Ashley Wentworth is an evangelist — about doing good and doing things the right way.
And Stormsriver Adventures, the company he started in 1998 when he escaped the rat race in Cape Town, has probably achieved more than any other — through investing in people.
Apart from being Fair Trade-accredited (one of the most onerous accreditations anywhere) it has also won almost every award worth winning. And they are one of the largest new job creators in the Eco Adventure industry in South Africa.
He was re-thinking his business after a disastrous setback when Mark Brown, an engineer, came to him with an idea that led to Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours. Mark had constructed a similar canopy tour in Costa Rica.
The first of its kind in Africa, the canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters above the forest floor…
Most platforms are located in giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees. The scenery and bird life is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the 2½ to 3 hours.
The concept of guiding people through the upper canopy of a rainforest originated in Costa Rica, where adventurous biologists devised new methods for accessing the forest canopy in order to conduct research on the undiscovered canopy ecosystem. The idea soon developed into a breathtaking form of eco-tourism which allowed people to enter and experience a previously inaccessible natural environment.
Construction was done in accordance with strict civil engineering standards. Concept to completion took fourteen and a half months.
The tour begins with a detailed safety briefing followed by a ‘kitting up’ session where full body harness, pulleys and climbing equipment is issued and checked. A short drive into the Tsitsikamma forest and it is time to monkey around!
From the start on the launch platform a new world unfolds as one gently glides on a steel cable to the first tree platform. All groups are escorted through the forest canopy by a lead guide and a follow guide to ensure your safety as you slide from tree to tree. The platforms, built high up in the giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods, provide an unbelievable view of this enchanting new world — any fear of heights is soon lost as you gather in your new surroundings.
Spend a couple of minutes relaxing while your guides enthusiastically explain the ecology of the forest – pointing out different trees and the magnificent giant ferns way below. The bird life is incredible. Knysna Loeries, sightings of the elusive Narina Trogon and the Vervet monkey are not uncommon.
This is an operation where the attention to detail is phenomenal! The platforms high up on the trees are constructed so that trees are not damaged in any way, and cater for future growth.
The level of safety is mindboggling — and the two very young girls who were in the group I was with were quite at ease with coping with the slides. This is very much a family outing, and just as popular for team-building exercises. (There is the comfort that if you can’t handle the heights — which are not excessive at all — there are escape routes for you to turn back. Every eventuality is planned for.)
But where Ashley really wears his heart on his sleeve is when it comes to his staff — they are his passion. When SanParks irrationally threatened to close his business by refusing permission to use the forest, it wasn’t his business that concerned him but rather the staff. (SanParks really needs to wake up — they’re not among the best companies to do business with.)
Stormsriver Adventures has funded all staff training itself, and it is as comprehensive and rigorous as it can be. Staff are also encouraged to become multiskilled, preparing them for a brighter future. Our tour guide on the canopy tour also works in the IT department.
The company’s beliefs and commitments are at its core — your find them displayed boldly at their offices and on their website:
Stormsriver Adventures is more than just an adventure company, and strives to enrich the surrounding environment and community by honouring the following 10 point commitment statement:
- Total compatibility with sensitive environmental issues thus ensuring a sustained commitment to conservation of natural resources used in adventure products.
- Forming a synergistic relationship with all parties in the area to the mutual benefit of all role players without exclusion.
- Upliftment of the community through job creation.
- Forming of partnerships with individuals/communities through joint ventures.
- Committed resource plough-back by providing training for local inhabitants thus creating a highly professional tourist oriented community.
- Creation of mini-enterprises through the training of “Adventure Contractors”.
- Provide marketing expertise for the responsible expansion of tourism in the area and actively promote the entire area in accordance with tourism forum philosophies.
- Maintain and enhance optimal safety standards in all adventure operations without compromise.
- Expand environmental education packages in collaboration with Garden Route National Parks, Cape Pine and other organizations.
- Actively assist with community fund raising projects and development of S.M.M.E’s.
And they even tell you where customers’ money goes:
[table caption=”Where your money goes” width=”500″ colwidth=”300|200″ colalign=”left|right”]
Empowerment catering company,7
Training & development,5
School feeding scheme,2
Only 43.5% remains to run the company
If heights are definitely not your thing, then Stormsriver Adventures also offers the Woodcutters’ Journey. It’s a completely different perspective of the forest. Those in my group had also done the Canopy Tour, and I agree with them… it was just as worthwhile.
And home-grown heroes? Stormsriver Adventures was a winner at Proudly South African’s Homegrown Awards.