AfriCanyon was the national winner of the 2018 Lilizela Tourism Awards in the category of ‘Action and Adventure’. In 2017 they were the regional, Western Cape winners. This power-packed company of 8 energetic people moving forward with leaps and bounds … or shall I say zip-lines and adrenaline! You can join in the adventure during their daily 2– and 4-hour excursions into the canyon. Young and old, experienced, or inexperienced canyoners alike will feel the rush of adrenaline as they make their way through the rock pools and the canyon’s crevasses.
AfriCanyon River Adventures started with a dream to share this multipart canyoning route, which lies in the hidden valleys of The Crags near Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route in South Africa. An adventurer and explorer by nature, founder Rogan Hindmarch has explored this river with his sons and friends for many years. With over 10 years of Mountain Search and Rescue experience and over 30 years rock climbing experience, he ensures that the AfriCanyon team will guide you through this outdoor adventure, with safety being their top priority. Rogan says: “AfriCanyon is offering heaps of fun while limiting the risk”.
On a warm day in November, my friend Isa, visiting from Spain, sat next to me when I heard the news about AfriCanyon winning the Lilizela award. We looked at AfriCanyon’s website and she immediately wanted to go. I was in the process of nurturing a shoulder injury so agreed to just be her driver and photographer for the day.
Driving from Knysna, we left the N2 just after The Craggs garage and drove down a gravel road which took us to the edge of the forest. There, beneath the high canopies of huge trees, we saw the AfriCanyon sign. The silence and the twittering of the birds totally absorbed my attention as I tried to spot these feathery singers. Some of the bird calls echoed from the canyon a little further below from where we stood.
As I moved closer to the AriCanyon activity building, I started hearing the different languages spoken by the growing group of participants from Japan, Sweden and Germany.
My friend Isa remembers the moment with excitement: “When we arrived, I registered and they gave me a wetsuit to put on. When we met our guides, Tibs and Puna, I saw that they were strong guys, and I knew we could trust them in the canyon. They constantly reminded us to not adjust our helmets, wetsuits and gear and said they would help us with all of that. They assured us that we will be taken care of, that they are in charge and that we are not on our own. They also assured us that they are there to keep us safe.”
Grant Rosin, co-founder and Director of AfriCanyon, says: “It’s absolutely stunning in the canyon! We drive the group out to the start of the route and then you drop with a 22 metre abseil into the canyon. It’s an easy abseil. You can see all the way to the bottom.
Then there’s a little walk around the river and we get to a twin waterfall. There you do a 4-metre jump into the water and it’s absolutely spectacular in there.”
Grant continues: “From there you start moving into the canyon up to where the canyon starts to close up. Then you get to a place we call ‘the rush’, which is a waterfall abseil. You’re in the middle of the waterfall and it’s almost a cave. Then there’s more swimming, a little jump and then you get to the zip line. After that there’s another hour of swimming – if you do the 4 hour route. It’s so beautiful. All the walls are dripping with flowers, tree ferns everywhere. It really is beautiful in there.”
Grant and Rogan have been neighbours in the area for many years. Grant knew that Rogan and his sons have always been climbing and abseiling. Some years ago, Rogan approached Grant and asked if he is keen to start AfriCanyon. Grant remembers: “I was literally shown the ropes and was instantly hooked. I even overcame my fear of heights. Although you’re hooked up with the ropes, you are still in charge of how you descend. That’s why we have the two guides. The one at the top connects you and explain to you as far down as he can. The other guide below is on belay – which means that if you happen to let go, he stops you.”
For AfriCanyon it is all about safety. When taking a group down to the starting point, they are briefed about safety. Grant says: “We explain what the gear is for, how to use it, what we expect of each one and what you can expect of us. We seriously over-guide when we’re in the canyon – where to stand, where not to stand, don’t do this and that, stand in single file here etc. We don’t want anyone to get injured and the best way to deal with this is to prevent incidences before the group start their adventure. It is vitally important that you listen to the guides.”
Grant and his team, who are with the group in the canyon, are in constant communication. There are about 15 exit routes all along the route. The guides are under strict instruction that, if they are not comfortable or uncertain of what the weather will do in the canyon, to get out. Grant says: “I am behind them on that call and we will even refund the whole group as safety always comes first and we don’t want anyone to get hurt.” The weather is a big factor for them and Grant checks about 7 weather forecasts every morning, and he says: “My eyes are on the sky constantly to notice a change of weather.”
All the guides are from the local village and working for Aricanyon changed their lives. They are fit, very well trained and get exposed to interacting with people from all over the world. Being in leadership positions with the responsibility of taking groups into the canyon has greatly boosted their confidence
Simone, who has been with AfriCanyon from the start, says: “For the first three months you receive training, and you shadow for a month. Then you receive the training out of the river, on the ground at those posts over there (pointing to a tall structure with ropes under the huge trees). You learn how to set up the activities in the river, how to help someone when they’re abseiling down, if someone gets stuck – what to do. Then you shadow again for a few weeks to apply your training. Then after that you get assessed and if you pass you get to go in the river. It’s a whole process. You can’t just show up and do it. It’s a big responsibility. We’re very safety conscious. We take almost every single step for you. We don’t want anything to go wrong.”
When I ask if they often have to deal with participants who have fear of heights or water, one of the guides, Darren, says: “We are kind of like psychologists in helping people overcome these fears. We deal with all kinds of personalities and I find that to be patient is one of the strongest keys for us to do our tours.” Simone adds: “We find with fear, it just takes a certain kind of person to help you to get over that. There was a lady here on her honeymoon. She was so afraid of water; she couldn’t swim and she didn’t want to spoil the honeymoon. I just stayed with her, on her own time and took her through the canyon. She really wanted to get over this. A month later she emailed me with a video of her swimming in the pool at home, on her own! We see this kind of conquering every day and it is so rewarding to help people get over their fears.”
Grant and I drove down into the forest to pick up Isa, who only did the 2-hour journey. It was so beautiful and wild, the smell of the forest thick in the air. We parked and walked down a little bit into the canyon to the collecting point. Isa and Tibbs were waiting for us and I could see the rest of the group in the water below, making their way further into the canyon to complete their 4-hour journey. Isa was beaming with delight and hugged me with her wet gear. I could just feel the excitement in the air.
Back at the base, Isa took a shower and I ordered us hot coffee from the restaurant next to AfriCanyon. Holding the warm cup, she was bubbling over and started sharing her experience: “When we got to the jumps, we just went for it. There’s no time to think. Every time after we did a jump, we all looked at each other and just laughed from the exhilarating experience. The water had that typical coppery, forest colour. The zip line through the waterfall in between the rocks was so amazing! At one point, while I was waiting for the others to arrive in the water, I looked up into a cave-like opening in front of me and saw there were tiny drops of water everywhere, dripping off all the plants growing on the stone walls, splashing on my face as they dropped around me. The angle of the sunshine turned them all into tiny glowing silver drops. I felt so blessed to be there in that moment of time. I looked up and the sky was a blue line between the cliffs which were covered in multi-coloured plants. What a beautiful place! Everyone must do it.”
So, book your place and take part in this exhilarating adventure activity in Plettenberg Bay. For more information, go to www.AfriCanyon.com … you won’t regret it!