South Africa has some of the best rock climbing in the world, with Cape Town particularly well endowed. There are literally hundreds of bolted and natural routes on excellent quality Cape granite or Table Mountain sandstone within the city limits. There are climbing schools and mountain guides in all the main centres, and route guides are available from climbing shops.
River trips range from mostly scenic to grade five whitewater washing machines. There are over a hundred listed paragliding or hang gliding launch sites, and many more less well known, with schools in every centre. Also up in the air, there are many opportunities for helicopter rides, balloon flights, aerobatics, skydiving and microlight flights.
Thousands of kilometres of hiking trails wind around the country, in desert, forest, mountain or coast, and many have mountain bike trails adjacent. Some hikes are a bit more luxurious – you walk from hotel to hotel and have your luggage taken round.
There are wonderful easy horse trails through vineyards, on the beach or in the mountains and, for the adventurous and more experienced, horseback safaris in big game country.
We have the highest commercial bungee jump in the world (at 216 metres), as well as lots of pretty abseiling and bridge swinging.
For something combining adrenalin, peace and tranquility, and sheer beauty, try the treetop canopy tour in Tsitsikamma.
The art of canyoning – known as kloofing in South Africa – is another hot favourite, with self-guided and escorted trips.
ABSEILING & RAPP JUMPING
It’s only recently that abseiling has become an activity in its own right. Really it’s just the method climbers use to get off mountains – or special services forces use to descend deserted buildings into enemy territory in adventure movies – but it’s fun, and so it’s become available as an activity in its own right.
You can hang out high over Cape Town abseiling from Table Mountain. The “long drop” is 112m high – and about a kilometre above the city – making it the world’s highest commercial abseil.
There are three abseil routes on the spectacular western head at Knysna, further up the Cape east coast – including a really high, very exposed site hanging right out over the crashing waves.
Not far from Knysna, and also with fantastic views, you can do a combination abseiling and kloofing (canyoning) trip down the Storms River Gorge, which involves a 100m abseil into the gorge, a tubing trip down the river, a short walk out of the gorge and then a cycle back to the village.
You can abseil down buildings in Durban and Johannesburg, or even rapp jump if you like. Rapp jumping is abseiling with the ropes attached to your back instead of your front, so you go down facing the ground – and at a run, if you’re in a hurry.
Weehah! South Africa has the highest commercial bungee jump in the world – it’s official. At 216 metres, it’s not for the faint of heart. Run by Face Adrenalin, the Bloukrans is on the border of the Eastern and Western Cape.
The same company also offers a range of jumps on the much lower Gouritz River Bridge. Here you’ll also find South Africa’s only commercial bridge swinging operation, run by Wildthing Adventures.
Not sure of difference between bungee jumping and bridge swinging? With bungee, you jump off a bridge (or other high fixed platform) with giant elastic bands usually, but not always, tied to your feet. Bridge swinging, on the other hand, involves jumping from one bridge while tied in to climbing ropes suspended from an adjacent bridge.
PARAGLIDING, HANG GLIDING & FLYING
OK, not many places don’t have sky, but South Africa has lots of it – and very good quality it is, too …
In the hot interior we see thermals like you wouldn’t believe, and many paraglider and hang glider pilots have made record-breaking distance flights, particularly in the Northern Cape.
But of course this flat, hot area doesn’t have much in the way of relief – for that you need to head for South Africa’s coastal provinces, or Mpumalanga.
There’s loads of excellent ridge soar and some fantastic scenic flying near the coast. In Cape Town, you can launch off Lion’s Head in the evening, flying into the sunset, to land at one of the popular beachfront pubs.
And if it’s skydiving you’re into, Skydive Cape Town can take you to a drop zone that boasts one of the best views in the world from altitude.
Further up South Africa’s coast, near the Garden Route town of Wilderness, you can fly over the sea, often seeing dolphins and whales. And, of course, the high-lying areas of the Western and Eastern Cape, the Drakensberg and Mpumalanga offer spectacular mountain scenery.
