WOMEN AND CANOPY TOURS: FROM HIGH HEELS TO HIGH HILLS
WORDS: NIKI MOORE
IMAGES: SUPPLIED BY CANOPY TOURS SOUTH AFRICA
Adventure excursions are becoming quite fashionable for women these days. Meet the ladybird adventurers who are taking on the world and swapping their seats at broad room tables for wooden platforms high in the forest canopy.
During working hours, they wear high heels, lipstick and linen suits… but during their leisure time they don hiking boots, wetsuits and safety harnesses. They don’t care if their hair gets wet, if their mascara is smudged or their acrylic nails take a beating. During the week they rule the boardroom, on weekends they tame the wilderness. Zip-lining, sky-diving, rock-climbing, white-water rafting, abseiling, bungee-jumping: it’s a case of ‘have the gear, take the plunge’.
These are the new breed of Power Puff Girls: black executive women of all ages who choose to leave the city whenever they can. They are single mums who take their kids on an adventure, or women in relationships who join up with their friends or colleagues and leave their partners to mind the shop at home.
“Women, especially black women, are feeling more empowered,” says Sharon Munyaka, a psychologist specialising in workplace issues and president of SIOPSA, the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychologists in South Africa. “Women have a world of possibility through their access to education, their access to the economy, and the fact that adventure excursions have become more accessible for different types of women in different stages of life.”
“We no longer feel that we need to ask permission. There is no longer any stigma attached to doing things on your own. We now have more earning power We occupy senior positions, we hold positions of authority. This has given us choices and independence. If we want to do something, we go ahead and do it.”
This new type of executive powerhouse is also interested in a wider horizon. No longer content with just shopping, socialising and home-making, they want to push boundaries and feel the thrill of personal achievement. And if they can do it with a group of like-minded women friends and acquaintances, so much the better.
Thobeka Dlamini, a businesswoman based in the Eastern Cape, has a background in conservation because of a previous career in the Eastern Cape Department of Environmental Affairs. Therefore, adventure runs through her veins and part of her life’s mission is to show other women that there are no such things as limits.
“There are very few females who work in conservation,” she says, “but I am trying to change that. Whenever I can, I go into nature, I go on trips. And I take other women with me whenever I can. I love adventure sports and activities, I am an adrenaline junkie. Other women see me and they say: “How do you do that?”
They are fascinated by my lifestyle, and they want to try it. I have found more and more women want to experience nature, want to experience adventure.”
Johannesburg journalist Cebo Bhengu is another adrenalin junkie. “I love new spaces, new experiences, new conversations,” she says, conceding that her profession as a journalist makes her naturally curious and adventurous. “I love exploring, being in beautiful settings, swimming under waterfalls. I love the beach and the ocean. I do a lot of hiking at our local nature reserves and I often take my son with me. I want to instil in him the same curiosity and love of nature that I have. I want to expose him to as much as possible in life.”
Sharon, ever the psychologist, feels that many women are looking for more meaning in life beyond their gender roles and societal expectations.
“Perhaps people feel that their lives are a little humdrum, maybe a little bit empty,” she says. “They want to find out if there is more to life. Women are not waiting for their men, they are talking to each other more easily, they post their adventures on social media, they encourage each other to try new things. They go on these adventures with their friends. And it is a great way to bond with your kids.”
TSITSIKAMMA CANOPY TOURS
Located in the magnificent Tsitsikamma indigenous rainforest, many of the platforms are built around giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees that are up to 700 years old. Standing within the crown of these giants and looking down at the lush forest floor 30 metres below is an experience of a lifetime. the scenery and birdlife (Including sightings of Knysna Loeries and the brilliant red plumage of the elusive Narina Trogon) is unforgettable. Professional guides ensure your safety whilst also pointing out interesting features of the forest ecology.
All three women recommend that anyone who wishes to experience adventure activities should start with something relatively entry-level, such as zip-lining.
“Don’t buy expensive gear, or go for something like crocodile diving on your first try,” says Sharon. “Start from something like hiking or zip-lining. It’s safe, it’s not dangerous, it’s a good way to start, you are in good hands.”
Zip lining, as an entry-level adventure activity, has indeed seen a significant upswing in interest from female-only groups. Mark Brown of Canopy Tours South Africa, a company with seven zip lining locations across South Africa, confirms it.
“There has been an exponential increase of adventurous women groups coming to our branches to put on a harness and go zip lining,” he says. “We love seeing their enthusiasm and joy. It really is the closest thing to flying like a bird. We have had quite a few women who have tried zip lining to overcome their fear of heights and we have a number of returning customers.”
“The best thing about doing something in a group,” Sharon continues, “is that you are de-mystifying these activities. There are women who don’t want to get their hair wet. They might not have been taught to swim. Maybe they can’t ride a bike, or they are afraid of heights. Going on an organised adventure as a group is a fantastic way to get over your fears.”
“It is so liberating,” says Thobeka. “It gives you a feeling of absolute freedom. In work we are expected to look a certain way, behave in a certain way, and this is a way to be completely free. I love to bring other people in. They see another black person doing this and they realise they can do this too.”
“I might take people hiking,” she says. “And when they see the backpack, they say: ‘I can’t do this’, and then they find out they can. Adventure is life-affirming. This is true whether you are combatting the elements or admiring natural beauty. This is the kind of feeling that you cannot find anywhere else.”
Cebo loves the feeling of a wildly racing pulse and says her best experience was bungee jumping off the Orlando Towers. Sky-diving is her bucket-list item. Her advice to other women?
“You just have to do it,” she says. “You only live once. You have to immerse yourself in new spaces and get new experiences, you need to get the flavours of life, the colours of life. If you are new to this, start small, start slowly. Maybe try something local. There are many options. Adventure tourism is safe, you will be in good hands.”
“It is not only the activity,” she says, “it is also the research and the planning and the anticipation. Talk to your friends, build up your risk appetite slowly, try a few different things, look for groups to join.”
For Sharon, Cebo and Thobeka, adventure brings liberation, affirmation, independence and adrenalin – all good things that they are keen to share, as it has brought them so much fulfilment and sense of worth. And of course, they are breaking the boundaries of gender and expectation with glee.
“I went bungee-jumping on my honeymoon,” says Sharon. “And my in-laws have still not got over that!”
There is a LinkedIn group for professional women to join other professional women in adventure activities, please click on this link to join: https://www.linkedin.com/company/from-high-heels-to-high-hills/?viewAsMember=true
KARKLOOF CANOPY TOURS
This Midlands based canopy tour has been built in a spectacular valley of the mist belt podacarpus Karkloof Forest Reserve. The platforms are built high up in the forest canopy and all offer different views of the surrounding forest, a magnificent 20 metre waterfall, a clear sparkling forest stream and across the expansive Karkloof Valley far below. Relax on the platforms as guides explain the ecology of your surrounds, pointing out different trees and the massive ferns down below. There’s also prolific birdlife and you have an opportunity to spot emerald cuckoos, the Knysna turaco, a variety of raptors or even endangered Cape parrots.