Cape Town - Most people will give any boomslang they happen to encounter a very wide berth, but future visitors to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden will probably be making a beeline for one of them.
Because this particular “boomslang” is not the shy but extremely venomous snake with the beautiful big eyes, but rather a new canopy walkway through the garden’s Arboretum, also known as the Enchanted Forest, that is predicted to become a major hit with visitors when it opens to the public in the next few months.
The project’s official name is the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway but unofficially it’s being called the Boomslang Walkway, an affectionate play on words because of its location among the trees and because of its shape as it rises over the trees.
The Enchanted Forest is situated in the south-western quadrant of the garden – above The Dell and below the Protea Garden – and forms part of the backdrop to the highly popular concert lawns. Despite housing some 450 indigenous plant species, it’s one of the lesser known parts of the garden.
That is set to change when the walkway opens.
Kirstenbosch curator Philip le Roux said it was hoped construction of the walkway would be complete by the end of March, with an expected formal opening in April.
“This is a very unusual and unique project which is going to be an asset to the garden for years to come, so we’re not keen to rush – we’re far more interested in getting the job done really well. We’re very excited about it and we’re sure that it’s going to become a major attraction in the garden.”
The steel-and-timber Boomslang Walk is 130m long and curves between the trees and through the branches. It’s roughly crescent-shaped and joins the forest floor in two places.
The construction cost of around R5-million is being met entirely from bequests from many benefactors – in particular, R1m from the late Mary Mullins.
Horticulturist Adam Harrower explained that Kirstenbosch’s parent body, the SA National Biodiversity Institute, wanted to celebrate the garden’s centenary this year (1913 to 2013) with a project that would be “spectacular, unique and long-lasting”.
“This walkway, which had been on the back-burner for many years, fits all the criteria and was a perfect way to mark the event in Kirstenbosch with something permanent. It’s a fantastic opportunity to take people into the treetops – a place with a unique ecology that is generally hard to get to,” Harrower said.
“From here people can experience the forest from high above the ground and also see birds and other animals that are generally hard to see otherwise. One can also experience tree dynamics – how the treetops move in the wind and how the crowns of the trees interact with one another.
“The walkway then bursts through and above the canopy, giving you an impression of what it is like to be above the forest. At this point, the walkway provides a spectacular, 360-degree vista of Cape Town and the surrounding majestic mountain slopes.”
Planning of the walkway started about two years ago, and the initial casting of the column foundations was done in June. Construction of the steel framework started off-site in August and on-site work in November.
The walkway will be free to all visitors who buy an entrance ticket to Kirstenbosch.
l A similar facility, albeit on a significantly greater scale, is the Treetop Walkway that opened in Britain’s Kew Royal Botanic Garden in London in 2008 and that has become an extremely popular feature in what is, arguably, the world’s leading botanical garden. - Cape Argus