At 34º south, Cape Town sits on a latitude where the weather baffles even the forecasters, which is not surprising as it is the most South Westerly tip of Africa with nothing but sea all around. The winds come straight off the ocean, which could be the Indian or Atlantic depending upon which direction you are looking in. Even seasoned paragliders just say 'you will have to wait and see' before planning the next day's flights or even where to go that afternoon.
If you think the Brits talk about the weather a lot you should spend some time down in the Cape where reputations can be won or lost by correctly predicting what the morning might bring.
Mobile phones come into their own here as spies are out at all of the Cape's likely launch sites and a quick phone around soon locates the ideal spot for that day - until the wind changes that is, which it has a habit of doing.
The flat vista of Table Mountain is one of the most recognisable sights in the world and it is said to be one of the most spiritual places too with a rare and calming energy all of its own. This is affirmed by local paragliders who rate it as one of the most spiritually uplifting as well as thermally uplifting gliding experiences. The launch is not easy with a good deal of uplift from the sheer drop off and as with all Cape flying, a knowledgeable local Para Guide is an absolute essential.
The conditions are so specialised in the Cape that visitors who think they can do without the services of a local guide, end up returning home with numerous broken bones, as was the case with a recent group of Swiss bankers.
In fact the South African Hanglider & Paraglider Association is to issue a statement urging all visitors to hire a qualified local instructor. They hope this will stop the Cape getting an undeserved reputation as a dangerous place to fly. Difficult yes but dangerous only if you ignore good advice.
The Green Flash
The Table Mountain flight takes you soaring above Cape Town's City Bowl, which is hemmed in by mountains behind and sea in front.
A take off from nearby Lion's Head granite pinnacle leads you down the mountain slopes and over endless rocky coves and long sandy beaches for a coastal field landing just a momentary stroll from the 'La Med' sundowner beach bar and paragliding headquarters. The scenery is spectacular and the awaiting icy beer and post-flight chat is the only way to finish the day and watch the sun touch the water.
Rumour has it that when the last rays of the sun sink under the distant ocean, a vibrant green flash crosses the horizon, but if your beer is raised at that moment you will miss it. I must have been drinking too much - or not enough - because I never managed to see it.
If it is distance you are after then South Africa's premier cross country flying site is just a couple of hours north of Cape Town at Porterville. It was here that Welshman Nick Roberts recently clocked up a site record of 139 kilometres.
The flight takes you across citrus groves where a whole sack of oranges will only cost you 50p while behind you are the Cederberg mountains whose giant sandstone boulders hide many caves and ancient bushman paintings. Thereafter you will reach the pale rectangular patterns of vast wheat farms with whitewashed thatched Cape Dutch farmhouses hiding amongst a patch of greenery.
Porterville is an advanced flying site with height gains in excess of 9,000 feet above sea level and as the thermals have a tendency of winding themselves up into roving dust devils, a mature and experienced response is necessary to deal with this kind of flying.
You might need a few lessons in Cape Beach Talk to truly get into the laid back spirit of the place. 'Howzit broer' (how are you my friend) could be answered with 'Kief man' (fine thankyou) or even 'Lekker jôl' (very nice having fun), but if some 'oke' threatens to 'dorner' you then I would take to your takkies (trainers), jump into your bakkie (pick up truck) and get the befok out of there.
On the other hand you could just finish that last dop (drink), bliksem (thump) the troublemaker and carry on with your pluck (having fun), note several expressions for having fun!
Either way you are bound to have a moer of a lekker time because Cape Tonians have the enviable reputation as being the coolest laid back dudes in South Africa if not the southern hemisphere.
It could be because they all live by the sea and its rhythmic timelessness seeps into the culture as is demonstrated by their use of words such as 'now' and 'just now'. 'Now' means sometime soon, 'Now Now' has slightly more immediacy but 'Just Now' could mean anytime today.
Dolphins Patrol The Waves
After a couple of weeks in and around Cape Town it is very hard to take time seriously any more. You will have mastered the art of pure relaxation from even one coastal ridge flight over the sub tropical Wilderness area along the Indian Ocean Garden Route.
It is here that both novices and advanced pilots experience the most gentle and scenic soaring from the Swartberg mountains out over the inland lake system to the sweeping white sandy bays. Lush and green, this verdant coastal belt gives plenty of opportunity for aerial and all other sports that involve soaking up the sun and messing about in pool, lake or sea.
You may not be alone in the water though, as schools of dusky dolphins patrol these waters, surfing the waves and leaping with apparent joy. And from July to November some of the largest whales in the world come to the Cape waters to breed and give birth.
Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales up to 18 metres long, roll about silently only 50 feet off shore and a huge spray of fishy breath lets you know they are there. At other times they might bob their tail above the surface in preparation for a deep dive or breach half their enormous body out of the water and crash it down to form a mini tidal wave.
Holiday Experience To Remember
Inland just 1 hour from Cape Town are the renowned Winelands with each small town tucked into a mountain valley and all 250 wine estates offering tastings. There is great potential here to become a wine expert but beware, by the end of the day everything and anything tastes fantastic. A serious wine tasting session should be saved until after some superb thermic flying with excellent evening valley release and spectacular views.
Cape Town's combination of dramatic rocky mountains rising starkly out of flat coastal belts means the area has some of the most scenic paragliding in the world and with a variety of sites to suit novice or advanced, the excitement factor is there too.
The whole holiday experience entails drinking excellent wines and champagne or locally brewed beer. Tantalising seafood and big juicy steaks are equally as cheap and the choice of restaurants and bars is astounding. There are no guarantees about the weather but one sure thing about the tip of Africa is that the latitude with an attitude will give you an unforgettable lekker adventure.
Copyright © 2002 Carrie Hampton. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.