Durban - I’m standing right on the edge of the platform, legs shaking in nervous anticipation. On the horizon I can see a typical African landscape of arid trees and dry vegetation. I’m perched in no man’s land on the border bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with a sudden drop right in front of me.
Behind me I can hear the crashing roar of Victoria Falls, the world’s largest volume of falling water, while the mighty Zambezi River swirls below, crashing about in a terrifying series of whirlpools and rapids. I am about to attempt the world’s most beautiful adrenalin activity, the mighty Victoria Falls bungee jump.
The guide standing next to me gives me the countdown. With everything playing out in slow motion, I give out what I think is a confident yell (which the video will later confirm to be a timid squeak) as I take the scariest and most nerve-racking step of my life.
Bungee jumping is defined as “the activity or sport of jumping from a height while attached to an elasticised cord”. It was originally practised as a rite of passage to manhood in the islands of the South Pacific, with young men leaping off tall wooden platforms with vines tied to their ankles to prove their courage.
The first modern bungee jump was done by a group of daredevils called the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club, and the “sport” was later commercialised by New Zealander AJ Hackett. Today bungee jumping is an activity performed all over the world, with adrenalin seekers in southern Africa particularly spoilt for choice.
The Gouritz River bungee jump, just outside Mossel Bay, is where it all began in South Africa, although sadly it closed in 2009 because of the condition of the bridge.
However, just a two-hour drive away is the Bloukrans River bungee jump (20km from Storms River, R750, call 073 124 1373, or e-mail [email protected]).
At 216m it’s the highest commercial bridge bungee jump in the world, and it holds a number of claims to fame – Scott Huntley set the world record of 107 jumps in 24 hours, while Mohr Keet became the world’s oldest bungee-jumper at age 96. The majestic view over the Bloukrans River Valley makes this a must-do jump on any adrenalin junkies’ bucket list.
An adrenalin attraction not to be missed in Durban is the Big Rush Big Swing. It’s the only stadium swing in the world, and it holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest swing (jumpers free-fall 80m, swinging out into a mammoth 220m arc over the pitch). The views over the city and the ocean are an added bonus (R695, call 031 312 9281, or visit www.bigrush.co.za).
Also worth trying is South Africa’s most colourful bungee jump, the Soweto cooling towers jump (R480, call 071 674 4343, or e-mail [email protected]), where participants jump off a 100m bridge between two brightly-painted cooling towers.
They say you never forget your first jump, and for that reason Victoria Falls remains close to my heart (call +260 213 324 231, or e-mail [email protected]). Once the nerve-racking part of the ordeal is over, the relieved participants have the unique experience of hanging upside-down above a roaring river with an amazing view of Victoria Falls a few hundred metres away.
The bungee site’s reputation took a serious knock in 2011 when an Aussie tourist’s bungee rope snapped. Luckily she survived. The operators have since been working hard to restore the reputation of the jump site, with many extra precautions being implemented. Tourists continue to flock to the bridge, and most feel that a trip to Victoria Falls is not complete without a leap off the ledge.
The jump itself is 111 metres above the water, which is definitely high enough to get the adrenaline pumping.
Visitors wanting the full experience can sign up for the “Big Air experience” (R1 700) which includes the bungee jump, the bridge swing as well as a zip-line across the gorge.
The jump can be done with the cord tied around the feet or around the waist (while less conventional, the waist knot allows the jumper to fall in the upright position instead of upside down). The bridge swing is similar to the bungee jump, except that the person swings in a giant arc below the bridge, instead of straight down and up again.
This is probably a safer option as there is less risk of whiplash, and it also allows for the option of two people jumping in tandem.
Last, there’s the zip-line, aka Flying Fox, which is a slow and relaxed slide across the gorge from the Zambian side to the Zimbabwean.
While the minimum age for the bungee and bridge swing is 14 years, the zip-line is suitable for six-year-olds and up.
The jump is located on the bridge between the Zambian and Zimbabwean border posts so tourists need to bring their passports, although there are no visa requirements or border crossing fees.
There’s no doubt that the process of getting strapped up and ready to jump is one of the scariest moments you’ll experience, and it’s easy to regret your decision at this point. But the feeling of flying through the air, and getting to tell everyone about it for years afterwards, makes a bungee jump truly memorable.
So go on, take the plunge! - The Mercury
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…
Bungee jumping injuries can occur, so do this activity at your own risk. Most injuries are caused by the sudden stop at the end of the jump, which can lead to whiplash or eyesight damage (this is more common in the US, where the elasticised cords do not stretch as much as the latex cords being used in Southern Africa).