Warning: this activity is not for the faint of heart. But it definitely is for those looking for a thrill and a taste of the adventurous South African lifestyle.
Everyone knows South Africans are slightly crazy. We go crazy over sports, parties, food and we certainly like a bit of adventure every now and then. The Orlando Towers are the perfect place to experience this spirit. At the heart of Soweto, overlooking Orlando Stadium, sit two enormous towers looking like a giants’ salt and pepper pots. They were originally built in the 1950s to serve as cooling towers for the local power station, but were converted in the early 2000s to be a tourist attraction. One tower is now the largest mural painting in the country. Janine Kleinschmidt has covered the once ugly, grey building with vibrant swirls of colour and images that reflect the energy and diversity of the people of Soweto living below it. The other tower, while equally bright and engaging, serves as advertising to bring in revenue for the Orlando Towers area.
But what is most intriguing is the narrow and wobbly suspension bridge that connects the two towers 100m above ground-level. From this precarious spot adrenalin-seeking souls can look out at the never-ending view of Soweto and greater Johannesburg before tipping head-first off the edge straight towards the ground below them.
I took my brother, visiting Joburg for the first time as an adult, to the Towers thinking he would enjoy the rush of a bungee jump. Somehow this turned into him persuading me to also take the terrifying leap. We began by being strapped into a full body harness and a kind and patient assistant explained what would happen up at the top. Most importantly, there’s no such thing as a third chance. We were shuttled into a small cage resting against the edge of the first tower before the engine rattled into gear and we shot up the side of the tower. Number One instruction when doing your first bungee jump? DON’T LOOK DOWN. This is harder than you’d think when the cage you’re travelling in reaches the top of a tower that curves outwards and is hanging off the edge with no-where to look but down.
Jumpers go up in groups of about 6, and I was lucky enough to get to watch a few other nervous people take the plunge before I was walking nervously along the rickety bridge swaying high up above the ground. The entire process is very professional, I barely had time to think about what I was doing before two very confident and very strong men ushered me to the edge and told me not to lean back. “I’m not,” I replied. “Yes, you are,” they laughed nervously as I strained against them to get away from the ledge. Next thing I knew I heard a voice say “One, two, three… Bungee!” and I shut my eyes and dropped forward. It was the most exhilarating feeling I’ve ever had, freefalling for almost 100m and screaming my lungs out.
The best part about the Orlando Towers is the sheer number of activities they offer, there’s bound to be something for everyone from a very tame zip line for the youngsters, to rock climbing, a freefall inside the towers, paintball and base jumping. You can even sign up for other tours around Soweto. Perhaps the best part is rewarding yourself – after whatever adventure you’ve chosen – with a trip to Chaf Pozi next door. This is a popular chesa nyama, a typically South African, relaxed restaurant that serves mainly meat grilled over an open flame in full view. There will always be music pounding, drinks flowing and people generally having a good time.
As an introduction to Soweto, and an example of the crazy South African lifestyle, the Orlando Towers are as good as it gets. They’re an easy 40 minute drive from the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and you couldn’t possibly be bored with everything they have to offer.
I recommend visiting in the morning before it gets too crowded, stopping at Chaf Pozi for a well-earned lunch, before venturing further into Soweto for an afternoon of sight-seeing. Perhaps go to the famous Vilakazi Street and see the house that Nelson Mandela lived in or visit the Hector Pietersen museum nearby. If you’ve somehow got energy left over, book a bike tour with one of the many companies operating around Soweto and take advantage of Joburg’s almost always perfect weather. Just beware of the typical highveld thunderstorms that often come rolling in late in the afternoon. Or maybe you’ll just find this part of the adventure!
Activities at the Orlando Tower however, are dependent on wind (I personally would not want to be up there on a particularly windy day). Bungee jumpers must be between 35kg and 110 kg and under-18s must have the signed consent of their parents. The bungee jump currently costs R550 per person. Activities at the Towers are open Fridays to Sundays and on Public Holidays from 10:00-18:00 and on Thursdays from 12:00-17:00. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!
The Orlando Towers are located on Dynamo Street, off Chris Hani Road in Orlando East, Soweto. They can be reached by driving, taking the Rea Vaya bus system (which stopes nearby) or minibus taxi. For details call +27 71 674 4343.
Chaf Pozi is directly next door to the Towers. It is open Wednesday to Sundays and costs about ZAR 80 for a main meal. They can be reached on +27 84 334 0005.