Gold Reef City

9th April 2005

Although we were now in a hotel inside a park both of us had been wanting to visit for years, we ruled out an early start. We sat down for breakfast at the eminently civilised hour of 10:00am, which cost the princely sum of R56 (€5). We had chosen a restaurant in front of the South African equivalent of Mr Six, an elderly gentleman in a tuxedo, though unlike the american version, he was standing in the shade playing a trumpet. Though it was putting up a good fight, it was definitely losing, and I wasn't sorry when we were out of earshot. Sir Thomas Beecham famously remarked that "Brass bands have their place; out of doors, and several miles away". He was right.

Gold Reef City

The first coaster we located led to the first colourful metaphor of the day. Golden Loop is a Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop, one of ten in the world. For me at least, it wasn't a huge loss, as I'd already ridden three others, but it nevertheless killed any chance of us riding all the coasters in South Africa on one visit. It also meant that my 400th coaster would not be in South Africa at all, and as things turned out, it ended up being something utterly worthless. You win some, and you lose some.

We had a look to see if we could determine what general maintenance might be in progress, but there was no sign of life up at the station. Viewing the ride track from the car park suggested that part of the running rail in the loop may have been damaged, though this may have been an optical illusion and should not be treated as fact. Whatever the problem may have been, we found out later that the ride was scheduled to be closed until December 2005, implying that some fairly major reworking was required. Instead, therefore, we made our way over to Anaconda (#397).

Built in 1999, Anaconda was one of just three coasters built by Giovanola under their own name. The other two, Goliath and Titan, are well known by enthusiasts for featuring some of the most intense G-forces of any coasters in operation today, while at the same time remaining extremely smooth. However, there surely had to be a reason why only one inverted model was ever sold. Rather than just duplicate the features of other inverted coasters of the time, Anaconda introduced a new feature, an over-banked helix, that was only reproduced on another inverted coaster nearly five years later. Research and development costs surely could not have been covered by one installation alone.

The entrance to the ride is actually under the lower section of the mid course helix. The riders come racing past no more than four or five feet above the heads of those entering the line. Anywhere else in the world this would be considered a serious insurance risk, as it would be trivial to throw something at the oncoming train and thereby seriously injure a passenger. This general lack of barriers was repeated throughout the park on other rides, with parents being allowed to stand directly beside operating rides while their respective little darlings were on board. Actions like this are not even remotely dangerous provided that those involved have some semblance of common sense, which is probably why it is absolutely forbidden in America.

Gold Reef City

Walking through the queue revealed a staff member sitting high above with a clear view of the entire area, presumably to watch for and catch queue jumpers. This is an exceptionally boring job at the best of times, but is probably even more so in a country where everyone seems to follow the rules at all times while at the same time remaining in a permanent state of calm. I would hazard a guess that the only people ever caught queue jumping are foreign tourists. Even still, with the number of people in the park on our visit this role was completely redundant as most of the rides were a walk-on anyway.

Seeing the station and the train in close up allowed me to draw a number of comparisons between Anaconda and the common inverted coasters from B&M, which this ride for the most part resembles:

  • The train has two-across seating and ten rows. Having such a long train provides for a drastically different ride experience in front and back. However, a single twenty passenger train leads to limited passenger capacity. Assuming a cycle time of two and a half minutes, Anaconda can achieve a maximum throughput of 480 passengers an hour.
  • There is no moving floor. On B&M inverted coasters, the floor drops down about a foot before the train is dispatched. On Anaconda, there is surprisingly little clearance between the train and the hard concrete. My height, of 6'2", was sufficient for me to scrape the toes of my shoes against the station floor as the train pulled away.
  • There are no seat belts. Seat belts on rides with over the shoulder restraints are as a rule unnecessary and serve as a redundant safety system. This ride, however, does not have them.

The ride opens with a twisted first drop of around 100ft into a tunnel, followed in short order by a vertical loop, an inline twist, and another vertical loop. Standard elements, you may argue, and they are, but Anaconda takes them at a speed and with forces to make the various Batman the Ride clones seem like kiddie rides. This is followed by the downward helix over the ride entrance, which gives passengers a chance to get their vertical horizons back while still pinning them firmly into the back of their seats. The ride continues with a double corkscrew and concludes in spectacular style with an over-banked helix, again passing within five feet of those queuing below.

I was expecting Anaconda to be a moderately decent ride though with its flaws, given the fact that, as mentioned above, Giovanola never sold another one. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be a gross underestimation. It has to be said; Anaconda is simply outstanding. One might argue that the pacing is not as good as it might be, as the forces don't pause even for a moment between the top of the lift hill and the brake run. This is a fair point, but one that can be forgiven when you consider that the actual momentum-driven portion of the ride lasts a little under a minute. The tracking throughout is butter smooth with no jarring and no noticeable bumps anywhere on the course. With apologies to Alton Towers, for me at least Nemesis has dropped to second place.

