Bloukrans Bridge, South Africa, is full of superlatives. It is Africa’s highest, at 216 metres, or more than 700 feet. It is the site of the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee jumping.
It is also the highest commercial natural bungee jump in the world. These feats are enough to make your intestines turn, especially if your tour itinerary includes the famed jump.
“What do you do the night before your date with destiny?” I teased the battery of journalists from across the continent who, just that week, had been covering Africa’s premier travel show, Indaba, in Durban.
The animated conversations around the dinner table at the Fynbos Golf and Country Estate in Port Elizabeth (now renamed Gqeberha) showed no hints of apprehension.
We had arrived at a rainy Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport in Port Elizabeth on a Sunday afternoon for the two-hour drive to Fynbos. The golf resort is hemmed in on one side by the Indian Ocean and on the other, the majestic backdrop of Tsitsikamma Mountains.
In the calm grounds, where cows from neighbouring farms mooed, the waves of the ocean slapped the rocky shores, and where the sliver of the moon pierced through the grey sky, my mind strayed to the Bloukrans Bridge.
In my room that evening, I scoured through CNN’s list of the most extreme adventures on earth. There was Oymyakon, a small Siberian community in Russia whose 500 inhabitants must endure temperatures of -50 C.
And the opposite? The Death Valley in California whose temperatures soar to a record high of 56.7 C. I thought of the Formula Rossa Coaster whose speeds clock in at 240 km, or 92 seconds for three kilometres!
In South Africa, the list had the terrifying underwater cage near Cape Town where great white sharks are your closest companions. I am not sure why they left out Bloukrans Bridge and its famed free fall. There were just a few hours left to find out.
By first light Monday morning, we took off for the hour or so drive to Face Adrenalin, the outfit that runs the extreme sport. Indemnity forms clear the way for the team to take your weight and hand you a call-in number, a sort of temporary identity that informs the order of events.
At a nearby shed, another team prepares the preliminary harnesses, akin to getting into a one-way street where reversing is difficult.
From the hut, one group headed to the bridge while the other made a brief tour of the main building. Here a small display outlines both the construction of the bridge and a preview of some of the remarkable jumps, including the story of Mohr Keet, who, at 96, was the oldest person to bungee jump here.
From here, there are two ways to get to the bridge. Either take a short zipline to the jumping platform, strictly for those who take the plunge, or, through a skywalk that allows one to take in the breathtaking vistas of the steep gorge to the Bloukrans River that marks the boundary between Eastern and Western Cape provinces.
At the deck, jumpers were harnessed some more. They are secured in a full-body harness combined with a separate ankle connection to the bungy cord.
One by one, and like sheep to the slaughter, they are led to the point of no return, the ankle connection making them skip to the edge in tiny steps. A small nudge by two attendants and gravity does the rest.
The bungee jump makes use of a pendulum system to ensure the smoothest, most comfortable jump possible, or should we say enduring the longest four seconds of one’s life.
That is the time it takes for the initial freefall before one is pulled into a giant pendulum motion and then into the big rebound. Screams, the emptiness of mind, the wind in the hair, the ground rushing toward you…every jumper had a story to tell.
For those who opted not to jump, there was the Hang Out Zone, still on the deck and where with a full-body harness, one is connected to safety lines to experience what it feels like to stand on the edge of the bridge to take in the breathtaking vistas below.
The bridge experience was done, it was time for a small hike known as the Mouth Trail, a 40-minute walk that includes the picturesque suspension bridge over the mouth of Storms River within Tsitsikamma National Park in Eastern Cape.
Starting at Sandy Bay where giant waves violently break on the rocky shores, the walk takes one along a winding board through indigenous forest to the mouth of the Storms River, across the suspension bridge, to the Storms River Mouth Cave, now Khoisan Heritage Site.
Here, the more adventurous can try out their kayaking skills up the river mouth, hemmed in by sheer, worldly rock faces. For the more energetic, the trail continues after the bridge and leads to the lookout point on the plateau.