Discover all that South Africa has to offer for thrill seekers and action lovers
Some people like to spend their holidays on a pool lounger with a book and a long cool drink. But if you’re not one of them and instead you are looking to break a sweat, head out on uncharted waters or feel the zing of adrenaline through your veins, then you have come to the right place. South Africa, with its beautiful and diverse landscape of mountains, bush and beach is the perfect destination for active holidaymakers.
Raft the Orange River
Visitors who want to do something totally unique in a remote and beautiful part of the country should consider a rafting trip on the Orange River. While not actually orange in colour (instead, the Dutch named it after the Prince of Oranje), a multi-day, facilitated river rafting trip on this, the country’s longest river, is still an unforgettable experience. Suitable for a group of friends or a family, everyone will get a good dose of physical activity – quite how much depends on the water level, the route you choose and what craft you go for.
Canoes are fast and a fun challenge in the rapids, inflatables are more comfortable and slower. Either way, there’s quite a bit of tranquil paddling, punctuated by bursts of adrenaline when you negotiate the rapids. When your paddling is done for the day, you can camp out on the banks of the river and eat by the fire under starry skies clearer and more beautiful than you would ever see in the city.
The Richtersveld is a lovely and peaceful part of the country, marked by dramatic rock formations and the distinctive sound of the fish eagle. Getting there is a bit of a trek, but once you’re there, you can leave the car and enjoy a super stress-free holiday. Full-service organisers are able to provide everything you need, including a guide, instructions and safety equipment. They will bring your food and cook it, as well as set up your camp. There are a number of companies with different offerings including Amanzi Trails and Felix Unite River Adventures.
Take a slack packer hike
South Africa is paradise for hikers, whether you are looking for a couple of hours on the trail or a multi-day adventure. There’s a good offering of organised “slack packer” hiking experiences. The “slack” part refers to the fact that your clothing and other gear, and food if you’re self-catering, are delivered to the next night’s stop (it’s also known as a portered hike). All you will need to carry is a day pack of your essentials.
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Usually, slack packer hikes are over three to five days and accommodation is provided as part of the package. This can range from a shared hikers’ hut right up to a luxury farm stay, depending on the trail and the budget. There are plenty of slack packing hikes around the country, including some gorgeous beach walks, so finding one that fits your itinerary should be easy.
For jaw-dropping views and brilliant hiking, head to uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, which is a World Heritage Site. Its most iconic feature is the Amphitheatre, a massive wall of basalt rising 1,000 metres (3,280 ft). You can do a three-day hike there and enjoy a hot meal and a warm bed at a lodge after a day on the trail. The vistas are just extraordinary the whole way, but a highlight is a view of the Tugela Falls, the highest in Africa, which plunge from the top of The Amphitheatre.
When in the Drakensberg, don’t miss the opportunity to see ancient San rock art, preserved in caves for centuries.
If you want to leap off a ledge and hurtle at speed towards the ground, attached to a very big elastic band, well, South Africa offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. The Bloukrans Bridge Bungy, at 216 metres (709 ft), is one of the world’s highest commercial bridge Bungy jumps. It is probably one of the most beautiful, too, situated in the Tsitsikamma area of the Garden Route, between sea, forest and canyon. The vibe on the bridge is great and you can get a photo or video as proof of your bravery.
Bonus travel tip:
A totally unique urban bungee experience can be had in Johannesburg, at the Orlando Towers in Soweto. The jump platform is strung between two huge cooling towers of a decommissioned power station, which is one of Soweto’s most recognisable landmarks.
What the Americans call a canyon, South Africans call a kloof, so kloofing is the local version of canyoning. The idea is to follow a mountain stream through the kloof. You’ll have to swim, wade, float, or jump off a cliff into an icy pool to get to the end. If you want to give kloofing a go, an organised trip is your safest bet. They have all the necessary equipment and trained guides, they know the routes, and often incorporate a number of fun activities into one outing.
The area around Plettenberg Bay and Knysna is ideal kloofing territory, thanks to the deep gorges and access to rivers and sea. A couple of hours of kloofing can be incorporated into your beach holiday, or into a road trip down the famous Garden Route.
In the hidden valleys of The Crags, near Plettenberg Bay, you can experience a four-hour kloofing experience that includes swimming, abseiling, optional jumps, and zip-lining. It’s fun for the whole family (children aged eight and older can participate) and no previous experience is needed. Your wetsuits, harnesses, helmets and life jackets are supplied. A shorter two-hour version is available if you’re pressed for time.
Join the world’s biggest cycle race
The Cape Town Cycle Tour is one of the world’s leading cycle events and the largest timed cycle race, with over 30 000 participants. The 109 km (67 mile) route takes you through the most incredible coastal road, past picturesque fishing boat harbours and over the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful road race route – or a more grueling one (there’s a clue in that word “peak”).
The race, previously known as the Cape Argus, has grown to such an extent that it is now the centrepiece of a week-long Cape Town Cycle Tour Lifecycle Week every March. The week is a celebration of all things cycling, including an exhibition, and the MTB Challenge, a one-day event through the Winelands. The 20km, 40km and 60km routes offer easy, intermediate and technical trail conditions for participants ranging from relative newbies to world champions. Entries are limited, so if you’re keen, don’t delay.