Anaconda at Gold Reef City in Johannesburg, South Africa might just be one of the prettiest steel coasters anywhere. Its lines are graceful, its setting tropical, much of it is over water, and the color scheme is wild, but appropriate for the park. (More recent photos on rcdb.com indicate that the coaster's unique color scheme has been repainted with black trains running on orange track and supports. Pity.)
While climbing the lift, you get views of the park and the rapids ride that runs beneath the coaster. Soon you top the lift and make a left-hand diving plunge into-- WOAH, what's with the rock?
There is this pile of boulders in the way, and the track threads through a TINY hole. You unconsciously pull up your feet and close your eyes, fully expecting to hit something.
Somehow, you and the train manage to squeeze through the hole in the rock. On the other side is water and a huge loop (visible in the picture above). The loop leads to this long zero-g roll, still over water, and another loop.
Up to this point, the layout is similar to the familiar Batman design (found at most US Six Flags parks), only stretched out longer, with a different set of forces due to the longer train. Things, however, are not going to be like anything else from here on.
Coming out of that loop, the train shoots into a long, lazy right hand turn way up in the air... and right at a big-ass rock with a mining cabin on it.
The track winds around the rock, hiding most of the supports so it looks as if the track is simply bolted to the (fake) stone.
That lazy turn quickly becomes a spiraling vortex of forces as the banking increases along with the G-forces. Soon, you are nearly parallel to the ground and really, REALLY close to that rock. It's nearly impossible not to worry about your feet at this point.
The spiral into darkness leads out the other side, right into the blinding sun and a pair of the world's smoothest corkscrews. These are the most perfectly engineered corks on the planet, and the train sails through them as if it were completely effortless.
The last little trick up Anaconda's sleeve is a counter-clockwise helix, which seems odd to you after just having been spun clockwise for so long.
The helix is right next to the queue, allowing those in line to see the look on your face. The banking on the helix varies as it goes, giving riders one last little kick before heading into the brakes and back to the station.
In a little park in South Africa, there sits a truly world-class coaster. I took my rides on the opening weekend, and was completely blown away by the uniqeness, smoothness, and power that this coaster offers. I went back in 2003 and was even more impressed.
One interesting tidbit from the opening weekend... the brakes that slow the train down before it arrives in the station were set too strong and the train would come to a complete stop rather than just slow down. The angle of descent into the station is very slight, so the train would take a very long time to creep in to the unloading area - which made the queue stack up pretty quickly. The solution? As soon as the train stopped on the trim brake, the would unload the train there (the trim/station area is one long platform), then the queue line attendant would ask for volunteers to come up onto the platform and push the train into the loading area. I shit you not. It was fun, it solved the problem, and it would never, ever happen in the US.