The attendant looked me straight in the eye and said “She might not look very fast but if she goes any faster you will vomit.”
I didn’t know how to reply. I wasn’t about to push my luck by suggesting she try me. It had already been a long day of spinning, screaming, sobbing, shouting and general pandemonium and I admit that I was already feeling slightly rocky but was putting it down to the junk food.
Knowing that it was the showpiece and therefore that we really had to do it, we had kicked off our visit to Gold Reef City with the Anaconda. Thirty-eight seconds of absolutely unadulterated terror.
Understatedly describing itself as an inverted rollercoaster with corkscrew, this dreaded snake turned us totally upside-down five times, hitting a top speed of 90km/h which it reached in 3 seconds and with a maximum G-force of 3.5G. It was inhuman, to say the least, but things couldn’t get worse than that.
We had thought it best to get it out of the way and followed it with a relatively gentle drift down the Raging River Rapids. Gentle, that is, until the icy flow slopped over the side and onto the seat or until an unseen cliff-top bucket tipped a stream of chilly water down our unsuspecting necks as we slipped underneath. Oh, and then there was the very, very dark tunnel. That bit was scary.
It was time for a quiet drink in Town Square… but there is nothing really quiet about anything at Gold Reef City. If there isn’t a troupe of drummers or a gang of gyrating gumboot dancers on the stage then there’s almost certainly a monocyclist, a man-sized Dalmatian or chimney-sweep lookalike in period clothing flitting past, followed piper-like by dozens of sugar-hyped skipping children.
With our own stomachs settled, at least for the time being, we headed for the rollercoaster, passing a penned pair of placid, if somewhat incongruous, cattle and some ground-pecking chickens. DO NOT FEE THE NIMALS said the worn-out sign so we didn’t, in case ‘feeing’ them turned these calm creatures into some kind of appalling Cow and Chicken Theme Ride. To our relief, they remained mere livestock.
The 20 minute queue for the Jozi Express rollercoaster was worthwhile and for the first time, I felt high but safe enough to look around the old Crown Mine site and marvel at how far it has all come. We were celebrating a 9th birthday but I know – because I am one of them – that the 49 year-olds had just as good a time as the kids did. Gold Reef City is a fun, safe day out for everyone and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, provided you don’t poke any limbs over the edge of the rollercoaster.
We agreed to two more rides after the Jozi Express and the kids chose the Wave Swing, a kind of roundabout with swinging chairs suspended on chains from a giant mushroom-shaped canopy. As it sped up and the seats swung from the vertical to the horizontal, I suffered a sudden and ghastly flashback to a childhood visit to a steam fair where, on a similar apparatus, the child in front of me – a friend of mine until that moment – had been violently ill. And yes, I had flown straight into the stream of stinking chunky debris. At speed.
It was all I could do to keep my lunch down this time and, as the Wave Swing slowed down and we dismounted, it did indeed turn out to be too much for one poor child. At least he was on the ground by then and a strategic bucket of disinfectant was able to sloosh away the evidence.
So it was with a heavy heart and a fluttering stomach that I heard the words of the attendant on The Mermaid, which was to be our last ride, barred into one of a dozen colourful spinning clams adorned with sea-nymphs. Mermaids are kindly creatures, I kept telling myself. And, fortunately I was right.
So was the attendant right. She really didn’t need to spin any faster.
Where it is: Only eight kilometres from the centre of Johannesburg on the site of the old Crown Mines Shaft 14, which produced 1.4 million kilograms of gold between 1897 and its closure in the 1970s.
Why go there: To check the stability of your stomach under pressure.
What it has: A range of thrilling rides plus mine tours, helicopter rides and a museum of gold mining. Accommodation is available at Southern Sun’s Gold Reef City Hotel.
What it’s like: It’s a kids’ day out for the whole family and a fantastic venue for a birthday.
And the food: There’s plenty to eat although not much of it good for you. Who cares though? You’re on holiday.
Rates: R165 for a full day on the rides if you are over 1.3 metres tall. Discounts for smaller people (and limitations on which rides they can use). You can pick up a photo of yourself screaming on some of the rides for R45. Heritage and Mine Tours extra. Special rates in off-season and for pensioners, students and families.
Getting there: Take the M1 south from Johannesburg and stay in the Bloemfontein lane until the Booysens exit, then follow the signs to Gold Reef City.
Contact: Contact Tsogo Sun’s Gold Reef City Theme Park on 011 248 6800. Website www.goldreefcity.co.za. Opening times: Seasonal (Gauteng School Holidays) Monday to Sunday 09h30 to 17h00. Out of Season Wednesday to Sunday 09h30 to 17h00.