Reader Perspective: Bungee Jumping in South Africa


‘I don’t think I can do it!’

My voice sounded shaky, even to me.  The 35kg rope pulling me was just so heavy.

‘No, come on Colleen!’ I said to myself, ‘You ARE going to do this!’

I stepped forward, I could feel my heart in my mouth. I placed my second foot on the red marker.

‘3 – 2 – 1 – GO!!!’

I leapt off that cliff with all my strength, assuming a vague parachute jump-style position.  I was immediately shocked at the speed I was falling. I was informed later that it was 120km an hour – I am glad I didn’t know that beforehand.

I screamed. I shut my eyes and then realised that I was tipping forward and falling down the cliff head first. My brain kicked in and my body instantly started flailing to stop falling. I stopped screaming – I was way too scared now.  Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the bungee swing rope caught me and threw me out in a massive arc across a beautiful valley.  Sheer cliffs surrounded me and below, a river ran over glistening black rocks.  It’s hard to believe that the free fall lasted for just 2.3 seconds. Do you have any idea how much can go through your mind in 2.3 seconds?

Joe, my jump master, whistled and was waving to me to make sure I hadn’t died of a heart attack on the way down. I waved back and screamed ‘Woohoooo!’ with what little strength I had left. My whole body was shaking but I felt completely elated.

I felt a tug as they started winching me back up. I looked at the cliffs and could just make out a few people on the top who had watched my few seconds of madness. I looked down at the river, the black rocks, the bubbling water and last of all, I looked back at the magnificent Lehr Falls waterfall.  It was stunningly beautiful.

I had just jumped off a 165m high waterfall, plummeted 100m and paid 380ZAR for the privilege.  I was at Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve situated in the Oribi Gorge which sits on the forest-cloaked ravine of the Mzimkulwana river just west of Port Shepstone, South Africa.

Now, almost at the top, I looked up at the waterfall and was amazed at the view. The light was behind the top of the falls and all I could see was a curtain of crystal white drops cascading over a black background.  It looked absolutely beautiful, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  But my spiritual moment was interrupted when a quick change in wind direction caused the waterfall to, well … fall on me, resulting in a day of soggy jeans.

I had avoided bungee swings/jumps for as long as possible – it was time to conquer them and what better inspiration for writing an article. Or so I thought at the time… When I was standing on that ledge, I was ready to grab my safety rope, send a letter of apology to the editor and disappear forever but hey, I’m not a quitter and in the end it was an incredible experience.

Four guys run the setup. Joe, Fanyana, Mvuyisi and Richard continuously rotate the tasks of photographer, videographer, winch man, demo jumper and jump master.  As well as completing thorough training for the jump itself, they are also all trained in emergencies and operation maintenance.

As Joe somersaults through a demo jump for those who are not quite convinced if this crazy act is for them or not, I wonder to myself how many times he’s jumped. Turns out, they’ve all jumped more times than they can remember.

Before climbing down, Fanyana offers to take some pictures for me. He gets some nice shots for which I am very grateful.

I climb down to the ledge and immediately Joe gets me to clip onto safety lines.  I am relieved when I see how thick they are.

He sits me down and shouts over the noise of the falls.

‘I’m going to connect the bungee rope and disconnect you from the safety, ok?’

‘Go for it, I’m ready.’ I answered eagerly.

‘You need to lean back because the rope is very heavy and will pull you.’

Okay I can do that.  Let’s just do this…

Let me remind you that up until this point, I was excited.  I was looking forward to jumping and experiencing the world’s highest gorge swing but the second I felt the weight of that bungee rope, my whole being cried,

‘What are you doing? This is not natural! Can’t you feel it pulling you over?’

As soon as both feet are on the red marker, Joe will start a countdown.  The pulling feeling was extremely unnerving.  I was leaning back 45 degrees and Joe was hanging onto a clip at the back of my harness so that I didn’t disappear over the edge before I was ready.

Taking a deep breath, I placed both feet on the mark and knew what was coming. The rest they say is history…

I am not sure if I still feel elated simply because, as the movie Lion King says, ‘I have laughed in the face of danger’ or if the bungee swing was indeed as exhilarating as I thought.  I think in this case, it might just be both.

Colleen Setchell is a writer, photographer and enthusiastic explorer who’s jumped off cliffs in South Africa, dived with sharks in Egypt, been lost in the spice market in Istanbul and eaten unpronounceable things in Gambia. She calls England home but is an explorer at heart, at her happiest when she’s living out of a suitcase and uncertain where she’ll end up next. Colleen writes about her travel adventures in her blog and currently freelances for various magazines and websites. Her travel photos can be viewed on her Flickr page.

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