Up High in the Sky: Bulwer Mountain Paragliding

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Let’s face it, jumping off mountains is not everyone’s thing, and I have yet to decide if it’s mine; so I was more than happy to live vicariously through two paragliders-in-training with Wildsky Paragliding.

Less than 2 minutes’ drive from my house, Wildsky Paragliding is a school and lodge at the foot of Bulwer Mountain. Operated by partners Hans and Ria, Hans established Wildsky in 1996 after giving up corporate engineering for his love of the outdoors and extreme sport. Hans is a South African National Paragliding Instructor, has flown for Team South Africa and has Springbok colours in paragliding.

As Hans drove myself and the two trainees through Bulwer Biosphere to the jump site called the 1000 (1000 ft high), he related interesting facts about the area and paragliding, the different heights the trainees jump from and the impact of the weather and wind. I looked up at a darkening sky and wondered how long we had before the rain let loose over the autumn landscape of the Southern Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) Midlands.

As we climbed higher, a solitary silence settled over the 4×4, as if a war between head-fear and heart-desire raged inside the trainees. There was a palpable sense of anticipation, adrenaline, and sheer want for bragging rights.

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At a precariously steep part of our ascent, my blood ran cold looking out of the window, we were so close to the edge! But in my morbid curiosity I asked, “Hans, has anybody ever fallen off the mountain here?”

“There have a been a couple.” Hans went on to explain how, out of fear of the edge, drivers had perhaps over-compensated and gone too far right, driving on the unstable ground where mountain becomes road. The correct way is to drive nearer to the edge (shock horror), to get the required traction and angle to ascend this part of Bulwer Mountain.

From the jump site you look directly down on my little Bulwer, and I excitedly ran to the edge and said out loud to no-one in particular “Look, I can see my house from here!” I scampered to each vantage point, taking in the northern & Southern Drakensberg and the KZN Midlands. I was in awe of the vast landscape peppered by the colourful Zulu huts that burst with beautiful ethnic character. And then of course I found selfie-perfect high-up spot with Bulwer Village in the background below.

All the while the two-way radio crackled through the pristine silence; down below at the landing site Ria kept in constant contact with Hans on current conditions and other need-to-knows. The aim of the game was to get as many jumps in that day, so the trainees could proceed to the next level.

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The first trainee confidently galloped off Bulwer Mountain and was guided down by Ria, while the second and more intrepid of the two, followed and did just as well. It was around this time that Hans dropped the bombshell and asked me “Do you want to *jump?” (*tandem flight with Hans as I have not completed the training to jump solo.)

My heart was in the air and on the floor, but then my practical mind found two worthwhile reasons to procrastinate: 1) I was wearing a strapless bra that had the tendency to become misplaced. 2) Out of excitement I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and it was 1pm. I sheepishly explained the latter of the reasons to Hans, and the wardrobe malfunction to Ria later, both I’m sure recognised how welcome the excuses were (face palm).

The trainees each jumped once more before the weather put a stop to our adrenaline antics. As we descended, the rain and wind swooped upon us and I pondered how fragile we are as humans afore the forces of Creation.

The aroma of fresh rain on untouched foliage washed over me, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, appreciating this natural experience. And when I opened them, before me was a beautiful sight of two cows lazily watching me from a hill in Bulwer Biosphere; the ultimate ending as I love almost all things bovine, you could say I have a permanent case of moo-derlust 😊

I have an open invitation to hurl myself off Bulwer Mountain with Wildsky Paragliding, and one day I shall trick myself into it; but until then I shall continue to live vicariously through pictures, parables and posts. On the day I conquer my fear, my body shall join my soul at the height of happiness over BulwerKZN.

The Secret of Bulwer – In My Opinion

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Interview originally published via #TravelChatSA

  1. Please introduce yourself.

Monique van der Walt – In the smallest of nutshells: From corporate PR to Purpose Driven Life.  Less than a year ago I resigned my corporate PR position to seek my true purpose. I currently find myself living and loving Social Media Tourism, PR & Photography.

  1. Where do you live – and where is the town located?

Bulwer is a small farming town in KwazuluNatal (KZN) about 2.5 hours drive from Durban in the Southern KZN Midlands, right at the start of the Southern Drakensberg region.

  1. What is Bulwer “famous” for / or what should one know about the town?

The town itself is pretty old, and is named after the Lieutenant Governor of then Natal from 1875-1880, Sir Henry Bulwer, and is home to one of the oldest yellow-wood churches in SA. The village rests in the shadows of Magwaqa Mountain, boasting a biosphere, fantastic forestry & a world-famous Paragliding site.

