Aqua hiking, the ultimate experience on Reunion Island.

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“Look straight ahead and just take a step” says Aliocha, our guide.

I am about to obey and then time slows down,

My legs turn to jelly and my mind screams

“Are you flippen insane? “

I am standing on a slippery rock next to a waterfall that drops for way too many meters before it hits the pool below in a fury of white water. Above me green cliffs soar towards the heavens, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and I am in paradise.

I am also absolutely petrified and unable to move.

For days I have been mentally preparing myself for this jump of eight meters.

“It is mind over matter. It will be over in seconds. You can do it.”

Right, tell that to my body, because as much as I really want to jump, I just can’t seem to take that one little step.

I decide to start again.

I take a step back and foolishly look down. A swear word escapes from my lips.

I breathe.

Deeply.

Right, I am afraid of heights and today I am going to face my fear.

I make the decision, step forward, look forward and so begins the longest hesitation…

For thirty endless seconds I stand like a fool saying out loud

“I am going to do this, I want to do this, I can do this”.

I hyperventilate.

And then I just jump.

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It is not pretty, it is nowhere near graceful, but it is exhilarating.

I free fall and hit the water like a bullet, my body goes underwater while the life jacket rockets up to my ears and pops me back above the surface.

Laughing and gasping for breath, I look up to where I was standing just a few seconds ago.

It looks so far away; I can’t believe I just jumped from way up there.

I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.

Welcome to the ultimate experience on Reunion Island. This is Aqua Hiking, and if I can do it, anyone can do it.

The first challenge of aqua hiking starts after a winding, uphill drive from the coastal town of Saint Benoit to a small informal car park alongside the Langevin River.

The guide Aliocha, (just call me Yosh) presents me with my outfit for the day.

Stripped down to my bathing costume I start the long and arduous process of putting on a full body wetsuit. This involves a lot of grunting, rolling, stretching and pushing flesh into rubbery corners until finally it is on and I am exhausted.

Then come the socks, takkies, life jacket and helmet and the final flourish is a heavy duty Prussian blue piece of plastic that fits like a nappy. Not styling this look at all, and sweating profusely in this attractive getup, I start the 200 meter uphill walk to official starting point.

The not so little pint sized one in the middle is me.

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The views from the start are spectacular and a good excuse for a quick rest. A group in front of me are ziplining into the pool below, but our route involves climbing, slithering and slipping down black mossy rocks, over boulders in finally into the 8 degree water.

A few practice jumps off a meter high rock and I am oozing confidence. Bring it on.

Saying goodbye to the eight waterfalls that thunder into the first pool, I realise that this water flows pretty fast and concentrate on the instructions from Yosh.

Basically he tells me to lie on my back and use my feet and hands to avoid crashing into large rocks. OK then.

Yosh is incredibly fit, softly spoken and really calm. This is a good thing as freaking out was definitely an option on hearing these instructions.

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“Lie down, I am going to push you underwater. You must go under this rock, but don’t worry, you will come up on the other side.”

Whaaat? I can’t  even see the other side. Somehow I obey, and don’t drown.

I swirl along a few more gentle rapids, taking the line Yosh indicates and probably due to brain freeze, I trust everything that he says. Mostly it works out fine and then this happened.

I have been slipping and sliding over rocks, wading through shallow pools and climbing up and down embankments around trees, when I am told to sit down on a flat rock waist deep in water.

“Move to the left and lie down in the channel. Look up, cross your arms over your chest, I am going to push you, and keep to the left of the waterfall. Just trust me”

What the……. ?

I am sliding, no I am airborne and I am hurtling down a waterfall, inhaling most of it as I go. Once again the life jacket hits my ears and spluttering, choking and laughing I hang on to a rock to catch my breath.

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A swim to the rocky wall and I am behind a waterfall. Oh my soul, this is too much. I stand there grinning like a maniac trying to take it all in. The noise of the water rushing to meet the pool overwhelms all other senses and for a moment I am completely in awe of the power of nature. It is raw, unbridled energy.

