When Deb and I visited South Africa, we already knew it was a great place to go on safari. We knew it had a superb wine region, and we knew the beaches were world-class. But we wanted to dig a bit deeper and try some things that are unique to the country. South Africa is a perfect destination for adventure lovers and thrill-seekers, and when we took a road trip down the country’s east coast, we had the chance to try some offbeat activities that turned our South African adventure into the trip of a lifetime. Here are a few of our favorite adventures.
Cage-diving with great white sharks
You probably have seen people diving with great white sharks on Discovery Channel and in National Geographic. In South Africa, you can do it too. Off the coast of Gansbaai, you’ll find one of the densest populations of great white sharks on Earth. Sign up for a cage dive and you’ll be able to look them in the eyes. After a short boat ride to the animals’ feeding grounds, you climb into a cage that is lowered into shark-infested waters. The waters have been sprinkled with a blend of fish stew used to lure the sharks closer to the tiny boat. When they arrive, the experience is at the same time terrifying and unbelievable. Imagine having a great white shark bump the cage in which you are standing as it comes in for a closer look. Watch the animal breach again and again as it leaps through the air trying to catch the fish heads used as bait. If this experience doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, nothing will.
Viewfinder Tip: Whenever you’re interacting with wild animals in South Africa, be sure to keep your distance; the animals are much bigger and stronger than anything you likely are used to seeing at home.
This is by far the most offbeat thing we ever have done. At Cango Ostrich Farm, in Oudtshoorn, the adventure starts with a lesson about how ostriches are raised for their meat and feathers. The ride comes next. We felt that we were doing the ostrich a favor by riding it, as the ones which work well with humans are those that most likely are spared from the chopping block. Since Cango prohibits anyone heavier than 150 pounds to ride, Deb was the only one lucky enough to get up on the bird. I couldn’t help but laugh as she held on for dear life while the animal ran as fast as it could around the ring.
Kayaking with crocodiles and hippos
I know what you are thinking: Why would someone kayak on a river infested with crocodiles and hippos? But I say, “Why not? If it weren’t safe, they wouldn’t offer it as an excursion, right?” In the town of St. Lucia, located in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we went on an adrenaline-fueled, early-morning paddle in St. Lucia Estuary. As we paddled along, crocodiles on the riverbank barely noticed us, and we stayed a safe distance of 90 feet from a group of hippos lazing in the water. When bubbles surfaced in front of our kayak we knew that a hippo most likely was underneath. And when something resembling a log floated nearby, we knew it likely was a crocodile. This was one of the best paddles of our lives. At the same time, we were terrified of tipping over and excited to witness wildlife in such a close and intimate way.
Microlighting over Durban
A microlight aircraft is a small, 2-seat open-cockpit flying machine, and it is one of the greatest thrill rides you’ll ever take. Other than skydiving, it’s the closest we ever have felt to flying. And in South Africa, we took a microlight over the Indian Ocean. As we sat in our tiny chair (with nothing but a seat belt strap to hold us in), we leaned out to feel the wind whipping our faces and to check out the view of dolphins and sea turtles swimming down below. When the pilot lowered the aircraft closer to the shore, we were treated to endless beaches and rocky outcrops leading far down the dramatic South African coast. It was an amazing perspective on a beautiful landscape.
Caving usually is something done in a remote location. This isn’t the case at the Cango Caves in South Africa. The Cango Caves are one of the country’s oldest tourist attractions and are located in a popular area in the Western Cape Province. In the early 1800s, visitors explored these caves with oil lanterns. Today you can take a tour that follows illuminated walkways and paths, or you can take the adventure tour. We opted for the latter (what else did you expect?); the tour took us through some narrow passageways with names such as the Devil’s Chimney and Lumbago Alley. No, the whole experience of squeezing through tight spaces is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia. But if you can grin and bear it, just think of all the bragging rights you’ll have when you’re done.
What is the most offbeat adventure you’ve taken on vacation?