Cape Town - Well, would you look at this: it’s school holidays again… four wonderful weeks to fill with keeping the young ’uns entertained, and some of that time trapped indoors by the weather. What joy!
Worry not – I’ve got a few excellent things lined up to cover that eventuality, but first we’re going retro. As in when our parents would yell at us to stop lolling around the house, and go outside for some old-fashioned fresh air and exercise.
The other day I persuaded Divine Lady D – who coincidentally is the mother of our Fun Finder rent-a-child on whom we test-drive children’s activities – to “put on her jeans and meet me in the car park in 20 minutes”. That would be the car park at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
It’s one of my favourite places in Cape Town, a massive, sprawling garden of diversity. I have been there many times over the years and yet there are areas of it I have not explored. On this particular occasion we had a clear purpose: to locate and experience the recently opened “Boomslang”, or treetop canopy walkway.
Much has already been written about its construction, and you can read about that on the garden’s website (www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch), as well as its fascinating history, and place of pride in the world. There are some structures and feats of engineering that I find very beautiful. This walkway is one of them. It begins at ground level – although there is a slightly uphill walk to get there – and then uses the natural slope in that part of the garden to rise almost 12m at its highest point.
Made of curved steel with smooth wooden handrails, it winds through the upper branches of the trees, thus giving you a new perspective not only of the garden, but the view of Cape Town spread out below. You will see things as you have never done before.
It’s fairly short, just 130m from one end to the other, and designed – as all tall things are – to move slightly under pedestrian traffic and certain weather conditions.
It was a cool, cloudy weekday when we were there, so not many other people were using it, only a few small galloping children, but I suspect when it’s busy that thing must rock quite significantly. It is a little disconcerting at first, but it’s all part of the adventure. This is something you seldom feel at the top of a skyscraper, but here you will. It’s perfectly safe, however, and wheelchair-friendly.
There are a couple of benches where you can relax and gaze at the views until your legs feel steadier, and several information boards telling you what to look out for during your walk, such the surrounding area, and birds and insects. And the boomslang (tree snake) after which the bridge is named, including a phonetic pronunciation for foreigners.
“You’ll know if one is about because the birds will be making a fuss,” I read out loud to Divine Lady D. “What?” she yelled, peering into the branches around us.
“Don’t worry about them,” I continued to read, “they are venomous but shy and not aggressive.”
Well, that’s all right then. We didn’t spot one, but we did see a few birds, none of which seemed fussy.
We strolled up and down a few times and then, because we happened to be in a part of the garden we hadn’t visited before, we went below the walkway and attempted to get lost in the Enchanted Forest – which is more difficult than it sounds.
The vegetation is thick in the Enchanted Forest, and there are magical trees whose roots and branches have done all sorts of weird and wonderful things, fairy rings, brightly coloured mushrooms, and soft, moist, wood-chipped pathways. The air carries a lovely loamy scent.
The pathways crisscross and fork, but despite our best efforts we kept spotting the paved ones through the branches as we pondered whether anyone else actually deliberately tries to get lost in there.
We did inspect the pillars supporting the Boomslang though, and had a good look at its underbelly. We saw how creeping vines had been planted at the base which will one day completely disguise the metal.
You’ll find the walkway up and to your right if you enter at the main, bottom gate.
If you know the landmarks, it’s in the arboretum, near the concert lawn (which Divine Lady D recognised even without its stage, where we’ve watched many a summer sunset concert).
Mathews Rockery was another place I had not visited and the Cycad amphitheatre and Protea garden. I also saw Van Riebeeck’s Hedge for the first time, as it’s on the way up there. Otherwise turn left at the Otter Pond.
The garden is magnificent; this new addition has enhanced it even more.
* Kirstenbosch is in Rhodes Drive, Newlands. Call 021 799 8783 for more information, and see the website for opening hours and admission prices.