Unfortunately, the high standard set by Anaconda was not maintained by the parks powered coaster, the Run A Way Mine Train. The ride layout has much in common with Alpenexpress at Europa Park, with parts of the ride sharing a building with the nearby log flume. However, it is hobbled by appallingly low capacity; the ten passenger train takes two minutes ten seconds out on course, and by the time you allow for passenger loading the ride can achieve a maximum throughput of two hundred passengers per hour. This could have been a little more forgivable if the ride was actually worth waiting for, but the better part of the course was simply too slow to be exciting. It would probably be possible to fix this ride with a longer train (and a more powerful motor). Something to consider if anyone from the park is reading this.

The newest coaster at Gold Reef City, the Jozi Express (#398), opened just five months before our visit. Though the ride was apparently custom designed for the property, it didn't seem that way; rather, it felt like an off-the-shelf coaster placed on an open space of land at one side of the park. The complete lack of any theming whatsoever seemed very out of place given the detail in the rest of the park, making me wonder if the area is scheduled for completion at a later date.

Gold Reef City

Imagine travelling over six thousand miles to visit theme parks in a country you may never return to. Consider that the original idea of this trip was brought on by the existence of two signature coasters in one park. Ruminate on the financial implications of return eleven hour flights. Contemplate the physical exertion of spending twenty six hours on aircraft (Dublin to London to Cape Town to Johannesburg to London to Dublin) in a period of four days. Then look at the photograph across.

We found out later that, like Golden Loop earlier in the day, Tower of Terror had recently closed for upgrade work, and was scheduled to be down until December 2005. The timing does make logical sense given the seasons in South Africa, but was nevertheless frustrating. Depressed, we made our way over to the Ferris Wheel, located directly beside the Tower of Terror. As the wheel went round, we were able to take many photographs which showed us conclusively that the coaster we were missing really didn't look that good, and we were not in fact missing anything at all. Yeah right.

To cheer ourselves up, we went back across to Anaconda. We waited for a train to dispatch before making our way up to the station, thereby getting our choice of seats. Having previously experienced the middle of the train, we went straight for the back row. There is plenty of hyperbole about this ride further up the page, all of which bears repeating again, but suffice it to say that the back seat on Anaconda is without question the most intense experience I have ever had on any inverted coaster anywhere. The front seats were not bad either.

Gold Reef City is built around a now disused mine, which nevertheless still holds the record as one of the most lucrative gold mines to ever operate. It is possible to take a tour of the mine from within the park itself. Visitors are kitted up with helmets and electric torches, the latter are powered by surprisingly heavy shoulder-carried batteries, presumably lead-acid models. The elevator down the shaft takes several minutes to be lowered more than two hundred metres into the old mine where almost twenty thousand people earned their living. It might just have been an odd coincidence, but all of the tour guides were of Asian ancestry. Perhaps it was one of the requirements for the job. Regardless, our guide provided an interesting and animated commentary on what we were seeing. We were led through some very cramped and small tunnels, putting those of us over 5'4" tall at a definite disadvantage, but at the same time conveying far better than words could what it must have been like to have actually worked there.

By the time the tour ended it was approaching 3:00pm, and definitely time for some lunch. Back at home it is possible but difficult to find a quality cooked meal in a restaurant for less than €10 at lunch time. This is more than three times what I paid for a delicious Chicken Chow Mein.

After lunch, we made our way over to the two water rides in the park. The rapids ride, in this case called the River Ride, was out of order and looked like it might have been that way for a while. Instead, therefore, we made our way over to the log flume, which for some reason is named The Raging Rapids. Though it wasn't bad by any means, it felt like a major anticlimax after the magnificent log flume at Ratanga Junction yesterday. It does share one major characteristic with its brother in Cape Town however; it is not a dry log flume. Unusually, though, the back seat passengers end up getting more wet than those in front. How the designers managed to achieve this is a mystery to me, especially since the ride does not include a turntable and the boat faces forward throughout.

The rides were due to close at 5:00pm, so we spent the remainder of our time taking photographs of the various rides in operation, although we did stop for additional rides on both Jozi Express and Anaconda.

We finished up the day with a brief stop in some of the merchandise shops. Like Ratanga Junction, there was a lamentable lack of good t-shirts available. There were plenty of native South African designs on offer, but nothing whatsoever featuring any of the rides in the park. We could only find one t-shirt with any mention of Gold Reef City at all, though this was available in a huge variety of different colours. My size was not available in any colour I might have considered wearing, though in the end the sales assistant located a 2XL one which she assured me would shrink in the wash. It did, though only a ten year old would fit in it now. Oh well.