Soweto’s vertical adventure centre

18 February 2009

Soweto, South Africa’s famous township, is well known to tourists who’ve visited Johannesburg and gone looking for a taste of the city’s African culture and history of resistance against apartheid.

Now, adventure tourists can also board the bus to Soweto, as a project to develop a “vertical adventure centre” with a distinctive township feel starts coming to fruition.

And, if you’re a local and you’ve already done the bungee swing between the two 100-metre-high Orlando Towers in Soweto, and need to push the boundaries further: no problem. For a new adrenaline rush, you can now do the swing inside one of the towers.


Zoopy TV takes a flying leap from Soweto’s Orlando Towers. Click arrow to play video.

Yes, from this weekend you can line up for the internal bungee swing, says Bob Woods, the project director and rope expert. The external swing involves falling 30 metres from the top of the tower, then swinging back and forth like a pendulum and eventually being lowered to the ground.

On the internal swing, you swing high inside one of the towers and then are lowered to some 15 metres above the ground before taking a foefie slide (zip slide) back to earth.

Soweto’s Orlando site is dominated by the huge, colourful twin towers, which used to supply electricity to the former white suburbs of Johannesburg, but which are now defunct. The disused power station building is a cavernous structure some five storeys high, overlooking a dam.

Phase one almost complete

The internal swing and other features will complete phase one of the adventure tourism project taking place at the towers, made possible by a loan of R3.6-million from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).

“Adventure tourism is a major growth market around the world, and the creation of an adventure tourism facility will undoubtedly contribute towards Soweto’s economic diversification and tourism attractiveness,” says Kate Rivett-Carnac, the DBSA’s tourism specialist.

Woods says the vast walls of the towers will be developed into a “vertical adventure centre the scale and nature of which describes a truly unique and legendary facility.”

He promises that by late March you can expect to be abseiling down the towers, and by early May you are likely to be bungee jumping between the two towers. He has brought in Canadian experts to help with the final rigging for the bungee jumping.

Climbing the walls

Also in the pipeline is climbing the internal walls of the towers, a climb of some 60 metres. Woods is concerned that climbing is an elitist sport – he’d like to bring it to young Sowetans.

“I would like to promote climbing among the people of Soweto. It can often be a tool in helping to channel energies in a positive way,” he says. Other facilities below the towers he foresees are a restaurant, a music venue and bar, and a small skateboarding park.

“We want to create the feeling of a park, where families can spend the day.”

Since opening in June last year, Woods says he has had 15 to 20 jumpers take to the towers each day. Most visitors to the site are Gautengers, with 18 percent being foreign tourists. But it seems most people can’t quite bring themselves to jump off the towers, preferring instead to take the lift up, and stand admiring the view.

Otherwise, from March you will be able to take a foefie slide ride from 10 metres up the side of one of the towers.

You pay R360 for the swing, or R60 to take in the view from the top. The swing is open on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. You can book your place on the website.

Source: City of Johannesburg