Imagine exploring a place while soaring under a parachute, surfing the waves with dolphins or flying between gigantic trees. South Africa’s Garden Route not only boasts some of the country’s most striking scenery, it is also a premier adventure activity destination where you can do just that and more. Not an adrenalin junkie? South Africa has something for everyone regardless of the state of your nerves and you can find the best of it located along the Garden Route.
Hugging the Indian Ocean, the Garden Route is located along the Southern coastline of the Western Cape of South Africa. Spanning approximately 186 miles (300 kilometers) this area is characterized by tall cliffs overlooking the sea interspersed with long silky beaches. The famous Tsitsikamma forest, with its 800 year old Yellowwood trees, stretches from the ocean edges and extends towards the base of the Tsitsikamma and Outeniqua mountain ranges. Dotted along the Garden Route are a number of towns that are primarily dominated by the tourism industry, enjoying visitors from all over the world almost 12 months a year. Many come for the views and vistas, some for the award winning restaurants and hotels, but most come to enjoy the myriad adventure activities.
Here is a list of the 12 best activities, with what we feel has something for everyone.
Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a mountain looking out towards the vast ocean and wishing you could catch the wind and fly. The long white beach at Wilderness stretches out below you inviting you to take a bird’s eye view, spotting whales and dolphins as you go. This is what paragliding is all about and all you need to do is arrive. Here in Wilderness they offer tandem flights, with experienced instructors and before you know it you will be strapped in to your harness, taking a short run down the hill before lifting your feet and soaring like an eagle. Exhilarating to say the least.
2. Shark cage diving
One of the most feared and fascinating animals of the ocean, the Great White Shark installs a jolt of adrenalin to most people. For an eye-opening and factual adventure, the shark cage diving in Mossel Bay will leave you with not only an experience of a lifetime, but a life time of respect for these graceful beasts. Having the opportunity to watch these animals in their natural environment from the safety of the boat or, for those brave enough, from within the cage where you can count their teeth as they come up close, is remarkable and lasting.
Sound like your kind of adventure? Check out Viator’s Scuba Dive or Snorkel with Great White Sharks.
3. Quad biking in the forest
Mud, guts and glory sums up a day of quad biking just outside Plettenberg Bay. Your guide takes you along a challenging cross country trail and as you rumble along on your self-driven semi-automatic quad bike you feel like a daredevil from an adventure movie. Bolting through puddles, screaming up and down hills and skidding around corners this is certainly a recipe for dirty clothes and reams of fun.
4. World’s Highest Bungee Jump
Three, two, one…bungee! 708 feet (216 meters) and a seven second free fall, this is the world’s highest bridge-based bungee jump. This genuine adrenalin pumper is defined as leaping off a bridge over a deep forested chasm while attached by the ankles to an elastic cord. Life-changing? With the pedantic safety checks, expert staff and long list of famous jumpers, this is the one ‘been there, done that’ t-shirts you cannot miss out on.
5. Boat-based whale watching
As one of the premier destinations to view the Southern Right and Humpback whales, jumping on a boat and having a close encounter is a provoking experience. From July to November these elegant giants visit the bay to calve in the safety of its confines. Standing on board the boat as the sea heaves below your feet you will find yourself entranced in the effortless grace with which these animals behave. The young whales are curious but under constant maternal protection; the bond is visible and moving. If you are lucky you will be treated to a breaching display so make sure you have your camera ready.
While you won’t get quite the same show from land, those prone to seasickness can often spot whales from the shore near the town of Hermanus on a Hermanus Day Trip with Seasonal Whale Watching.
6. Sea Kayaking
If you prefer to get down to the water level and get some exercise while interacting with the marine animals, sea kayaking is the perfect adventure. After a quick lesson on the beach with your guide, you will launch yourself through the waves and out onto the rocking swell. As you paddle along watching sea birds dart and dive you are likely to be treated to a passing school of bottle nose dolphins frolicking off the back of the waves. You will be enjoying the peace and quiet of the ocean so much, you will not notice when it is time to head home and surf the waves back onto dry land.
What adventure trip is complete without the chance to zipline and whizz past the scenery? Here on the Garden Route there are two different options:
You stand on the edge of a wooden platform and gaze 290 feet (90 meters) down into the tall Tsitsikamma forest. Attached by your safety cables and surrounded by helpful guides you feel as though you are at the top of the world. Before you know it you are whizzing through the trees along a zipline watching the wonder of the forest from the top. The 400 year old trees demand your respect and you feel honored in their presence. Everything looks and feels different up in the canopy and by the time your tour comes to an end you feel at home in this wondrous forest world.
If the forest is not for you and you want to hear the sound of rushing water under you as you fly past, this zipline is for you. As you zigzag above the Kruis River, crossing three different waterfalls, you will almost feel the spray on your face. With guides to help you every step of the way, you can enjoy the experience like a pro.
8. Adventure speed boat rides
On board this semi-rigid speed machine you will feel as though you are rocketing across the sea. Able to reach speeds of up to 68 mph (110kph) the boat is impressively stable, and you can hold on and feel the wind roar in your ears. The trained skippers will treat you too an exhilarating ride leaping over waves and spinning in circles across the wake. It is the same as a rollercoaster on the water – not for the faint-hearted.
9. Tandem skydiving
Sometimes labeled as the caviar of extreme sports, tandem skydiving is simply one of the most accessible and exhilarating experiences you can have. With highly qualified tandem masters harnessed to you, all that is left is to be blown away by the 5,000ft (1,500m) free fall. For the rest of the time you can float under the parachute enjoying the compelling scenery of the Garden Route coastline. To top it all off, they will set you down gently and safely on the soft inviting beach near Mossel Bay. Try Skydive Mossel Bay.
10. Swimming with seals
Many travelers don’t just want to see things, they want to experience them. This is what the seal swimming adventure is all about. After kitting you out into wetsuits and snorkeling gear, you hop on board the ‘Hooligan’ for a quick trip across the bay to the seal colony. With all safety precautions taken care of, you are free to swim among these curious and coy creatures. They swim right up to you to investigate and you can feel their bubbles tickle your face. To say it is a rewarding and magical experience is an understatement.
11. Black water tubing
Set in the spectacular Storm’s River Gorge this adventure is a physically invigorating affair with nature. You will spend three hours jumping from rocks, tubing over rapids, climbing through inspiring scenery and splashing around in the glossy waters of the river. In order to experience the best of the rapids you will need to hope for medium to high water height otherwise you will have to paddle along happily in your tube. The route takes about 3 hours to complete and the barbeque at the end is well worth the effort.
12. Deep sea fishing
Imagine the thrill of the ‘big one that did not get away’? There is nothing quite as pleasing as catching your supper and on a deep sea fishing trip, this is guaranteed. With an early start you will be on your way as the sun peeps over the horizon and the sea is shimmering. Before you have found your sea legs you will be enjoying the thrill of that first bite as your reel sings with joy. The trip lasts about five hours and by the time you head home with your catch, you will already be planning your next trip to re-stock the freezer.
- Colleen Blaine