There is even reasonable flying about 80km from Johannesburg, near Hartbeespoort Dam, where you can fly under the controlled air space of a number of medium-sized airfields and Johannesburg International Airport.
The cliffs are big, wild, often remote – and still being discovered. And it’s a climate for being out in. South Africa offers some of the best, and most diverse, rock climbing in the world. Gear up, chalk up, and start cranking!
Ever since the German climbing magazine Rotpunkt published an article about Waterval Boven in 1993, foreign visitors have been flocking to this Mpumalanga town for some of the best sport climbing in the universe. The Restaurant (officially known as “The Restaurant at the end of the Universe crags”) offers more than 500 routes, and there are still numerous untouched rock faces in the area.
With routes ranging from scramble-easy to a superhuman 33 – and a number of natural or “trad” (traditional, or unbolted) routes – there’s something for everyone here.
Outside Durban, there are also a lot of sport climbs, and a few close to Johannesburg. En route between these two major centres, you’ll find some wonderful bolted routes in good hard sandstone in the eastern part of the Free State – notably at the Mount Everest nature reserve near Harrismith.
If you’re more of a traditionalist, don’t worry. You can revel in miles of unbolted rock in the fantastic, virtually pristine Blouberg in the Limpopo, the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, the Magaliesburg in North West – in close striking distance of both Johannesburg and Pretoria – or in the miles and miles of fantastic mountain ranges in the Western Cape.
One of these deserves special mention. The Cedarberg, two-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Cape Town, is a world-class bouldering area – and boasts some of the best trad rock climbing routes in the country.
But for a close-to-city experience, nothing can beat Cape Town, with hundreds of sport and traditional routes within the city limits. The city is built around Table Mountain, a national park consisting of two great, hard rock types – Table Mountain sandstone, which gives nice positive edges, and Cape granite, which offers fantastic friction climbing.
MTB heaven! There are so many fantastic trails it will blow you away. South Africa is a treasure trove of exciting routes, discovered and waiting to be uncovered, with weather allowing for cycling at any time of the year, all day and just about every day.
Around Cape Town there are some great single-track routes on the mountain and in the pine plantations. There are escorted trips on the mountain, around the winelands and in the Cape Point section of the Cape Peninsula National Park.
The scenic De Hoop National Park near Swellendam, up the east coast from Cape Town, has dedicated, easy trails. There are a few hardcore trails near Swellendam, and then onto the Garden Route, which is just fantastic.
There are four superb, laid-out circular tracks in the Harkerville Forest, ranging from mellow to a hectic red route. And nearby are two long, quite strenuous linear trails, Homtini and Petrus se Brand. Locals and international visitors alike agree that the last 6km of Petrus se Brand is the most fun single track ever.
Port Elizabeth also has dedicated trails, including one traversing a green belt which cuts right through the middle of the city. An annual MTB race on the Wild Coast set a precedent for pedaling this fantastic area.
KwaZulu-Natal has its share of routes, with many great ones in the Drakensberg and the Midlands.
The Free State is home to some seriously strenuous trails, and often has competitions. There’s one called the Two Mountains Race, which should give you an idea of what you’d be in for.
And Johannesburg has a huge active MTB population, so there are a lot of trails nearby. Many of these urbanites head out to the wonderful trails in Mpumalanga, where you’ll find lots of opportunity to get down and dirty.
South Africa has fantastic rivers, so you’ll be spoiled for choice. The most popular – for good reason – is the Orange, which forms the country’s northern border with Namibia. It’s a long, green-fringed oasis running through the mountainous desert area known as the Richtersveld. Incredibly scenic, it also has a few fun rapids.
The section below Augrabies Falls is similar, and there is a one-day rafting trip above Augrabies which features some exciting but not radical rapids. The Gorge section of the Orange is a lot more technical and has some high-volume rapids.
The Vaal, a tributary of the Orange, has some fun little rapids and is very close to Johannesburg, so it’s a popular destination for corporate trips. Also near Johannesburg, the Crocodile River offers a pleasant day out with some small and mildly challenging rapids.
