For a touch of the 'High Life', leave the V&A Waterfront behind and jump in a helicopter for the ride of a lifetime over the Cape Peninsula. Carrie Hampton reports.
Sitting at a Victoria & Alfred Waterfront cafe in Cape Town you cannot fail to notice the stream of helicopters buzzing in and out of the harbour like demented worker bees. It is impossible not to look up and wonder who is inside and where they are going.
Flying in a helicopter is akin to removing yourself from the real world for a short while and becoming a mere spectator. There is a certain feeling of superiority as you look down upon the busy ants nest of activity from which you have just temporarily escaped.
Inside the swift bubble-shaped helicopter you appear as mere specs at the window to those below, and your waving hands go unseen. As the chopper gains height for a full view of Cape Town's city, confined within the natural bowl formed by mountain and ocean, those 'doing lunch' below fade to insect proportions and even the biggest yachts look like bath tub toys and the skyscrapers turn to lego.
Eye to eye with the pinnacle of Lion's Head granite rock, only the paragliders are privileged to the same view and must be carefully avoided by the pilot who has much finer control than the brightly coloured parachutes.
He veers away to hug the coastline, flying high over the populated areas such as the promenade joggers of Seapoint and those dressed to thrill in trendy Camps Bay. A discreet height is maintained over the naked sun worshippers of Sandy Bay who have walked far for their chance to bare all in privacy.
The back seat tittering audibly changes to one of disbelief as the passengers once again look ahead and the pilot appears to be making straight for the rock face of the Sentinel Mountain. He swoops down just in time as a faint whiff of guano rises to the nostrils.
The reason is immediately below on Seal Island where thousands of lazy Cape Fur Seals do not bat an eyelid or budge from their slumber as the chopper hovers over them. In their thousands they grunt and fight and make a tasty morsel for the Great White Sharks who frequent these oceans.
Flying just metres above the sand of Noordhoek's 8km beach you are likely to see dolphins leaping the waves beneath you. Circling and hovering above whales and dolphins, able to see their whole form gracing the ocean rather than just the odd fin, is thrilling and can be best experienced between July and November each year when the whales travel thousands of miles to the Cape to mate and give birth.
Some experiences are the prerogative of the helicopter pilot and passengers alone and cannot be repeated by mere bipeds. One such is careering along the jagged road, cut into the mountainside of Chapman's Peak with a sheer drop to the ocean on one side and vertical rock face on the other.
As if following a high speed car chase the helicopter twists and turns then drops over the edge to look at an unfortunate mangled car that missed the bend and fell to a nasty end on the rocks below.
More sedately, the chopper heads inland and climbs steadily through the hidden wooded gorge behind Table Mountain to glide low over the flat top whisking the fragile table cloth of cloud into an egg-white lather.
Suddenly the tabletop disappears and the helicopter drops over the invisible edge inciting incredulous gasps and even fully blown screams which last only a matter of seconds as the vista of Cape Town pans out in front of you.
The pilot will temper his flying to the disposition of the passengers and will happily hover along for a quiet scenic flight. But, if those on board like an adrenaline rush he will oblige with a ride to rival any roller coaster. Bronte Heinrich is Sport Helicopter's most experienced pilot having flown all over the world clocking up over 4,000 hours in the air, which equates to hovering in space for half a year.
'There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots' says Heinrich, 'and I intend to grow old!' he assured me. That was not enough assurance for one man who refused to accompany his wife and friends on their pleasure flight, reasoning that he would go on a boat because he could swim, but would not go in a helicopter because he could not fly.
I had no such qualms and put total trust in the pilot who turned out to be as good as his word. Anyway it seems that if a helicopter's engine fails, the rotor blades will keep on turning and the pilot can fly you engineless down to earth as he has been trained to do. Still the man declined.
Most passengers are visitors to South Africa because the price of the helicopter ride is a bargain when converted to foreign currency. There are several helicopter companies at the Waterfront Heliport all offering similar flights at a comparable price. The shortest and cheapest is a thrill-seeking 15 minute Atlantic Coast and Table Mountain spin offered by Sport Helicopters.
The flight of fantasy is never long enough and the return to reality is inevitable, but for and an incredible view of Table Mountain, the Mother City and the stunningly beautiful Cape coastline, I would thoroughly recommend taking to the air for a touch of the high life.
By Carrie Hampton