The Gwazi roller coaster at Busch Gardens Africa is one of the only wooden dueling roller coasters in the world, and it regularly thrills riders with its near-miss battles.
Gwazi first opened in 1999 with appropriate flair for its $10 million price tag and status as one of the tallest, longest, and fastest wooden roller coasters in the Southeast. The coaster’s statistics are indeed impressive: 3,400 feet long for each of the two distinct coasters, a 90 foot initial drop, and speeds that approach 50 miles per hour during the two-and-a-half minute ride. Yet Gwazi is more than just numbers that add up to a thrilling ride.
The very name, Gwazi, is shrouded in legend. The gwazi is a mythological African beast with the body of a lion and the head of a tiger, and the creature embodies the power and ferociousness of both great cats. The same can be said of the Gwazi roller coaster: one side is the lion side, with yellow trains and a convincing roar along the track, while the other half of the ride is the tiger side, with blue trains and a tiger’s impressive agility through tight curves and twists. The coaster’s layout as a dueling design brings these two parts of the gwazi together in hair-raising battles throughout the ride, letting the fur fly and delivering incomparable thrills to eager riders.
What is a Dueling Coaster?
Dueling coasters are somewhat rare because of their intricacy and expense. The highlight of a dueling track layout is the near-misses the coaster trains share as they rush head-on toward one another in breathtaking passes. Gwazi has six of these duels throughout its layout, giving riders a competitive thrill along with the adrenaline rush characteristic of any high-speed coaster.
Several other dueling coasters are among the most popular rides in the country, including the aptly named Dueling Dragons inverted coasters at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida; the classically styled Racer at Kennywood in Pennsylvania; and the Lightning Racer at Hersheypark, also in Pennsylvania.
But who wins on a dueling coaster? While it may be said that the coaster train that returns to the station first is the winner by virtue of having beaten its opponent, the riders who enjoy these daring thrills are the real victors.
The Gwazi Roller Coaster Ride Experience
Because of its intense ride dynamics and essential safety equipment, riders must be at least 48 inches tall to enjoy Gwazi. Furthermore, riders with delicate medical conditions such as pregnancy, heart problems, high blood pressure, or head, back, and neck problems may not ride.
Riders who meet the ride requirements enter Gwazi’s queue beneath a colorful entrance with a stylized representation of the combined lion and tiger heads in their respective colors. As riders approach the head of the line, they can choose which side – Lion or Tiger – they wish to ride. Each coaster is distinctive, with the lion trains looping in wider spirals while the tiger trains have tight S-curves along their course.
When boarding the trains, riders must be able to use the seat belts and lap bar restraints properly; because it can take several minutes to adjust restraints for some riders, the Gwazi trains rarely duel with precise timing – that would require hefty delays on either side while rider operators wait for the other train to prepare.
As the coasters leave the station, they rush down short dips before approaching the lift for an anticipation-building climb 90 feet above the park. Once the coasters drop into the duel, they weave and twist through the massive wooden structure and whip through the near-misses with power and grace that makes this coaster well deserving of its relationship with powerful, elegant cats. The finish comes swiftly, but leaves riders purring with delight.
Gwazi Riding Tips
For the best riding experience on the Gwazi coaster, riders should:
- Leave all loose articles (sunglasses, hats, cameras, etc.) behind. Lockers are available near the ride entrance.
- Expect a longer wait in the middle of the day; Gwazi’s line is shortest in the early morning or late evening.
- Keep hands and arms down and inside the coaster train at all times – the fast-paced track can exert powerful counter forces that can be uncomfortable, even painful.
- Take motion-sickness medication or have aspirin on hand if sensitive to sudden changes of direction or rough rides.
- Be sure to ride each side of the dueling coaster to experience both unique track layouts.
The Gwazi roller coaster is a powerful ride that promises great fun for those daring enough to brave it. With two distinct rides battling for dominance, the thrill of the hunt will keep riders coming back for another incredible duel.