Bungee jumping is not for everyone, but there's no denying it's an adrenaline rush, and there are some fantastic bungee jumps on offer in Africa. South Africa has the highest commercial bungee jump on the continent, a 216 meter (708 ft) jump off a lovely bridge spanning the Bloukrans River. The drop is so far, that you get a body harness for extra safety and balance. I vowed that the only bungee jump I'd ever attempt would be at the Victoria Falls, because if you're going to do something that silly, it may as well be in the most beautiful spot on earth.
Here's my account of what it was like, along with more information about Bungee jumping in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda.
The Victoria Falls Bridge Bungee Jump - Zimbabwe/Zambia
Thanks to Shearwater, a leading adventure company in Zimbabwe, I got the chance to fulfill my bungee destiny by leaping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. The jump takes you head first into the Batoka Gorge, where white-water rafters below try desperately to stay upright as they ride through grade-5 rapids. The Victoria Falls are situated right behind the bridge and you can feel the spray on the bridge when the water is high. The bridge is in no-man's land, marking the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was built in 1905 and is an engineering marvel (that you get lots of time to appreciate once you've been winched back after your jump). When people aren't driving to and from Zambia/Zimbabwe, or bungee jumping off the bridge during the day, elephants sometimes use it to cross over at night.
Getting Ready to Jump
My ankles were snugly strapped together with various tight straps and old towels as I was given a safety briefing. Before I knew it, I was shuffling off to the platform of no return. With my toes peeking out over the ledge it was hard not to stare down at the rocky gorge below and think "what the hell am I doing here?".
Luckily it had been explained to me that if I did not leap out as far as possible with my arms outstretched like a bird of prey, I would spin like a corkscrew on the way down. Considering I get motion sickness just looking at a child's swing, it made me forget my initial worries regarding whiplash, heart attack and all the other things that raced through my mind, and just concentrate on the big leap forward.
The bungee jump at the Victoria falls had a 100% safety record until an incident in January 2012, (a few weeks after I jumped), where an Australian girl ended up in the Zambezi after her cord snapped. But since then, everything is deemed to be safe again, and before you jump, you are given very sound information on the knots that are tied and basic safety features of the elastic and various ropes and carbines strapped on your body. I was confident I wouldn't die at the time. My biggest worry was that I would simply freeze up and refuse to jump. It's all about ego at this point. When you're on the little platform, 111 meters down looks like an awfully long way. Given the low water levels, it was also mighty rocky. I asked my safety instructor minutes before "does it feel like flying?" His answer came quickly - "no, it feels like you are falling".
The safety man stood behind behind me, I heard him shout "5-4-3-2-1 Bungee!!!" And off I launched, diving for the horizon, thinking I would soar like wonder woman. Alas, the instructor was right and I fell fast like a giant stone. The free-fall did not last as long as I thought it would, I imagined brushing the warm Zambezi waters with my finger tips with a dramatic flourish, but only the pros get to do that. Well before I hit the water, I got yanked back up rather unceremoniously by my stretched, (and frayed) elastic. I continued bouncing up and then falling down a number of times. On the video I actually look like I am trying to be graceful, but in reality I was trying desperately to get my head back up in its natural position. By the time I spotted my grinning lift up, suspended from his own line half way down into the gorge, my eyes were on maximum bulge capacity, and I felt somewhat nauseous.
After the Jump
Once I'd stopped bouncing, the safety guy attached a safety line to me and spun me back up to a more natural position, i.e. with my head above my ankles. My "operator" was a smooth operator and regaled me with some of the latest pop hits as we slowly winched up to the catwalk under the bridge. Once on solid ground, but still with some mighty sheer drops on either side, I was left to walk along the catwalk to the end of the bridge, with a safety rope attached. It's a nice walk if you don't fear heights, and I was grateful enough to settle my stomach and get some blood out of my brain and circulating back through my toes.
I have to say, it was really worth jumping, more for the feeling of elation after the jump, than the actual jump. It all goes by quite quickly, and let's face it, hanging upside down by your ankles is never going to be very comfortable. I highly recommend you get the video to be able to re-live the experience and show off to your friends and family. In the end it's more of an attention-seeking pastime than an act of bravery!
Want to Jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge?
- You can bungee every day of the year. Book your jump in advance by contacting Shearwater directly, they have an office in Victoria Falls town, or go through your hotel activity desk, or tour operator. Jumps cost $120 per person. Add $20 for digital photos, and another $50 for the DVD -- to be paid directly after you jump. You will be given a voucher which you present to the bungee center close to the Zambian side of the bridge... more details
- Since the bridge is "no mans land" between Zambia and Zimbabwe you have to go through immigration control. Just let them know you are not crossing into the country on the other side, that you are staying on the bridge to jump. If you have brought moral support with you, make sure your friends and family also stay on the bridge. You will be given bridge passes, keep a hold of them to get back without paying visa entry fees etc.
- You have to be over 14 years of age to jump (under 18 need parent consent), and be in good health. If you change your mind right before your jump, that's no problem, but you won't get a refund.
Alternative Ways to Span the Batoka Gorge at Victoria Falls
If jumping upside down is not your cup of tea, try the Bridge swing, or even the zip line (called a foofie slide in these parts) across the same gorge. They're all safe and fun activities. Of course you can also walk along the bridge, there is a very good Bridge Tour that gives you a nice history of the bridge.
More Bungi Jumps in Africa
- Bloukrans is the highest commercial bungee jump in the world by far. The Bloukrans River Bridge is 216 m high, almost double that of the Victoria Falls Bridge. It's located along the picturesque Garden Route in South Africa's Western Cape province. Jumping from a height like this with just ankle ties is too dangerous, so they use a body harness as well. Prince Harry did it, and so did Amazing Race contestants! Check out some videos of the jump, and see if you like the look of it. If you do, go ahead and book it!
- Bungee Mogale in Krugersdorp (Gauteng province), South Africa operates off of Kings Kloof bridge and offers a 50 meter drop. You can tandem bungee here as well as zip line and bridge swing... more information.
- Kenya decided it wanted to get in on the bungee action a few years ago, but with no suitable bridges in the vicinity, they hoisted a crane onto the banks of the Tana river, 95km north of Nairobi. The Tana river attracts rafters, hence a prime location for the 60-meter crane. It's been operating since 2002.
- Uganda offers some of best white-water rafting in the world, just like at the Victoria Falls, and so given the nature of the adrenalin junkies attracted to the sport, they too started to offer commercial bungee jumping. Nile High Bungee offers a fun 44-meter drop, and you get picked up by a raft below.... more information