Acrobranch, meaning ‘to swing from tree to tree’ comprises a variety of obstacle courses strung out amongst trees. The park in Melrose was established in 2010 and was the first of its kind. So popular did it become that courses have now been rigged in Centurion, Cape Town and along the Garden Route.
Acrobranch Melrose occupies a pocket of land within a thick grove of Blue Gum trees in the picturesque James and Ethel Gray Park just five minutes from Melrose Arch. Driving up to the venue, I could not help but think of scenes from Star Wars and various other fantasy films and novels involving tree cities, such is the nature of the set-up. All manner of nets, zip-lines, walkways, bridges, platforms, ladders and numerous cunning obstacles punctuate the trees, all of which just beg to be tackled.
But before anyone is allowed to climb anything, all customers have to report to Acrobranch’s central thatched reception hut and engage in a safety briefing and mini training course. Safety is taken very seriously at Acrobranch. Only guides are allowed to kit climbers up in their harnesses and obstacles are navigated by means of a two snap link carabiner system: i.e. climbers hook two carabiners attached to their harnesses on to safety lines strung out along each obstacle at all times.
Acrobranch Melrose currently offers four obstacle courses and the ‘Big Zip’, a 200m long zip-line which traverses a section of the James and Ethel Park. The easiest course, ‘Playing Cubs’ comprises 13 obstacles just 1.7m’s off the ground. This course is aimed at children over the age of three and can be simultaneously walked by watchful parents. The most difficult course, ‘Hunting Lions’ consists of 45 obstacles, platforms 8.5m’s off the ground and various zip lines, the longest of which spans 44m’s. Those who wish to tackle this course have to measure over 1.5m’s tall.
Of course, my friends and I just couldn’t resist trying the most difficult course, a choice my arm muscles would regret the next day. Straight off the bat it became apparent that ‘Hunting Lions’ is definitely not for the faint of heart or those who aren’t of the fairly fit persuasion. As for the height, well, let’s just say that those who suffer from vertigo should probably not attempt this particular course.
Many of the obstacles were downright difficult to navigate thanks to swaying poles and safety lines, off-kilter bridge slats and large gaps which saw more than one person (myself included) performing the splits in mid-air. Many of the obstacles could also only be completed through the use of some serious upper body strength. We rounded the course off with an exhilarating ride down the Big Zip.
The course, including safety briefing and Big Zip line, took approximately two hours to complete. Overall the course proved incredibly fun, challenging and refreshingly different. It required a combination of co-ordination, balance, flexibility, strength and a fair measure of confidence. And therein lies the beauty of the Acrobranch courses. They force you to challenge yourself and push you out of your comfort zone. Importantly, you have no other choice but to focus on where you are, use your body and get up close with nature. There’s no room for phones, tablets or pc’s up in the trees!
In addition to the courses at Melrose, guests and their families and friends can utilise the thatch lapa or benches scattered around under the trees for picnics or braais. Snacks can also be bought at the kiosk. All of Acrobranch’s parks follow a similar theme and are great for those seeking a day away from the malls or something different to do for their birthday or teambuilding events. Just be warned that booking is highly recommended as the parks fill up fast, especially over weekends. I know I for one will definitely book another course soon.