Cape Town gets a quirky makeover from an illustrator this July
Tandem Paragliding in Cape Town with Para Taxi
Dayle Kavonic experiences what it’s like to soar through the sky with this esteemed adventure company
I’m being asked to run off the edge of the world. I’m standing on the crest of Signal Hill, the bald crown of Lion’s Head mountain looms to my left, a parking lot fills up with rowdy view-seekers to my right, families picnic merrily to my rear and the ground drops away steeply into nothingness, revealing only a distant ocean horizon, directly in front of me. And of all the directions I could possibly go, Jan de Jager, the founder of reputable local company Para Taxi, is asking me to bolt forward.
“How long have you been doing this for,” I ask him while he double-checks all the clips and straps on my harness and pulls on a few strings that flap about behind us. “Ah, about a week or so,” he answers, smiling, clearly tickled by the horrified look that spreads over my face as his response sinks in.
Truth is though, as I’m relieved to find out moments later, a passion for paragliding is woven deep into Jan’s being and he’s been doing it for well over a decade. Many years ago, friends dragged him along on a paragliding course, and as someone who used to be plagued by a fear of heights, he didn’t really take to it at first. It was only on his 23rd flight when the launch was perfect, the landing even better and everything in between felt like pure freedom that flying captured his heart.
“Paragliding is the best natural rush that you can ever get,” he tells me seconds before take-off. “The moment your feet leave the ground, everything stops, you’re not thinking about pressures or worries or anything else, so I started Para Taxi because I wanted to give that experience to others too.”
My feet are still on the ground and I’m already not thinking about anything, my mind a little numb with nervousness. I’m not even aware it’s begun when I find myself scampering along towards the horizon, Jan running with force right behind me. The multi-coloured paraglider balloons and soars above our heads and I’m still whirling my legs frantically, cycling-style, when suddenly, we’re wonderfully weightless. My heart leaps and pirouettes as all solidity falls away and as I dangle above the world, I watch my shadow, the only link I still have to land, shrink amidst the retreating shrubbery.
Signal Hill scurries away to our backs and the geometric lines and coastal curves of the suburb of Sea Point start to unfold far, far below. We pick up some height and start to drift gently in the direction of Lion’s Head. Because the weather conditions are ideal today, according to Jan, we can float for a little longer than normal (standard flights are between 10 and 15 minutes), so we stretch out time, following the twists of the land beneath us and hovering for a few moments over a falcon that’s sailing along as smoothly and silently as we are.
I don’t know whether I expected falling or swooping or spinning, but all I feel is utter serenity. The only sound up here is that of the wind moving through my hair, the only sensation is cool air on my cheeks and sun on my skin, and the only picture before me is one of beauty – many of Cape Town’s greatest assets (her pristine shoreline, her titanic peaks, her sweeping greenery) spread out under my feet, and there’s really no more magnificent way to see them than from the sky.
The surprising calmness of it all is precisely why tandem paragliding appeals to someone like me. I have a flickering of daredevil somewhere deep inside, but I’m also two-parts princess, so an activity that’s not too extreme but also not too docile is right up my alley. It’s also why almost anyone of any age or fitness level can indulge in this adventure and experience the powerful freedom of flight.
I also feel absolutely safe, not least because I’m clearly in great hands. Para Taxi isn’t just some fly-by-night start-up; it’s a respected, registered paragliding company - the only one of its kind in Africa with a Fair Trade Tourism certification in fact (that means fair treatment of staff and an eco-conscious ideology). Not to mention, it’s 100% committed to giving passengers a professional, secure outing that’ll top their list of most treasured moments.
“For us, it’s not about flying as many people as possible in one day” Jan says over the silence, pointing to the bowl of the Cape Town Stadium on our left and then on to Robben Island, which sits squat on the ocean like a lily pad in the distance. “It’s about safety and making sure passengers have the most memorable experience.”
We’re starting to descend towards the sea now, coasting slightly lower over the patchwork cityscape of Sea Point. We cross the boundary of the beach strip and circle out over the endless blue of the Atlantic, while Jan reaches up to redirect the paraglider back inland and I scan the water for whales optimistically, knowing full well that’s it’s not the right season to see them.
Finally, we dip down towards the ground and land on the lawn of Sea Point’s promenade just as smoothly and calmly as we took off. The awe-inspiring magic carpet ride is over in just 15 minutes. For foreigners here on a tight schedule, the short time that the experience takes means that they have plenty hours left in the day to pack in more activities. For me, though? No, I’m biding my time, hanging around and hoping that Jan might just ask me if I’m up for another run off the edge of the world.
Note: For my flight, we launched off Signal Hill, but depending on the wind, Para Taxi does also offer paragliding from Lion’s Head, Sir Lowry’s Pass, Hermanus and a few other locations.
Tip 1: Don't forget to ask about the Capetownmagazine.com Wednesday special for a discounted rate.
The Bill: Para Taxi is sometimes slightly more expensive than other service providers, but the quality of the service received makes every rand spent well worth it. The good news is that they often have extremely good CapeTownMag reader specials - making them more affordable - just for you! So ask for any current CapeTownMag specials; they can be up to R200 off at times! The paragliding costs R1500/p normally and in-flight videos and images shot on a GoPro are charged for separately at only R300/p.
Review your experience with them onlien by visiting their TripAdvisor page.
Use our events section for an up-to-date overview of happenings in Cape Town. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and if you have a smartphone, add m.capetownmagazine.com to your home screen for quick access on the go!
Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, join our Google+ circle, connect with us on LinkedIn, check out our photos on Instagram and follow our Pinterest boards for updates on what’s happening in and around the Mother City!