Imagine what it must be like to walk within the canopy of an enchanted forest and to experience life in the tree tops. SANBI & the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens imagined just that and set a process in place to make it real. `The Boomslang’ as the Kirstenbosch Treetop Canopy Walk has been nicknamed by the project team is one of the legacy projects celebrating the Centenary of one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. It is also a celebration of the diversity of Southern African trees and is OPEN to the public.
I joined an Arbor Week (2 – 6 September 2013) `tour and tale’ of the construction of the Treetop Canopy Walk and was enthralled. It promises to be an exciting 3D experience of the Enchanted Forest at Kirstenbosch with views of the gardens and Cape Town through a pallet of leaves.
Adam Harrower the Kirstenbosch horticulturalist responsible for the Arboretum was our enthusiastic guide. He showed us drawings and a model of how the Canopy Walk has been designed to suggest the ribbed skeleton of a huge snake. The Boomslang Canopy walk starts a few meters from a giant wild almond
which was planted by Jan van Riebeeck as part of his famous protective hedge in 1660. The Treetop Walk rises gradually from the forest floor to snake in a gentle crescent to a high point of 11m just below the canopy of the tallest trees. It then sweeps back to earth 140m from its take off point. The structural elements are galvanised steel with a slatted wooden walkway and curved wooden handrails. It will be powder coated with `Kirstenbosch Green’ commented Adam and he looked at the pallet of green leaves surrounding us with a vaguely amused expression that says: ”Don’t ask me which best acknowledges Kirstenbosch Green”. It is anticipated that the steel mesh walls will gradually become a part of the enchanted forest as creepers cover the structure. The canopy walk will cost in the region of R4 million and is being funded entirely from bequests, one of the largest being the Mary Mullins bequest.
It was clear from looking at the drawings that architects Mark Thomas and Christopher Bisset (Mark Thomas Architects) in conjunction with Henry Fagan (HENRY FAGAN & PARTNERS structural and civil engineers) are creating an attractive engineering structure that will harmonize with the forest setting. The load bearing strength of steel means that the number of people using the treetop walkway does not need to carefully controlled. The steel design also means that fewer supporting columns are required with a corresponding reduction in disturbance to the forest floor.
Selecting the specific route between the trees has required as much attention to detail as the structure itself. Apparently the Enchanted Forest on the site of the Arboretum is one of the newer horticultural areas at Kirstenbosch. Over 450 indigenous trees from Southern Africa grow here and while a number are older that Kirstenbosch’s 100 years, many were planted about 20 years ago by Dr. Ernst van Jaarsveld.
With the opening of the Treetop Canopy Walkway visitors to Kirstenbosch can experience the Enchanted Forest from a boomslang’s perspective. Up here you may catch glimpses of katydid crickets and bright caterpillars or watch the interactions of foraging birds instead of their momentary silhouette against the sky. Perhaps, best of all is the opportunity to witness the trees’ celebration of seasons of flowers and berries and new growth. My guess is that it will become one of the most popular of Kirstenbosch’s many attractions.
KimK 6 September 2013
Photo of the Artists impression of the Treetop Canopy Walk for Kirstenbosch came from http://www.sanbi.org/news/look-out-big-boomslang-kirstenbosch-summer