April 13, 2015

Top Five Adventures in Southern Africa

Frankly, I feel like our 3-year stint in South Africa was one giant nonstop adventure. I mean, you could already get a nice jolt of adrenaline by simply driving from Joburg to Hartebeespoort Dam and passing the first "hijacking hotspot" warning sign. Just leaving your house felt adventurous, because you ran the risk of being dragged off to jail by yet another overeager traffic cop on any given day. On some days, just looking out the window could make your hair stand on end if you happened to witness one of those Highveldt electrical storms Johannesburg is so famous for.

But I suppose you are reading this because you're looking for another type of adventure. They kind of adventure you can sign up for or book a trip to. And indeed, inspired by the Top Five series of posts by 2Summers as well as Johnny Africa's Top Moments Traveling through Africa, I have decided to put together my own Top Five collection. "Adventure" will be my first installment.

  1. Cage Diving with great white sharks: The best adventures are those you can tell a lot of stories about afterwards, not necessarily the ones that are the most fun while you're immersed in them. Quite literally immersed, in this case. Letting ourselves be submerged in a puny cage off the side of a boat bobbing in the close-to-freezing Atlantic in Gansbaai not far from Cape Town, the stink of lures made from dead fish heads wafting in and out of our nostrils every time we came up for a gasp of air, can't really be labeled "fun" by any stretch of the imagination. Leading up to the event, I couldn't make up my mind whether I was more scared of the gigantic sharks that would be swimming at me head-on and crash full force into the bars of the cage I was trapped in, or rather of the arctic temperature of the ocean. The verdict very clearly came down on the side of the ocean, but perhaps that's just me. Nothing scares me more than being cold. And yet I'd do it again and can highly recommend it. Anyone can do it, no scuba certification necessary. And while you're there, you might also book a diving session among sharks in Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town (this one is only for certified scuba divers). My husband and son loved that part of our trip the most. Read more about cage diving here, and about the aquarium dive here.

    Going shark diving in Gansbaai

  2. Bungy jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge: This adventure became even more adventurous in hindsight when I happened to watch the video of the Australian woman whose bungy cord ripped when she jumped off the bridge spanning the Zambesi at Victoria Falls and fell into the crocodile-infested waters below, feet tied together and trailing a dangling rope. It was bad enough watching my son hurl himself into the void from a distance. I still can't watch the video that was made from his experience without my knees buckling, it looks so scary. Okay, so add "heights" to cold temperatures in the "stuff she's afraid of" column. Perhaps I picked my Top Five purely on what I'm most afraid of. Overcoming your fears definitely makes for an adventure. By the way, should you live in Joburg without an opportunity to travel to the Bloukrans Bridge (which is labeled the world's highest official bridge bungy jump), you can probably get almost as much of a thrill by jumping off the cooling towers in Soweto. But please forget I mentioned the latter. We're strictly sticking to five things here. Read more about the Bloukrans jump (and watch the video!) here.

    Blourkrans Bridge on SA's Garden Route

  3. Dune buggy riding in Swakopmund, Namibia: If you want adventure, you'll simply have to add all of Namibia to your travel list. It brims with adventure and the rugged landscapes to go with it. Riding around the dunes near Swakopmund scores at the very top of our Africa adventure list, if you ask the boys in our family. They had to be dragged off those fourwheelers when our time was up, they loved it so much, roaring up impossibly steep slopes, only to take the crest so fast they flew through the air and then plunged down the next slope. It's a great outing for the whole family. As far as I could tell there was no minimum age, and even our 9-year old quite happily cranked the engine on her smaller-sized vehicle. While you're there, you should also go sledding off the dunes, using thin greased wooden boards and an individual lift service provided by your guides. Again, I hear you can sled or perhaps even ski down the mine dumps in Soweto as well, should your budget not allow for a trip to Namibia.



  4. Hot air ballooning in the Magaliesberg: See how I keep adding great heights to my adventure itinerary? It might not be so adventurous for you if, unlike me, you can remain totally calm looking down on the world below. It's utterly quiet up there, the views are spectacular, both onto the mountains and the other balloons around you, and you will spot plenty of antelopes and perhaps even some rhinos from above. Read more about hot air ballooning near Joburg here.
    See the itty bitty antelopes below?

  5. Canoeing down the Orange River: This is another adventure that takes you all the way to Namibia. Or, to be precise, right up to the border. The Orange River separates the two countries along a long stretch, and paddling through its winding serpentines (and a few rapids) was absolutely our number one family adventure while living in South Africa. Impatience maintains that it was the worst adventure ever, seeing as she fell into the river in one of the rapids (due to, she claims, her brother's inexpert steering), but that just proves my point. We did our trip with Felix Unite, and you can pick anything from just one day to an entire week, paddling during the day and camping on the banks at night, with your guide cooking for you and setting up the toilet behind a crest at every camp.

    Canoeing on the Orange River

There we go, your Top Five adventures in Southern Africa as recommended by Joburg Expat in a neat (though not-so-short) list. Except... If I were to look at all of Africa, the number one adventure, without doubt, would have to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It was enough of an adventure for me that I wrote an entire book about it.