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Head in the clouds: A paragliding experience in Wilderness

Story and photos by Rudolph De Girardier.

The #TrekSouthAfrica team were lucky enough to stay in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park in December 2016, immersed themselves in many activities, such as hiking the Kingfisher trails, canoeing on the Touwsrivier and exploring the wild local beaches, stretching into the horizon like faded gold.

The team’s stay would not have been complete however, without taking up the opportunity to run down the Map of Africa viewpoint, and hang themselves in mid-air above the Indian Ocean. Lead photographer Rudolph de Girardier visually describes this unique and exhilarating experience.

What looked like a chair-shaped backpack was mindfully attached onto us. The secure harnesses and belts reassuringly tightened around our chests and hips. Our heads got covered by helmets that carried the weight of safety. The fear was present and real (as it usually is, before suspending oneself for the first time off a stretched piece of fabric), but our guides seemed too confident to let any feeling of fear long and conquer in our stomachs and mind.

The main feat in this adventure, as a visitor, is simply to trust the bullet-proof equipment and the over-experienced pilots.

Rationally, it’s all good, and yet one’s mind cannot stop racing. A sublime cocktail of fear and excitement boiled in our veins, leading up to the jump. Happiness prevailed and anyways, it was time to go.

We ran down the hill, pulling on the hefty paraglider, yawning itself into a stretch behind us, and catching the wind as we got closer and closer to the bushes at the bottom of the Map of Africa’s slope.

In the effort, my eyes widened – what if we didn’t gain enough momentum to take off? My pilot had mentioned thin air, due to the lack of wind that would likely result in a short flight, but what if it lead to a premature and unforgiving crash?

The type of questions that thousands of years of mankind evolution have deeply engrained in a man’s head, when exposed to such a situation.

Yet committed, we grunted, shrugged, pulled, and in seconds silence replaced our efforts.

I pushed out a victorious, exhilarated shout, as we elevated ourselves, smoothly and safely, high above Wilderness.

The peace was eerie. It felt as if we had left the earth’s mortal confinements. We were simply floating above it all, detached, at peace, observing, at sunset, the best view one could dream of in the small and friendly town of Wilderness.

We were gently navigating through layers of atmosphere, in touch with the sky’s pressure, gliding in total silence, high above the agitation caused by one’s daily life.

The sun was flaring, and we were smiling.

A few minutes into the flight in the warm and buoyant layers of air, we started a slow descent to the beach. We flew above the old railway tracks of Wilderness. We edged closer to the rocks onto which the ocean came crashing, and the soft sands that received, since millenniums, the caress of the waves.

It was all quite spectacular, like a brilliant orchestra of elements, conducted by nature. Worthy of an applause.

The dream ended, as our feet touched the sands of the long beaches of Wilderness.

The landing was gentle, and the paraglider fell slowly like the closing curtains of this aerial adventure. My friend and colleague Sam Chevallier landed behind me, and we shook hands, looking at the sky in awe.

We ended the evening on the boulders of Victoria Bay, 10 minutes’ drive away from the town of Wilderness, admiring the sky as it turned purple and that stars perforated the birthing night.

A day filled with adventure and magic, which we would all remember long after its end.


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