By Norma Tsopo
There are people who are so intelligent and gifted such that they will transform the ordinary into something extraordinary. Doug and Bernie Craig are such.
Mtarazi Falls was, since its discovery decades ago, celebrated as one of the finest natural wonders not only in Zimbabwe but globally.
Tourists would flock to Nyanga not so much to see it but—from a very dangerous cliff, take a peep at it. Without a safe vantage point to watch it from, the view was never complete. Those with fear of heights would only take away memories of its roaring falls.
Tour operators would take their clients to it albeit with a fear that they might slip and fall to their deaths from the cliff.
And then Doug and Bernie Craig happened.
This is Doug’s narrative of how they brought magic to Mtarazi Falls:
I started Far and Wide from very humble beginnings. I lived, for many years, in a wooden shack deep in the forest – a very humble home. Not that l wanted to live there but l had a vision.
Where we are today is pretty much what that vision was.
We came from an education background so we dealt with schools, specifically team leadership training using outdoor adventure activities to teach skills that might be useful for people in their lives. So we are not from a tourist background at all.
Certainly money or profit was not been important and never has been.
So, as we went along over the years – and we have been in this business for over 30 years now, we noticed an interesting phenomenon that other people copied us and started doing camping with schools.
The pool or market was getting eaten away and our market share was dwindling, so we like in a great sea like a blood bath of trying to compete for smaller and ever decreasing markets, trying to reinvent ourselves, offering discounts and all sorts of innovative ways trying to hold on to the market but it’s not a very nice place to be.
So we thought about how could we get into a place where it doesn’t have competition that will make competition irrelevant. I call it the blue ocean. So we were looking for a blue ocean that will make us rise above the competition and as I said make them irrelevant.
That is how the Mtarazi Skywalk was born – the idea behind it.
Mtarazi Falls was a disappointing destination for tourists, they arguably the best tourist attraction in the eastern highlands but it was always disappointing because you could never see them.
People used to cleave dangerously over cliff edges and things to get a better view of the fall in all their majesty but you couldn’t see them. You could see about 30 percent of the falls.
So we came up with an idea to build a more accessible and safe viewing platform for members of the public and that’s where the skywalk and zip line started. We approached national parks and they jumped at the idea and it captured their imagination and various other boards, officials and other departments and the end result was it was approved and fortunately we had the funding to go ahead with it and today it exists.
So we had a dream but like all dreams it stayed just a dream until we took the first step. It was a very small step.
I wear this piece of twine around my wrist to remind me of that small step.
That’s what it takes because it was with this twine that we flew the first strand nylon across the gorge with a drone and we were able to pull ever increasing strengths of nylon rope until we had a code strong enough to pull the cable.
So we created this blue ocean for ourselves and it has captured the imagination of Zimbabweans.
Its earned revenue for the park, it’s employed people, it’s helped the communities and it’s just a great success story. And it’s there for all of us.