My whole body is hanging over the edge of the 112 metre drop on top of Table Mountain & this guy from Abseil Africa says to me - "Let Go!"
This is the "Hands-free Hello Mama Africa" - when you lean back over the precipice (backside first) and let go of the ropes, hands raised wide overhead, to strike a pose for the camera. Heart racing, palms sweating in the gardening gloves, it's my turn to smile for the cameraman...
"Do it ... don't do it ... do it ... don't ..."
Hell yes, DO IT!
Here are seven reasons to go abseiling off one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World...
Reason # One: the abseil is on Table Mountain
Going up the landmark Table Mountain is considered the top must-do activity in Cape Town.
While you're up there enjoying the views, you might as well get your heart rate up by doing this stunning abseil. Visiting one of the natural wonders of the world is amazing, but abseiling off the cliffs that crown Table Mountain makes the experience all the more unforgettable.
Cape Town is South Africa's second most-popular destination (after Kruger Park) and Table Mountain is its most-visited highlight. This flat-topped mountain towers 1085 metres (some 3560 feet) above the city centre attracting constant attention and a never ending stream of visiting tourists and locals.
Why not add a helping of adrenalin to the experience, instead of just standing around on one of the world's most famous icons?
Reason # Two: the views are breath catching
The panoramic views from the top of Table Mountain are enough to write home about, but the views from the abseil... even better.
Dangling from the sheer cliff you have Camp's Bay, the Atlantic Seaboard and the wide blue ocean below, with the Twelve Apostles rising up at your side. The abseil gives you fantastic close-up views of the mountainside and lower slopes of Table Mountain too.
For a fair section of the descent there is a deep overhang, which leaves you hanging free to survey the landscape while suspended in mid-air!
Of course, going up Table Mountain for the abseil also means you get to enjoy the views on the way up (and down) as well as from the mountaintop. If you take the cable car there's the added bonus of lapping in the vistas from the big windows. The floor of the cable car rotates 360° so you can eyeball the rising cliffs overhead, Lion's Head, Signal Hill, the Atlantic Seaboard, Table Bay, the city and beyond.
Reason # Three: the adrenalin rush!
Unless you're a seasoned, hardcore adventurer (the extreme Bear Grylls type) the abseil off Table Mountain is guaranteed to get your pulse racing.
The abseil has one-up on other adventures, like shark cage diving, because the thrill doesn't depend on chance encounters and factors beyond human control. It also beats the tamer adventure activities, like cycling in Cape Point or walking in the city, purely in terms of exhilaration.
I went abseiling with Abseil Africa on a Monday morning and the buzz propelled me through the rest of the week ;)
Reason # Four: abseiling is pretty easy
No special skills are required. No experience is needed. You hardly have to use your brain at all, so you can just enjoy the ride. Before you go down the guides show you the ropes and then they walk you through the whole process.
You don't have to be strong, never mind fit. Even if you have zero co-ordination you can get this abseil right. And if you don't, the guides practically lower you down anyway.
"Clients are attached to two ropes. The belay line (which the guide controls) and the main line (which the client controls). So if the client was to let go during a state of pure ecstasy and excitement the guide always has hold of them." - Kevin Sheehan, Abseil Africa
Abseiling off Table Mountain is so easy that you can be under 10 or over 80 and still go over the edge. The only restriction is weight. You can't be too light (less than 40 kg) or too heavy (more than 150 kg).
Reason # Five: it's a quickie
Abseiling off Table Mountain is an ideal activity for those with limited time on hand.
If you're in town on a whirlwind tour, a quick abseil could probably be slotted into your schedule quite easily - set aside at least two and a half hours. The mountain abseil is conveniently located a few minutes from the heart of Cape Town city and the V&A Waterfront.
It only takes six to eight minutes to reach the top of Table Mountain by cable car. Queuing for the cable car is the time-consuming part - it can take up to an hour, especially if the cable car was closed the previous day and during peak season. Booking online generally speeds things up a bit as there is a separate queue for those brandishing pre-booked tickets.
The whole abseil takes about 45 minutes from the preparations and the abseil down the rock-face, to the pretty walk back to the top. Unlike activities such as wine tasting in the Cape Winelands, shark cage diving in Gansbaai and hiking in Cape Point, going abseiling doesn't involve a lot of driving and take the whole day.
You can also hike up the mountain in a few hours (one, if you are super fit), which still means the abseil can be done as a half-day activity, at a little push.
Reason # Six: one of the more affordable adventure activities
Many a budget traveller tries to squeeze in as many adventure activities as possible when in the Cape. It often comes down to choosing only a handful of excursions to keep within budget, which is another reason the abseil off Table Mountain scores favourably.
The abseil itself costs R750 and the cable car ride costs:
- Adults - R225 to R250 return (during peak season) and R115 one way
- Children (aged 4 to 17) - R110 return and R58 one way
If you're a South African citizen there are various special rates, including a free ride on your birthday. You can buy cable car tickets online beforehand and check out the times and weather conditions on the Cableway website.
