Tis the season for carols...
The Elfin Trail in Constantia with VoiceMap
A fantasy-themed audio walking tour through the beautiful and least-known forests and glades in Cape Town
[Soft instrumental music starts playing.]
“Welcome, traveller”, I hear a distinctly Irish female say in my ears. “You should be standing alongside a small wooden hut in the parking lot of the entranceway to the Cecilia Forest. We've got a way to go, and we'll start walking soon but first, let me explain how this works.”
As the lyrical voice suggests, who I later learn is a timid fairy named Pepper Windshimmer, I’m standing in Cecilia Forest’s car park right next to the little wooden guard hut with about 30 others. Smartphones in our hands and earphones plugged in, we attentively listen – in our own time – to the private audio track playing in our ears.
“That magical device in your hand”, our storyteller continues, referring to our cell phones, “will trigger narrative automatically at the right spots, so you can put it away now”.
Tentatively I put my phone in my pocket, quickly glancing around to see if others are doing the same. For the majority of us, this is our first time, so we’re still getting the hang of things, but as Iain Manley, co-founder and CEO of VoiceMap – I’ll come back to this in a bit – had explained, prior to us hitting the large bright green start button on our screens and hearing our guide’s instructions, the app uses GPS to automatically play the audio. Therefore, once it’s running you really can put your device away and relax, the track will play right on cue without you having to do a thing.
“If you do feel you've lost your way or don't know where to go, you can check the map on your screen”, Pepper reassures. “But the idea is that you focus on the glorious enchantments we're set to discover. I'll explain more as we go. It's not unusual for people to make this journey alone, but please keep your wits about you at all times. Our walk will take about an hour and a half at a normal pace. Are you ready to begin?”
Cell phone in pocket, water bottle in hand and comfy walking shoes on feet – I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and I take my first steps away from the wooden hut as my trusty narrator had instructed. Seeing the mentioned signboard to my left as well as the small footpath leading away from the main gravel road, I turn off onto the single path beginning my Elfin Trail journey.
Before I continue my day’s adventure, let me give you some context. As previously mentioned, Iain Manley (along with Lauren Edwards) co-founded VoiceMap, which, in short, is a GPS audio walking tour app. Originally created on the understanding that traditional guided tours didn’t truly reflect the range of voices available to the specific area, VoiceMap was designed to be built by storytellers (bestselling authors, field experts, passionate locals and many others) for storytellers, from all around the world. Acting as the ideal platform for individuals to tell their stories, VoiceMap allows for a deeper and more meaningful connection between the narrator and listener than that of a more traditional tour narrative.
Today, I, as well quite a few others of all different ages, am walking the Elfin Trail audio tour.
Created by John Bartmann, a VoiceMap editor, the Elfin Trail – Cape Town’s first imaginary audio walk – is an immersive, heightened fantasy-themed storytelling experience through the greenbelts of Constantia, namely Cecilia Forest, The Alphen Trail, The Diep River Trail, The Klaasenbosch Trail and Kirstenbosch. Listeners are guided along a semi-shady 5-km trail where they’ll hear timeless stories, original music (created by John and friends) and natural sound effects.
I’m well on my way now (with the others well behind me), confidently walking through the least-known and beautiful forests and glades of our pretty city while Pepper’s soothing voice guides my way. As mentioned, the app uses your smartphone’s GPS system to pinpoint your exact location (remember to turn on your location service and GPS before you start walking), allowing for the audio app to know you’re exactly where you are, and as if by magic, cue each soundtrack automatically.
As the audio continues, I quickly become more and more in tune with my surroundings, responsively listening to Pepper’s stories and folktales in my ears. From the moment I step off the main gravel road onto the single trail and hear the tale of the Dragon of Kinabalu, I immediately feel as if I’ve been transported to an entirely different realm. Although I’ve walked this route many times before – the 5-km track isn’t an uncommon path amongst nature-lovers – I’ve never experienced this trail. As I continue step-by-step an entire new trail unfolds before me and I’m swept away to a faraway land filled with mystical creatures, courageous princesses and monstrous castles.
Without giving too much away – this is something you MUST experience for yourself – the soundtrack has been skilfully created merging new stories with old folktales and well-known literature with deep-rooted myths and legends curating an original narrative experience. Throughout my journey, my imagination is heightened and I’m constantly on edge looking this way and that as I’m guided past mountain ranges (which were once inhabited by Gothic dwarves), led over cursed roads and am told to cross goblin-ridden bridges. My journey takes me through Belle Woods and the Deep Forest, past tree-dwellings and nobles fortresses. I learn about fairies, woodland elves and centaurs. Expertly and right on time, the audio track guides me on my way telling me exactly which fork to take, what I should see to my left and right or which landmark I need to look out for.
What’s more (and although it’s highly unlikely to happen), should you get lost but have yet to realise your wrong turn, the audio track will let you know straight away by playing Gandalf the Grey’s voice (from Lord of the Rings): “Not all those who wander are lost, but I think you might be” – a fittingly witty and charming response to help you get back on track.
After approximately two hours of walking within the enchanted woods, I start to see the thicket clearing. And as I leave the forest behind me and see the sign for Kirstenbosch, I sadly realise that my Elfin Trail is slowly coming to an end. Framed by houses on my left and a small river on my right, I take a left turn up above onto an open grassy patch. From there, Pepper leads me over the grass meadow to my last location for the day.
“This is it then,” Pepper says. “The exit to the protected lower areas of Kirstenbosch. We, the creators of your adventure along the Elfin Trail today, wish that the wonders of this magical place remain with you for the rest of your day, and that you'll return to its charms many more times.”
Exiting through the nearby gate, I remove my earphones from my ears and turn right towards the Cecilia Forest parking lot. Although my Elfin Trail adventure has come to an end (a magical experience I’ll never forget), I truly encourage that you start your own Elfin Trail journey and rediscover the magic of lost childhood fairy-tales and so much more…
“Farewell, good person.”
[Soft instrumental music fades.]
NOTE: VoiceMap has provided CapeTownMagazine.com readers with one FREE audio tour of their choice. Click the link: voicemap.me/share/capetownmagazine, fill in your details and once signed in claim your tour and explore!
Downloading the Elfin Trail:
- Install the VoiceMap mobile app for iPhone or Android.
- Sign up with email or Facebook. Look for “The Elfin Trail” in the Cape Town menu tab and tap the red download button. The price is R37.99. Click download. Allow ALL the files to finish downloading before you close the app.
- Once the download is finished, the download button will change from red to green, and instead of seeing the price, you'll see the word "Start". You're then ready to go!
Downloading Tip: Use Wi-fi to download your tour before you start. Although while listening to the audio track your location services and GPS must be active, VoiceMap works offline and no mobile data is used.
The Bill: The Elfin Trail audio tour costs R37.99. You can pay using your iTunes and Google Wallet accounts.
Directions to the Starting Point: The Cecilia Forest’s parking lot is located at the intersection of Rhodes Drive and Hohenort Avenue in Constantia. Cars are usually guarded by a volunteer staff member and a recommended donation of R10 is advised.
66 Albert Road | Woodstock | +27 (0) 81 868 0197 | https://voicemap.me/tour/cape-town
by Krysia Gaweda
Fine dining, views and indulgent spa at a luxurious new guest house called Purple Rayn.
Looking for other cool activities to do with your little ones? Check out our overview of 50 Super Cool Things to Do for Kids. Or if you’re looking for other cool apps in Cape Town, then check out our overview of Cool Cape Town Apps.
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