable, hand over hand, in that exposed space of No Man’s Land.
My turn, and Mandey instructed me to step down, hang loose, let go. Eyes tightly closed I didn’t realise I was shouting like a banshee. We soon realised how safe we were and also how little physical effort was needed. In any event, while we had waited our turn the guides had relaxed and amused us with interesting tales, as well as info about the wildlife. “Their urine, called hyraceum, is medicinally used for epilepsy,” said Rachel Conradie of the dassies that scurried over the rocks.
But it was the story of Klara Majola freezing to death while looking for her blind father that stuck in my memory. It happened in July 1950, at the crest of the Gydo Pass, signposted Agter-Witzenberg and just north of Ceres. A narrow road leads through the mountains and into an enclosed valley filled with vineyards and fruit trees. Klara and her family lived in this remote farm community on Ernst van Dyk’s farm, Die Eike.
The eight-year-old Klara had a habit of leading her father around the farm so that he could gather wood. Klara’s mother worked on a nearby farm and on that fateful day she returned home at dusk and wanted to fetch her husband, but Klara offered to go. When she could not find him she became lost and the farm workers went in search of her. The father answered their call but not Klara. Shortly afterwards it started to rain.
Van Dyk only heard about the events the next day and immediately gathered a search party. Klara was found dead after apparently slipping over some rocks in a stream and falling into the water. Too cold and frozen to get up she was found with one arm under her body and a hand in her mouth. As for us, Mandey was right, it is a great cure for vertigo.
Handy Info and Contacts
- Tours depart every 30 minutes and groups can be up to 12 people. Larger groups can be accommodated by prior arrangement.Tours operate in most weather conditions, even rain, and will only be stopped if there is lightning or if conditions are otherwise dangerous. Children aged 3-8 years (or up to 25kg) are permitted to slide tandem with either a parent or one of the lead guides. Book your tour here.
- The Toll House Restaurant and Farm Stall: 023 312 1211, [email protected]
- Fairfield Mountain Cottages: 083 274 8063, [email protected], www.fairfieldcottages.co.za