The best way to save on the cost is to walk up and/or down the mountain, which is free. This steep climb takes between one to three hours via Platteklip Gorge, depending on your level of fitness. There are many other routes up Table Mountain, including Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine. Visit the South African National Parks (SANParks) website for more info, safety tips and hiking guides.
Alternatively you can do a hike and abseil combo with Abseil Africa for R895 per person.
Reason # Seven: it's an ideal combination activity
Abseiling off Table Mountain combines well with several other activities, over and above whisking up Table Mountain on the cable car.
- Red Bus City Tour - take the Hop on, Hop Off City Sightseeing Tour: a circular ;tour in a bright red, open-topped, double-decker bus. The route departs from the Two Oceans Aquarium every 15 minutes, doing a sightseeing loop. Stops include the Clock Tower, the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), Long Street, St George's Cathedral, the South African Museum, the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, the South African Jewish Museum, the District Six Museum, the Castle of Good Hope, the Table Mountain Cableway (this is where you hop off to reach the abseil), Camps Bay and five other points.
- Visiting the V&A Waterfront - be entertained, eat out and shop to your heart's content at the world-class Victoria & Alfred Waterfront on the fringes of the city centre. Located on the harbour, the Waterfront is minutes away from Table Mountain, so you can easily combine retail therapy with outdoor adventure.
- City walking tours - explore the city on foot before heading up Table Mountain for the epic abseil, taking in the cultural and historical highlights. You can join one of the two Cape Town Free Walking Tours - the Bo-Kaap Tour or Historical City Tour (both one and a half hours long and both free). See the rave reviews of Cape Town Free Walking Tours on TripAdvisor. Also check out these three great walking tours in Cape Town. Starting with urban culture and history, and moving up the mountain for an invigorating abseil - a well-rounded combo.
- Township tours - experience local township culture, gaining insight into the past and present realities of life in South Africa. Sivewe Township Tours is one of the top tour companies in Cape Town, and well-loved by TripAdvisor reviewers. After immersing yourself in vibrant township culture, the abseil is a perfect way to get an overview of Cape Town from above and admire nature.
- Partying on Long Street - kick-start your system with a flood of adrenalin before hitting the town - a good way to set the tone and boost your energy levels for an adventure-filled night of pub crawling and dancing in the clubs of Cape Town.
These are just some of the options, other activities that combine well with the abseil on Table Mountain include sea kayaking with Kaskazi Kayaks in Three Anchor Bay and paragliding off Lion's Head with Fly Cape Town Paragliding.
Not to be forgotten, the already mentioned combo of hiking up Table Mountain and rewarding yourself with the breezy abseil and a cold beer at the cafe. If you have a bit more cash and want to try an unusual walking route there are great hiking operators, like Hike Table Mountain, offering affordable guided hikes up Table Mountain and Lion's Head.
A Bit About Abseil Africa
Abseil Africa is lowering people down one of the world's highest commercial abseils, every day between 10 am and 3pm.
Started in 1995, by Trevor Ball, Abseil Africa is the only operator running abseiling trips on Table Mountain, with a SANParks issued permit. Their team consists of three permanent staff members, based in the office, and 12 freelance guides working in the field.
The Abseil Africa team can cater for up to three people abseiling down the rock face at one time when the group is large. Usually you go down two at a time, which makes it an ideal activity for the adventurous lovebirds.
When it comes to the maximum weight restriction, you can arrange to go abseiling with them if you are over the limit (pre-arrangement required). In terms of the age limits, kids under 10 years can also do the abseil, if they are at least 40kg's heavy. On the other end of the spectrum, the oldest person that they have taken abseiling was 84 years old!
Basically, as long as you are relatively fit and healthy you can do the abseil off Table Mountain. No excuses.
They also do a full-day Kamikaze Kanyon Trip which sounds ra-dical.
Operations and Logistics Manager at Abseil Africa, Kevin Sheehan, says the Table Mountain Abseil is definitely his favourite:
"The view is amazing and the fact that you are so high is fantastic. If you are an adrenalin junky you can descend at speed for the ultimate rush; or if you want to enjoy the spectacular views you can move at a slow pace - I was definitely doing more of the slow-to-not-moving pace, my first time."
The Abseil off Table Mountain in under 4 minutes...
Obviously my clip is not the handiwork of a professional videographer, but you get the general idea ;)
My Abseiling Tip: Take water down with you - ask the guys from Abseil Africa to clip one of their handy red bags to your harness and take your own hydrating drink down with you for the gentle, but hot walk back up.
Don't be part of the constant cloud of curious people hovering on the fringes of the clifftop wondering whether to take on the abseil.
This is seriously the best thing that you can do on Table Mountain, so just cough up the R750 (US$68 / £43), even if it means walking up the mother city's darling mountain to save on the cable car ride.
You won't regret it!