Why you should care
Swinging from 40-foot trees and ziplining like a fiend? Yes, please.
As soon as the guide mentions SpongeBob, a dozen 5-year-old girls (including my daughter) remove the yellow aluminum climbing gadgets that do bear more than a passing resemblance to the absorbent cartoon character from their harnesses and — one by one — place them over the steel cable. With only a little guidance, all 12 girls successfully set up their own zipline hardware before whooshing 60 feet between trees.
The Acrobranch treetop adventure park is not your average kids’ party venue. The Cape Town–based space (one of seven in South Africa) uses a color-coded system to get kids as young as 3 to “do their own stunts” as they clamber, rappel and crawl their way around an aerial obstacle course strung between the trees. And the place isn’t just for kids.
Surprisingly, one foolproof method fits pint-size toddlers and six-foot-six rugby forwards alike. All four courses — from the yellow “Acrotwigs” course aimed at under-6 kids to the “High-Flying” red course, which maxes out at 30-feet above ground — follow the same, simple rules. Park manager Enock Joel (who helped build the course in 2012) takes me through the safety briefing. Make sure at least one carabiner is clipped onto a red tether at all times and only take SpongeBob off your harness when you see yellow.
From the ground the ziplines look the most daunting (and fun!), but the slower, more intricate sections will probably trouble you most.
On busy days (around Christmastime they get up to 300 people per day) Joel prefers all staff members remain on the ground so they can easily spot potential problems — like when a 250-lb. man forgot to use his SpongeBob on one of the ziplines and had to be lowered down by four staff members. But when I visit on a quiet Thursday morning during school term, Joel’s happy to join me in the trees (“There’s no need for the gym if you do this every morning,” he says with a grin).
On some of the easier sections the continual clipping can be annoying but when you realize that even Joel (a human squirrel whose course record of three minutes and 16 seconds is at least ten times faster than I managed) is playing by the rules, you’ll do the same. When he says, “Safety is our only priority,” it’s clear he means it — swinging from 40-foot trees is fun; falling from them, not so much.
Joel recommends any reasonably fit adult start on the second-hardest blue course. From the ground the ziplines look the most daunting (and fun!) but the slower, more intricate sections will probably trouble you most. While I’m zig-zagging my way in and out of a rope web some 20 feet above terra firma, Joel tells me about the members of a local police station who recently came on a team-building exercise. “On the ground, they were laughing,” he says, “but four of them had to be rescued from the trees.”
The hardest course is red and is definitely not recommended if you’re afraid of heights (I’m not) and still quite a workout if you’re not (check). Writing about it all a few days later, two sections remain fresh in my memory: The dangly, L-shaped “stepping stones,” which had a nasty habit of whamming me where it hurts the most, and a sky-high “ladder” where every second slat seemed to be cracked in half.
“Did you break those on purpose?” I asked Joel. “Yes,” he chuckled. “To play with your mind.”
Videos by Enock Joel
Go There: ACROBRANCH
- Where: Acrobranch Cape Town is located at the top of Constantia Nek, about 10 miles south of the city center. Map. There are seven other branches (pun intended) in South Africa, five of which are in and around Johannesburg.
- When: The park is open Wednesday to Sunday (and Monday–Sunday during school holidays) from 9am to 5pm. Safety briefings take place every 30 minutes from 9am to 3pm.
- How much? Prices range from R140 ($11) for the yellow course to R280 ($23) for the red course. If you pay for red, you can also do green and blue at no extra charge.
- Fine print: The yellow course is limited to 3- to 6-year-olds. Green is open to those over 7, while blue and red have height and age restrictions. More info.
- Pro tip: The park is located 100 yards from the Constantia Nek stop on the City Sightseeing open-top bus route. It’s also next to two justifiably popular restaurants and two exceptional wine estates.