Crouched down, I use everything I have to launch myself and I dive right through the waterfall and into the white water. I roll onto my back and float with the current.

I have never felt so alive.

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All too soon it is over and I wade through a few more pools before the short walk up and along the embankment to the car park.

The adventure ends with an ice cold beer and the long process of getting out of wetsuits, helmets and all the rest and back into regular clothes.

I felt like I could conquer the world. The next day, I could barely walk and sported an impressive collection of scrapes and bruises.

But I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.

I would do it again without a second thought. Next time, I’m choosing the full day option.

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To book an Aqua Hike contact www.Runaventures.com

Air Austral flies between Johannesburg and Reunion Island on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Thanks to Hannelie Diedericks for taking the pics with my phone. I need the evidence to prove to myself that I actually did this. 🙂

Disclosure:  My visit to Reunion was as a guest of Reunion Tourism.   Opinions are all my own.

How to escape from the crowds in Knysna, South Africa

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Knysna is the ultimate holiday destination which means that loads of people flock there over the holidays. Sometimes the vibe starts to feel a little manic, the action somewhat frenzied, the crowds, the noise and the traffic overwhelming. It’s time for a change of pace. Here are 10 ways to enjoy Knysna that will not leave you stressed, frustrated, and yearning for peace and quiet.

Escape to Thesen island and the Turbine Hotel

From the busy Knysna Waterfront, a 365m bridge over the water will welcome you to the relative calm of Thesen Island. Once a gritty industrial area and hub of the timber industry, it was converted into the Thesen Island Harbour Town, a magnificent marina development that was awarded Blue Flag status in 2013.

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Cars are only seen around the shopping mall and restaurant area, the rest of the island is linked by canals, waterways, pedestrian paths and nineteen bridges.

The Turbine Hotel on Thesen Island is masterpiece that will enthral anyone with an interest in architecture, design and engineering. This twenty four roomed boutique hotel manages to blend industrial edginess, five star luxury and local history into a refreshingly different place to stay in. Read more about the Turbine Hotel and restoration here.

The hotel is a skilful conversion of the old power station. Due to the heritage status of the building the exterior is unchanged, but the interior is what makes it unforgettable.

Brightly coloured tables and chairs share space with massive, freshly painted wood boilers, generators and turbines. A huge chain hoist and hook is a feature in the Tapas Bar and the dials and switches of the control panel situated behind the reception desk beg to be examined.

Metal stairs lead up to a grid walkway and one of the wood boilers, restored to pristine condition. The surrounding walls have stories to tell. Framed newspaper cuttings, some dating back to the early nineteen hundreds provide insight into a different time in history.  An old 1:50 000 map of Knysna shows how much the entire area has developed over the years.

A swimming pool that looks over the canals, fine dining at the Island Café and a peaceful sleep uninterrupted by traffic noise make the Turbine a tranquil haven for your base in Knysna.

Find peace on the water

A sunset Cruise from the Thesen Island canals to the Knysna Heads with Turbine Water Club pontoons is a relaxing way to explore the marine eco- system, or just float mindlessly and take in the view. The bubbly and canapé’s served on board  add a decadent touch to the fresh sea air and the stunning views.

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Celebrate the sunrise

In summer first light is around 5 am, the perfect time to take one of the bright red canoes out for a paddle on the waterways, sharing space only with the birds. Head out to the open waters of the lagoon and watch the Pied Kingfishers having breakfast. Nature puts on some great displays as these birds hover in the air before diving for fish. By 8am you can be back at the hotel enjoying a stack of pancakes and a cappuccino, completing the feeling of utter contentment.

