It’s no surprise that a country featuring pretty much every type of landscape also boasts pretty much every type of adrenaline activity. From up-close encounters with sharp-toothed creatures to even closer encounters with crashing waves, South Africa has something for every grade of adventure addict. Pick a part of the country and see from the end of a rope, the bottom of a cliff, from above the clouds or in a blur as you fly past on a mountain bike, a surfboard or even, would you believe, on a pair of skis.
Abseiling in Cape Town
Most people are content to take the rotating cable car to the top of Table Mountain, wander a while then join the queue to ride back down. Others lengthen their encounter with a hike up or down the flat-topped mountain. But for real daredevils there is another way to descend – a vertiginous abseil with spectacular city views – if you dare to look down. Billed as the world’s highest commercial abseil, you gradually lower yourself 112 metres down the west side of the mountain, though be warned – once you’re done, you have to hike back up to the top.
Bungee-jumping in Tsitsikamma
There are few more adrenaline-inducing experiences in South Africa than the 56-metre bungee jump from the Bloukrans Bridge on the Garden Route. Even walking across the 216-metre high bridge can induce vertigo, so you need real nerves of steel to launch yourself off it. If you fancy an urban bungee-jump, head to the Orlando Towers in Soweto where, for an extra fee, you can don a straightjacket before launching yourself off the former cooling towers. Or for something a touch less jolting – if equally as stomach-churning – check out one of the ‘big swings’ around the country, where you sweep across a gorge in a controlled arc.
Surfing all along the coast
Surfers will find waves along the length of the South African coast, though hotspots like Durban, Jeffreys Bay, Victoria Bay, Mossel Bay and Cape Town are the places for a guaranteed break. If you’re an experienced surfer looking for some serious big-wave action, dare to brave Dungeons, off the coast of Hout Bay, south of Cape Town. The colossal wave only tends to work in winter, but you’ll find other big wave action around the Cape Peninsula coast as well as in the Hermanus and Gansbaai area, about 90 minutes east.
Kitesurfing in Langebaan
About an hour north of Cape Town you’ll find Langebaan, home to whitewashed houses, a few beachfront restaurants, a calm lagoon and the best kitesurfing in the country. Companies offering lessons abound, so even beginners are well catered-for here. The more advanced can rent equipment and perfect the sport, an impressive combination of surfing, windsurfing, paragliding and acrobatics. On days off, indulge in the slightly more relaxing endeavour of a multi-course seafood banquet on the sand.
Snowboarding in the Eastern Cape highlands
It’s not a sport that would likely spring to mind when thinking about South Africa, but for about three months a year there is chance to snowboard – and ski – in the Eastern Cape section of the Drakensberg mountains. The Tiffindell Ski Resort sits at 2720 metres above sea level and offers just two slopes – one suited to beginners and the other offering a combination of red and blue-graded slopes for more experienced skiers and snowboarders.
Ice climbing in the Drakensberg
Much like snowboarding, ice-climbing is perhaps not a pursuit you might associate with South Africa, but head to the northern reaches of the Drakensberg, in KwaZulu-Natal, and you’ll find prime conditions for ice-climbing from June to August. Beginners can join a professionally-guided course, while the already-experienced might prefer to head straight to the Giants Castle region to strap on a pair of crampons and enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery.
Mountain biking down the Sani Pass
Thanks to its sunny climate and varied landscape, South Africa boasts some superlative mountain biking trails. You can cycle anything from gentle tracks through the forests of the Garden Route to demanding climbs into the country’s many mountains. For something that demands strong nerves – and even stronger brakes – tackle the descent of the winding, vertiginous Sani Pass. And if you plan to cycle up to its 2876-metre peak first, you’ll need to add buns of steel to the list of must-haves…
Paragliding in Cape Town
No experience is necessary to hurl yourself off Lion’s Head, the 669-metre high mountain overlooking Cape Town’s coast. Actually, the tandem jumps take place slightly below the peak or at nearby Signal Hill (also known as Lion’s Rump), depending on the wind direction. After a lightning-fast briefing you’ll find yourself running off the slope into thin air, where the parachute-like contraption – and its experienced operator – swoops its way over the city. The duration depends heavily on weather conditions, but five-to-ten minutes later you’ll find yourself surrounded by joggers and dog-walkers on the Sea Point promenade.
Rock climbing in Montagu
South Africa’s many mountains offer countless opportunities to rock-climbing enthusiasts but for many there’s no better place to scale a rock-face than in the craggy peaks surrounding pretty Montagu. Local companies rent out gear and operate guided climbs, suitable for beginners and enthusiasts alike. Elsewhere, try the Cape Peninsula, the Cederberg Mountains or Waterval Boven in the Mpumalanga province – the latter has some world-class climbs for experienced climbers.
Shark-cage diving in Gansbaai
With only a few people able to fit into the cage at any one time, you spend much of your shark-cage excursion above water, on a relatively sedate boat trip around False Bay. But once you don wetsuit and snorkel and descend beneath the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the adrenaline soon starts to pump. Encounters aren’t guaranteed, but more often than not your group will find itself nose-to-nose with a Great White Shark coming to investigate the boat – and sometimes to ram the tourist-filled cage… Further along the coast, you’ll also find shark-cage diving outfits in Mossel Bay.