ORIBI GORGE, South Africa, August 2019 – Last week was all about fun and vibes for me courtesy of South African Tourism (SAT). I was part of the SADC Media delegation that attended the Africa Tourism Leadership Forum (ATLF) – a Pan-African dialogue that brings together key stakeholders of Africa’s travel, tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors to network, share insights and devise strategies for intra-Africa travel and tourism growth across the continent, whilst enhancing the brand equity of “Destination Africa”.
This past Saturday, at exactly 5am, I woke up to the wafting and aromatic tangs of freshly ground coffee from the comfort of my luxurious double bed at Umthunzi hotel. Based in the beautiful south coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Umtentweni – a mere five-minute walk from the beach we are strategically situated for all the fun and excitement that the Hibiscus coast has to offer. Umthunzi Hotel is famous for our warm hospitality, breathtaking sea views and personal service.
The reason for my early rise from the relaxing atmosphere was because I had to get ready for the 1hr20min drive to Lake Eland Game Reserve. The hotel, which is situated in the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, is one of the finest and most recreational coastlines in South Africa. The award-winning hotel is a modern and contemporary Hotel and Conference Centre situated in Umtentweni near the bustling town of Port Shepstone. Only an hour south of Durban, it is ideally located for you to explore all the many and varied local attractions.
So lodging here was an absolute pleasure thanks to its stunning sea view of the Indian Ocean and a short walk to the beach, as one gets to experience the best that the Hibiscus Coast has to offer. With all its equable climate and pleasant water temperatures, you can enjoy both the beach and the bush getaways all year round. For adventure, golfing, fishing and birding enthusiasts, the region is truly unsurpassed.
Big thanks goes out to South African Tourism (SAT) for organizing this relaxing affair for a select few media personalities that had attended the Africa Tourism Leadership Forum (ATFLF) at South Africa’s first International Convention Centre in Durban which offers you the largest flat floor, column-free multi-purpose event space in Africa – what a massive and iconic infrastructure.
Waking up at 5am and taking a drive to the game reserve was not in vain thanks to all the beautiful panoramas that I later encountered. The drive past the sugarcane plantations was truly invigorating thanks to our informative and experienced tour guide, Shiney Bright. In between her erudition, Bright shared that she once lived in Botswana in the 70s and was fully aware of Botswana’s current affairs.
She also asked if the country still relies on farming particularly rearing of cattle which she noted was very popular during the halcyon days. In between her enlightening heart-to-heart we arrived at Oribi Gorge where our first activity was zip lining, otherwise known as foefie slide (South Africa), which consists of a pulley suspended on a cable, usually made of stainless steel, mounted on a slope.
It was right then that knew that I had to overcome my lifetime phobia for heights so that whenever my colleagues tell their colleagues a story in their respective countries, I also had something to share. I looked calmingly over Oribi gorge from atop and I saw no fear at all. During our induction, the instructors told us that this is Africa’s longest zip line and right there I knew that I will be counted amongst the heroes and heroines who have beaten all odds to complete this adrenaline-packed exuberance.
The structure consists of 14 zip line slides starting at the top of the Oribi Gorge. The longest zip line is No. 6, which soars 680m and 300m high above the Gorge, and is referred to as hell platform.
The views from that height are breathtaking and one is left feeling exhilarated. Another slide crosses over a lake and if you stretch your toes far enough you might just be able to touch the water, how magical is that! The final slide is through a tunnel and across a river completing 4.5km. It sounds so fun speeding between 35 – 105km/h without the sound of a running engine.
To bolster my strength I prepped myself to remain calm at all costs because I knew that if I stall on going in first I might change my mind. At that moment I started putting on the zip line gear and remained ready for all the action ahead. Off we went, the first four stops termed as platform, which for me was like changing gears in a motor of a 6-speed motor vehicle. I was the 5th in line of a 9-member group.
Believe you me, my heart was pounding fast and this was my time to consult my African ancestors despite having being assured that accident probability is almost zero – however like the new millennial speak; if I die I die – not literally.
When it was my turn to go, I stopped and asked for more instructions before I gathered enough strength to slide down, cruising on gear one, two, three, four, five where we made a pit stop and the assistants had some heart-warming yet fear-provoking news for us.
“Congratulations to y’all for making it to platform five, please note that we are now heading to hell. If you think you have been speeding, that was just a tip of the iceberg, from now on, our speed will be over 75km/h and there will be a slight difference on how you hold the ropes,” they advised.
At that moment I looked down the gorge and knew that the only way to experience it fully will be when I finish what I’ve started by completing the journey. The experience was made more fun by the blowing wind against the directions of the zip line which forced it to reduce speed and it was difficult to reach the other end as fast as one would have wished. I stopped at least 20meters before the end of the platform.
I had to remember how soldiers do their obstacles and I helped myself up the ropes. This was my Point of No Return thanks to the dense forest of the gorge and the manmade lake at the bottom as the last platform. As I cruised over the lake, I slightly lowered my legs to enjoy the waters below as a sign of victory for overcoming my fear of heights.
I tell you honestly, this was an extreme adventure, however as you may know how addictive this extreme sporting can be, I now look forward to the other so-called extremes such as bungee jumping or parachute tandem jumps. Bring it on! Like a champion, I felt the triumph. I went into next day’s activity rejuvenated – which in this case was the 84m Suspension Bridge – a spectacular opportunity to be suspended between heaven and terra firma, as you hover 100m above the Gorge floor enjoying views never before seen of Lehr’s Waterfall.
Kudos to other media colleagues, they all seemed to enjoy the bridge experience and even went further to suspend at the end of the bridge.
I guess after this we all agreed that we have indeed tested our characters and faith as we headed for lunch at the game reserve’s restaurant before doing the last task of the day – horse riding. Remarkably, brothers Eric and Trevor Dunstone purchased the land for conservation and founded the reserve in 2003. It covers 2500 hectares of land.
There’s a large lake shaped like an eland common in Bushman paintings, which gives the reserve its name “Lake Eland” in honor of this magnificent antelope and its symbolic meaning to the San. Activities to choose from include a self game drive, viewing the abundant wildlife, flora and fauna to be seen from the comfort of your car. Horse rides, walking and single track mountain bike trails, paint ball, fishing, picnic sites and specific 4×4 tracks are also available. The restaurant and a fully licensed tea garden is close to a children’s playground.