High and mighty: The buzz of being up where we belong


High and mighty: The buzz of being up where we belong

Paragliding and ballooning are great ways to take in the beauty of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

Lwandile Bhengu

Strapped to the front of a man whom I had known less than five minutes on top of a mountain, I saw my whole life flash before my eyes.
This wasn't how I imagined my death.
Before I could even regret my decision to try tandem paragliding, my human lifeline instructed me to start running towards the edge of the mountain and off into the air we soared. My brain told me that I was safe while strapped to the front of a qualified paragliding pilot, but my heart told me that I was destined to die.
Once I got over the initial shock, and Hans Fokkens, my pilot, was able to convince me we weren’t going to plummet to our death, I was finally able to take in the beauty of the snow covered Bulwer and Southern Drakensberg mountains.
“I have been doing this for 26 years and these mountains are one of the most premier paragliding spots in the province; they take my breath away every time I fly,” Fokkens said.
Fokkens has run Wild Sky Paragliding out of Bulwer, a small town in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands between Underberg and Boston, since 2015. The company offers those brave enough the opportunity to experience a 10-15 minute glide across the sky either tandem-style (or solo for those who are licensed and have experience in the sport). Fokkens said that although they offer the services all year round, the best time to try out the sport is from July to November.
The adrenaline junkie's paradise is one of the many hidden gems one can find in the Harry Gwala district municipality. The 13-town municipality recently played host to media and various tourism stakeholders as part of Tourism Month celebrated in September.
If you want a more “elegant” way of flying to great heights without anyone strapped to you, hot air ballooning at the Underberg polo fields is the answer.
Sipping on a glass of champagne, we ascended hundreds of metres into the air over Underberg, taking in the quaint farms and dams in the area. In the peace and tranquility of the blue skies, captain Vincent Cook pointed to the “great Lesotho kingdom just over that mountain”.
Instantly I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to tick off illegally entering a country from my bucket list. While Cook seemed keen to try out my stupid idea, the six others along on the ride were not convinced.
The 30-minute ride was an experience, but note, dear black girls, I would not recommend wearing a wig because the heat from the balloon is no joke. I learnt this the hard way.
If you aren’t a high flyer like me, here are four things you can do in the area instead:

Sani Pass Tour to the Highest Pub in Africa.
A tour around the historical churches and cathedrals in Centocow which date back to the 1880s.
A trip to the Gerard Bhengu Gallery and Museum. Bhengu was a prolific artist from the area.
A train ride on a refurbished 50-year-old steam train from Creighton to Riverside.

Lwandile Bhengu was a guest of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal...

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