Whether you’re seeking a short break from routine or a week of full-on action, these suggestions should keep you, fit, healthy and happy:
There’s no better way to experience fresh air than to fly through it at high speed, clinging on to life with just a few ropes and a pulley. Ziplining really makes you feel alive, and the seven well trusted centres run by the CanopyTour company have you covered across the country. Just don’t close your eyes in fear, or you’ll miss the gorgeous scenery.
Their Drakensberg Canopy Tour zips through an indigenous forest, with platforms on the trees or hanging on a cliff face. The Karkloof line in KwaZulu Natal offers an unusual option of spending more time on each platform with an expert in forest ecology, adding intelligence to the adrenaline. The ziplines are open on weekends at R595 per adult and R495 for kids.
Take a hike
Hiking is the cheapest and easiest way to get far from the madding crowds and our beautiful country is rich with options from mild rambles to week-long treks. As a fair-to-reasonable walker, I enjoy Joburg’s Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, where you can stop to admire the flowers if you get exhausted (entry fee R60), or Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, with views over the countryside. A bigger challenge is Castle Gorge in the Magaliesberg, a hidden gem with waterfalls, clear pools and impressive rock formations.
If you’re keen to explore, check out the Mountain Club of South Africa. They organise regular events across the country ranging from day-long strolls to full-on climbing and camping adventures, with the crucial benefit of not setting out alone.
The other cable car
Cape Town isn’t the only place with a flat-topped mountain and a cable car. We Gautengers have our own version at Hartebeesport Dam. Harties Cableway has gondolas that seat six people (four in these Covid days) and take six minutes to reach the top. There you can follow the 1.2km long Dassie Loop to absorb vast views in every direction.
A restaurant and the Look Out Bar will satisfy your stomach so you can stay all day.
If you’re jealous of the paragliders who launch from the top and gracefully soar above the plains, why not join them for a spectacular tandem flight costing R1600.
While you’re in the ‘hood, end the trip with a two-hour dam cruise with Harties Boat Company at R445, R220 for kids. They’re based at Harties Harbour in Kommandonek Wildlife Resort and can also hire you a jet ski or water-ski boat with a skipper.
Cablecar: Tickets R240 for adults, R150 for children.
Float your boat
If you have a few days to spare, a 4×4, and a love of isolation, head to the Northern Cape for a rafting adventure down the Orange River. You can book a half or full-day paddle, but it’s a long way to go for such a timid attempt. So rather dive in for a serious two to six-day escapade. Orange River Rafting has a family-friendly two-day Wet and Wild Experience with guides who set up camp on the river bank and cook for you. Or stay in ‘chic shacks’ instead of roughing it under canvas. Activities on the trips include guided hikes to see caves and striking rock formations in Richtersveld nature reserve and a 4×4 trail in the Nababeep desert, all adding up to a fabulously rugged outdoor expedition. Two-day trips cost from R2300.
No matter where you are in the country, there’ll be a horse riding centre somewhere near. To turn an equestrian encounter into a proper holiday, check into Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve in the Free State. They offer rides for all levels of experience, from an hour for kids being led on horseback through the reserve to hours in the saddle for skilled riders. Follow a trail through the mountains to see Bushmen paintings, canter across the plains, or take a scenic 50km ride to Rosendal. The lodge itself has luxury, classic or mountain view rooms and also offers mountain biking routes, abseiling and overnight hiking trails.
The thrill of soaring along in a hot air balloon is absolutely magical – you soon forget about the wicked 5am start as you drift away from the earth and watch the scenery expand around you. Some people think ballooning is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it really isn’t – although I’ve only done it twice so far, I can promise you the thrill doesn’t diminish!
South Africa’s longest running operator is Bill Harrop, with flights costing from R2595 in the Magaliesberg and Mabula Private Game Reserve in Bela Bela.
If you’re down south check out HotAir, which operates from centres including Cape Town and the Garden Route.
I can canoe, can you?
If you’ve got some sunscreen, clothes than can stand a soaking, R200 and you can swim, Dabulamanzi Canoe club says you’ve got all you need for your first canoe lesson. It operates from Emmarentia Dam in Joburg, and if you get hooked you can enjoy regular practice sessions and coaching that could lead to competing in some national challenges. You could also settle for a relaxing paddle around the dam admiring the ducks, of course. These days they use kayaks, rather than canoes, but the canoeing name endures.
Bike rides with rewards
When I’m contemplating a bike ride, I need a little incentive. Like the trips offered by Bikes ‘n Wines, where your peddling gets lubricated by several glugs of vino along the way.
Bikes ‘n Wines runs guided tours through the Cape winelands, like its Elgin Valley Winelands Wander that meanders through beautiful scenery around the Oak Valley and Paul Cluver wine estates. You’ll cover 21km and pay R845, which includes wine tastings, refreshments, transfers, a bike and helmet.
Even better is the Klein Constantia Ebike Tour, where a motorised bike takes some of the strain so you don’t have to peddle so hard. Just freewheel, admire the wine and the views, and try not to fall off. If you really get a taste for it, their 8-day Cape & Grape mountain bike tour sounds fabulous.
This is one adventure I’m not up for, but if you’re an adrenaline junkie then South Africa has some world class places to do it. The highest bridge jump in the world at Bloukrans on the Garden Route, where you can leap 216m from the top of the bridge to dangle above the Bloukrans River. You reach the jumping point via a zipline, and afterwards you’re winched back up to walk – or wobble – back to solid land via a skywalk bolted underneath the bridge, with spectacular views of the gorge and river.
In grittier Joburg, our favourite jump is from the twin cooling towers of Soweto – 100m from a platform between the two. In the straightjacket version, you will be trussed up in a straitjacket first so your arms are wrapped tightly around your body for an even more intense experience.