The Doring River in the Western Cape has a short season towards the end of winter, and offers fantastic, quite technical white water, but it’s pretty cold.
The Palmiet River is absolutely wonderful. It runs through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and offers fantastic technical rapids and wonderful scenery. The trip offered takes one day and includes all meals and sometimes a visit to a winery.
The Molenaars is a very technical, white water river that only works for a few days immediately after heavy rain in its catchment area, so it’s not easy to plan a trip. The Sonderend River is a smallish river where you can do a fun day trip or overnighter.
There are two trips on the Breede River: a one day wine tasting trip near Worcester, which is really just an excuse to have a lovely picnic and sample some local wines, with a little bit of paddling thrown in. Lower down, near Swellendam, two-day trips are run on some small rapids and quite rocky sections. This section is used mainly for corporate trips.
There is some fun canoeing in the lakes area of the Garden Route, especially Wilderness and Knysna Lagoon. Other enjoyable flatwater trips include the two self-guided excursions near Port Alfred, one of which is up and down the conveniently tidal Kowie River. The other is a short paddle up the Kleinemond River to a wonderful overnight spot, called Kayak Camp.
Far more luxurious would be an escorted trip through the spectacularly beautiful and biologically unique Kosi Bay lake system. And, also in the Maputaland area of northern KwaZulu-Natal, there are fantastic escorted one-day trips on Lake St Lucia, where you may see crocodiles and hippos, and on Lake Bhangazi, also part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.
The Umkomaas River on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast offers fantastic paddling with some fun, challenging but not too technical rapids. Just north of Durban, the Umgeni has some delightful little rapids. The section paddled is part of the gruelling two-day Dusi Marathon.
The Buffalo River used to be the border between the kingdom of Zululand and the British colony of Natal and is near some fantastic historical sites. It’s a lovely river with some quite challenging rapids. Standard trips are two days. The Buffalo is a tributary of the nearby Tugela River, which also has some pretty impressive white water with some very scary rapids indeed.
The Blyde River in Mpumalanga is probably one of the most beautiful rivers in South Africa – a somewhat hectic, technical alpine-style river with a steep gradient. A second trip on a tamer section of the same river is far easier, and the nearby Sabie River also offers an easy day out. The Olifants River, also close by, has some wonderful, big but not too technical rapids and also traverses some beautiful scenery.
There’s no better way to experience South Africa’s wild places than with your boots on and your feet on the ground, one in front of the other, taking in the country’s fantastically scenic hiking trails. Here are some highlights.
The Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast is probably the most popular hike in the country. Lush forests, rugged shorelines, mountain streams and waterfalls and fragrant fynbos make this a special one. It’s strenuous, with lots of ups and downs, but the distances aren’t too great.
If you want the scenery and walking with less slog and more luxury, try the Dolphin Trail. It traverses similar terrain to the Otter – joining up with it in places – but instead of hiking huts you stay in fully catered guest houses with great views and good food. Your pack is transported to your next overnight spot by vehicle, and you carry only a day pack with lunch, water, camera and swimsuit.
The Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape offers similar trails but dramatically different scenery: miles of deserted beaches, wave-lashed rocks and occasional tropical forest.
Accommodation is in coastal hotels instead of huts. The usual is to carry your pack, but you can arrange to have it driven around, if you plan ahead.
Purists can tackle the Wild Coast rough as they like. There are miles and miles of unspoiled hiking trail traversing high mountains, deserts and forests, where the accommodation is the usual hiking hut, and the cuisine whatever you decided to carry.
For an even wilder experience, you can hike for days in the Cedarberg, near Cape Town, or the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, without seeing a hut or a route marker. These are designated wilderness areas, and you simply take a map and a permit and set off, sleeping under the stars or in convenient caves.
There are many others, some of which are on private land. You can get a reasonable idea of what’s available from the Footprint Hiking Club.