Discover the views

A drive to Knysna heads is a must if you find gazing at the ocean therapeutic. The Knysna Heads are two cliffs that rise up to 80 meters on either side of the narrow opening where the lagoon meets the sea. A short walk from the car park leads to various view points and gives a great orientation and overview of the Knysna area. Less popular, but a favourite place of mine are the Heads at sea level. A restaurant and a rocky beach lead to a cave like rock where the water echoes as it rolls in and out. Red starfish and sea urchins are easy to spot in the cave, but first prize goes to the Fish Eagle who paused briefly on a wooden pole, calling to his mate.

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Explore on two wheels

A trip with Knysna Hike and Bike is not your average cycle tour. It starts with cake and cappuccino at a café with Anne and Mandy, Knysna locals and accredited professional tour guides. The pace is comfortable and the stops en route are unusual. A bit of effort was required to get up the hill in the industrial area but the reward was a beer tasting with The Red Bridge Brewing Co. This natural hand brewed beer is a celebration of everything about Knysna.

The Pioneer Series pays tribute to the Prospectors, Mariners and Woodcutters who shaped the town as we know it, and the ethos of this brewery is all about the community, from sourcing staff and ingredients to branding and manufacturing of bottles, crates and apparel. The beer is great too. The Privateer IPA is as good as any bitter, the Prospector Golden Ale is lighter and thirst quenching but the Woodcutter Saison Ale is the ultimate in craft beer. Subtle citrus undertones blend perfectly with hops and malt, this beer is best ordered by the jug, with a case or six to take home.

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Visit the Knysna sea horses

These curious little creatures can be found at the SANPARKS office on Thesen Island. At just 7cm in length they are small in stature but big on design.

They are an endangered species, but could they also be suffering from an identity crisis

They have the exo -skeleton of an insect, and an internal skeleton of bones like a human. As water creatures they have fins and gills, but also have a pouch in their midsection just like a kangaroo, and sport a monkey like tail that is used for gripping. Their chameleon style eyes move independently and can see in all directions. Sea horses mate for life and the male is the one who gives birth. They seem a little shy but if you stand quietly at the tanks that house them you will be enchanted by these delicate, fairy-tale creatures.

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Knysna Hike and Bike can tailor make your ride to suit your interests and focus on beer, wine, gourmet food or anything else you can dream up.

Head for the hills

A 25 km drive from the centre of Knysna will take you into the heart of the Millwood Forest where the trees soar, paths lead to waterfalls across golden coloured rivers and signs warn of the dangers of entering the old mining tunnels. Guided by an expert in the area from the Rheenendal Ramble tour company, the history of the woodcutters is brought to life, and the flora and fauna of the area explained, including tales of the elusive Knysna elephants, three of whom are definitely still living here.

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Forests are mystical and healing and Millwood is no exception, green, dense and silent apart from the sound of the rain splashing the top of the forest canopy but unable to penetrate the thick foliage.

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Eat like your grandma once did

Lunch at the inimitable Totties Farm Kitchen is a feast for all the senses. The original store that served the woodcutters with their basic requirements still trades today and the buildings are a hodge podge of corrugated iron, stripped plank ceilings and mismatched window frames. Old photographs and memorabilia are dotted all around the interior and the gardens, and it is difficult to decide what to do first, eat or explore.

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Indulge your senses

The ultimate in relaxation is a pamper session at the Amani African Spa, situated at the Turbine Hotel. Their signature kurhala ritual is a blissful ninety minutes of a full body and face massage coupled with a pressure point foot treatment that leaves you feeling like a new person.

Let Accommodation Direct help you find your ultimate hideaway. Deep in a forest, overlooking a beach or down a quiet dusty road, they will find the bed in the setting that matches your dreams.

Save time by flying

Knysna is a 6-hour drive from Cape Town or as I recently discovered a 45 minute flight from Cape Town with Airlink.
Airlink – the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA

Route Specific Information:  Direct scheduled flights between Cape Town and Durban to George.

Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.

Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme -Voyager.

Website:  http://www.flyairlink.com

Flight Bookings:  online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.

Disclosure My stay was hosted by the Turbine Hotel, this article first appeared on AFK Travel website.