Sabie is the undisputed outdoor adventure capital of the Lowveld. There’s an amazing choice of things to do. You can experience the adrenaline rush of the world’s highest cable gorge swing with a 68m freefall. Yihaa! You can go rock climbing, abseiling, spelunking, river-rafting, bungee jumping, quad biking, canoeing, tubing or horse-riding. You can go fly-fishing, sailing, power boating or 4x4ing.
Or you could sit down with a cold beer and wait for the feeling to pass.
Which is what I found myself doing one Monday morning at a gentle place outside Sabie called The Windmill Wine Shop. Terra firma, as my Latin teacher used to say, the firmer the less terror. Their rustic verandah was quiet and cool and looked like a good place to sit down and fight the urge to abseil. And gorge swinging suddenly seemed such a churlish option in the face of the Windmill Wine Shop’s compelling selection of delicatessen fare and fine wine.
“Have you noticed how we are caught in the frenzied grip of an outdoor adventure trend?,” I said to myself, as I inspected the tapas and cheeses. These days you’ve got no cred unless you’ve rafted raging white waters, conquered some lofty peak or flung yourself off a bridge with elastic tied round your ankles. We are under terrible siege from the Camel Man mindset. For many people it is near-impossible to go away for a weekend without dragging along a host of rugged accessories: mountain bikes, abseiling ropes, survival manuals and rhino lashers. Remember the days when you could just go for a walk?
The gentle country ramble has been replaced by the action adventure safari, I thought wistfully as I ordered a ploughman’s-style platter of salami, peppered beef, pecorino and pickles with warm fresh bread. Huntin’, shootin’, fishin’? Whatever happened to eatin’, sleepin’ and readin’? I’ve got nothing against Sabie or outdoor adventure types, of course. It’s just that lately I seem to be more inclined towards the woolly jumper school of adventure — you know, just going to gentle places, doing zip all and not feeling guilty about it.
It’s not that I haven’t had a few adventures in my time. I’ve done the Two Oceans marathon, I even climbed Everest. Um, except it was Two Oceans sauvignon blanc and Mount Everest just outside Harrismith in the Free State. Okay, I admit I still think extreme ironing is something that happens when the domestic is away. But ask yourself this: what is so bad about simply hanging out?
Just to prove my point, I ordered another glass of wine and read the local paper, which is one of life’s greatest travel pleasures, not merely for the typos and bad headlines, but for the vital information you can pick up. Like the fact that Sabie’s museum has a replica of the local Dutch Reformed Church built out of 4Â 200 matches. And that it was the far-sighted Joseph Brook Shires who first realised that man-made forests would be necessary and who planted the first commercial trees here in 1876. These are not things I would have learned if I was out bungee jumping or quad biking. Did you know that the commercial forests out here are some of the largest in the world and employ thousands of people? Despite its outdoor action veneer, Sabie is essentially a forestry town. I called for a double espresso.
The skies were beginning to turn a moody silver and grey by the time I realised I was up for my next adventure: a nap back at the hotel. I took a gentle drive up the Long Tom Pass to a friendly and rustig spot called Misty Mountain, where they didn’t mind if I just sat and stared at the pool. The view from the stoep is amazing — you can see some of the highest mountains in Mpumalanga. Taba Chweu (White Mountain) is a Sotho name that refers to the occasional snow-capped peaks of Mauchberg, Formosa and Mount Anderson — the three 2Â 200m-high mountain peaks between Sabie and Lydenburg.
Misty Mountain is home to the endangered blue swallow, the duck, a couple of Dalmations and a colourful macaw that imitates cellphone rings. Way back in the 18th century this was wild territory with thick tracts of trees forming a dense rainforest. Elephants browsed among the thickets and herds of eland, kudu and buffalo roamed the uplands. Lion and leopard stalked game on the forest fringe and few people came here.
I thought proudly of all those pioneers and explorers who had cut the first trails through this bush, even given up their lives, so that I could lie on a chaise longue watching an infinity pool disappear against the misty mountains. I thought sadly of all the hikers, bikers, abseilers, jumpers and spelunkers. Then I ordered a local beer — Digger’s Draught — which comes from a brewery up the hill called Hops Hollow and raised a toast: here’s to the great outdoors, I said, here’s to the great outdoors!