Of course, the most important aspect of a hiking trail is that you don’t constantly bump into other people. And the only way to ensure that is to limit numbers, so that means you have to book.
Horse riding trails in South Africa are as diverse as the terrain. You can take a brisk canter along a beach, an amble through vineyards, a fast ride across sweeping grasslands or a meander through magnificent mountain scenery.
If you’re comfortable on a horse, you can ride among some big game. If you’re not, there are some easier options where the game is not likely to consider eating you (or your mount).
Trips range from an hour or two on the outskirts of cities to multi-day treks in the wilderness; in some places you can even do moonlit rides at full moon.
If you’re a skydiver, you know about adrenaline addiction and the attraction of gravity, so you won’t want to miss the chance for a quick jump while you’re on holiday.
South Africa has skydiving clubs in all the major centres and in even some unexpected smaller places such as Grahamstown and Pietermaritzburg.
The biggest club in the country is Pretoria Skydiving Club, which is your best bet if you want to get involved in some big RW. They fly two Pilatus Porters, so 20-way formations are a real possibility.
And if you’ve never skydived, consider doing your first jump in South Africa. With our favourable exchange rate, you’ll find it a lot cheaper than in other countries. You could choose between a standard static line jump or a tandem jump, where you are tied to an instructor who makes all the decisions for you.
If you think you might get serious about skydiving you could do an accelerated free-fall course while you’re in South Africa and save a bit of money, as it is the most expensive part of a skydiving career.
Then there’s the scenery. Even if it’s your first jump and you think you’ll have your eyes closed the whole time, don’t worry, you will see the view.
Many of South Africa’s drop zones are in pretty locations and, hey, here’s a bonus: do a tandem (or single) jump in Cape Town and get a pic of yourself hurtling earthwards in front of Table Mountain. That wouldn’t look bad on your desk (or desktop) when you get back to the office.
If it’s variety you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. South Africa has an enormously long coastline ranging from about 35°S to 27°S, which isn’t quite within the usual range of tropical diving.
But the Mozambique Current flows down our East Coast, bringing warm tropical water with it, and at Sodwana Bay we have the most southerly coral reefs in the world. Of course, they have the full complement of pretty colourful fish and some great nudibranchs, including the outrageous Spanish dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineas).
Whale sharks, turtles, dolphins and ragged-tooth sharks (Carcharias taurus) are often seen in specific places.
And then, as you head down the coast, the underwater fauna and flora change gradually until, once you’ve reached Cape Town, you’re diving in chilly but beautiful kelp forests.
There are three major types of kelp, and a short portion of the Western Cape coast is the only place in the world that they all grow together. If you’ve always shunned cold water diving, consider it.
Sure, you do have to dress up in a great thick wetsuit with constraining hoodie and gloves, but it’s worth it. Diving in kelp is like walking in a forest. You float beneath the canopy and admire the surprisingly colourful reef life.
Off Cape Town, divers regularly see anemones in colours ranging from electric blue or deep red to pale pink, nudibranchs of almost every colour you can imagine, and a whole range of small creatures in and around the bright orange and sulphur yellow sponges.
There are dive schools in almost every centre in the country – with a surprising number in the landlocked Johannesburg area. Perhaps it’s not so surprising: most people do their training up there and then head down to Sodwana Bay for their qualifying dives.
There is even an inland dive resort near Johannesburg, where students can do their first dive or two in a disused quarry. Komati Springs is a much deeper disused quarry in Mpumalanga where rebreather, mixed gas and deep diving courses are run.
When you come here to dive our wonderful reefs, do take careful note of your no-fly limits. A flight from sea level to Johannesburg can take only an hour, and you gain 2 000 metres (7 000ft) in altitude – that’s without even considering the flight.
This really is a major risk, so adjust your itinerary to include a day of sightseeing, shopping or beach lounging between diving and flying to Johannesburg. Even driving to Johannesburg immediately after a dive, for example at Sodwana Bay or Durban, can put you at risk, as the drive is only six hours.
Source: Media Club South Africa