‘Africa is not for sissies’ and that truism probably applies most to the great rugged outdoors of South Africa more than any African country
Come to the heart of SA’s ostrich country and ride on the back of an adult bird. No previous riding experience is needed; just bring your desire for fun and adventure, and for a unique experience you won’t get anywhere else. After all, just seeing a bunch of ostriches clumping around in their natural habitat can get boring. After some serious ostrich-back time, head out to the Cango Caves nearby, where you can gape at the towering drip formations that are thousands of years old.
Another once-in-a-lifetime experience in South Africa: climbing the tall peaks of the Drakensburg Range. The tallest is Mafadi, at 3,500m, a four-day trek for all levels of fitness. Choose your peak, and your way up—gentle trekking, mountain-climbing or rock-climbing. The views of South Africa that stretch out to the horizon on every side are simply magnificent.
In Nelson Mandela’s words: [this is] the only place on the planet where the planet’s oldest mammal (rhino) and the terrestrial planet’s largest (elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the planet’s largest marine mammal (the whale). Take a tour of Isimangaliso Wetland Park, cruise the three lakes and drive through the mangroves and estuaries. Unparalleled in natural beauty, there are wild beaches too, where leopards have been spotted.
The Grand Canyon may be one of the planet’s natural wonders, but the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumulanga is no slouch, coming in third on the list of canyons of the world. Unlike the US counterpart, this one is unbelievably lush and green. Head to the bottom and get on a river cruise, winding your way past thick jungle. Then walk up to God’s Window, aptly named for the spectacular views of the jagged green peaks disappearing into the horizon.
If you have surfed before and would like to try your hand at it in the mecca of the sport, head to Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape Province. The waves go from a metre to four metres high, testing skills of gawky beginners and full-blown pros alike. The sites, based on wave formations, have catchy names like Supertubes, Boneyards, Albatross, the deadly Magnatubes and the aptly named Impossibles. Not for nothing do surfers consider J-Bay as having some the best waves in the world.
You’ve only seen them in pictures, and the very, very rare scuba sightings, but here is a snorkelling destination that is dedicated to the delightful sea-horse, a tiny, endearing, almost space-alien fish that can fit into the palm of your hand. The Knysna sea-horses are endangered and protected, so let your dive leader guide you to them. With their horse-head, monkey tail and big eyes that swivel 360-degree, you will be charmed by these wonderful creatures. You may even get to see a courtship dance.
The bungee will always be a source of one of the wildest thrills on the planet. But at 216m of heart- stopping air-time, this experience off the Bloukrans Bridge has to rank right up there with bang-for-buck adrenaline rush. It does not hurt that you are in one of the most gorgeously wild spots of the planet, as you plunge head-first into forested gorge below. For the more faint-hearted, there are other rides as well, like the 200m Flying Fox cable slide.
Petrol-heads, start your engines: South Africa’s rugged terrain awaits, with its treacherous mountain ridges, deep canyons, endless dunes and flat plains as far as the eye can see. This might be the closest thing to driving pell-mell across the surface of the moon. Try the 50km Egerton Trail, full of dunes and rocky hills, or the 200km Nossob Eco-Trail, which will take you through the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Not all trails are for novices, so choose well.
The menu of adventure activity in Bloemfontein ranges from the mild to the extreme; from hiking, to 4X4 trails, to sky-diving and white-water rafting (three- and four-grade rapids year-round, independent of rainfall). The terrain is flat, the weather is gorgeous. The aerial stuff includes hot-air ballooning and paragliding. The wet activities stretch to kayaking and water-skiing. Those who prefer solid ground can explore on horseback, mountain bikes, or even motocross bikes. Everything your heart fancies is here.
If you have a thirst for the great outdoors, camp out overnight in Krueger National Park for the genuine African Bush experience. The tents may range from budget to luxury, but outside it’s as wild as it gets; your nightly soundtrack will be that of roaring lions, grunting hippos, swirling bats, croaking frogs, nocturnal birds and all varieties of other fauna visiting the nearby watering hole.