The R617 is the only road that will take you to the village, but don’t blink, you could miss it completely. Little Bulwer has a Library, Police Station Station, Fuel Station, grocer / odds ‘n ends store, a few trade stores and couple of funeral establishments. There is a new Municipality under construction which is expected to bring great development to the town and possibly even a Shoprite/Checkers. As it is now, the nearest retail chain store is Spar, 35 kms away in Underberg; but the produce from the local farms is readily available at the smiling street vendors.

Marutswa Forest is one of the most active clouds forest in SA and draws international visitors. The forest is a sanctuary for the Cape Parrot and has a boardwalk with viewing platforms for a chance to spot the many rare and odd birds calling Marutswa Forest home; some say there could be unknown species living deep inside the thick bush.

The vehicle registration for Bulwer is NIP, and the standing local joke is it means Nowhere In Particular. But in particular, look out for the Nguni cows and jolly goats that wander the highway and pepper the byways throughout the area.

Bulwer is also the hometown of the 2017 Comrades Marathon male winner, Bongmusa Mthembu.

  1. What are the top things to do in Bulwer?

Being such an off-the-grid town, the list of things to do suits the nature lover to a T, with vast forests and serene nature reserves all around Bulwer Village.  Bulwer is known for her off-road trails that provide the perfect terrain for hiking, horse riding, cycling, motocross, 4×4 or even just a slow nature and birdwatching meander.  Fishing, tubing, and swimming the nearby rivers is on Bulwer’s summer agenda. There is even a place called “Bulwer Beach”, natural pools hidden deep in the forests, and you’ll only ever hear about it or go there with a seasoned local.

But there is a wildcard thrown in for the adrenaline Junkie. Bulwer Mountain is known as one of the best paragliding sites in South Africa, so much so that there is a resident paragliding school on her slopes (Wildsky Paragliding – with onsite log cabin accommodation).

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Ard Lui B&B

  1. Any dining places you’d recommend?

My favourite way to “eat Bulwer” is the numerous fruit and veg stalls, packed with fresh and delicious local produce. This is sufficient for me as I have a plant-based and raw-food diet, but for everyone else, there are a few places to eat in Bulwer:

On the west side of Bulwer is Nip Inn, Pub & Grub – the favourite local hangout; the kids area is fantastic and the food is wholesome and hearty.

On the east side is Mountain Park Hotel with its old-world charm pub and restaurant.

The Shisa Nyama in central Bulwer is an authentic experience for the any traveller and an up-and-coming function venue. In the spirit of small town living combined with welcoming Zulu culture, you will find that almost anyone can join the festivities.

I must add that being a country town, things are delightfully informal. Not a restaurant per se, Loretta of Ard Lui B&B said she could rustle up a good meal or high tea, to be enjoyed with a view of fantastic gardens and Bulwer mountain.

  1. Recommended places to stay in Bulwer?

Ashtonvale Guest Farm is a working four-generation farm, family owned and operated. Beautiful hillside rondavels, three waterfalls on site, animal farm, tennis court, swimming pool, entertainment lounge pony rides (and more), it’s a fantastic & reasonably priced family getaway.

Nip Inn boats lovely log cabins with DSTV, campsite, caravan park and onsite pub and restaurant and is the meeting place for many a rural activity.

Established in the 1940s, Mountain Park Hotel is a your landmark for arriving in Bulwer. The garden cottages are a pleasant and serene budget stay, and once the hotel rooms are upgraded they will surely provide the same. The restaurant and pub fireplace provide tasty and cosy country comfort.

Ard Lui B&B is an enrapturing and historic place to stay, with exquisite grounds and interior décor that seamlessly blends of classic and modern design. Little touches like the nightcap tray give you a timeless feeling in a room that is modern in design and flow.

  1. What is your favourite thing to do in Bulwer?

Bulwer’s complete country immersion is perfect for me; as the saying goes, early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy (check) wealthy (I am in soul) and wise (continual WIP). So, my top activity would be simply exploring the acres of forest surrounding the area, and capturing Bulwer’s beauty. I also enjoy “cow-spotting” – finding and photographing roaming cows in random places.

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  1. Why should one visit Bulwer?

It’s a place where KZN Midlands Serenity meets Drakensberg adrenaline, and almost everyone can find their perfect balance of the two in Bulwer, South Africa.

Harding, KZN – Roadside Countryside

On Tuesday 11 February 2014, I was on the road again, the N2, this time Harding, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

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Besides the SA National Roads-works underway on the N2, the drive was most pleasant and beautiful.

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I took a couple minutes here and there to capture on camera the beauty of our Lords creation.

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The drive took about 2.5 hours there and 2.5 hours back to Durban.

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The coastal area here is know as Hibiscus Coast, contrasting sugar cane fields and rolling dark hills

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