Top 10 adventure activities on the Garden Route

Posted by Chris Davies on 18 December 2017

The Bloukrans Bungy is awesome – really you have to do it at least once – but it isn’t the only adventurous, outdoor activity on the Garden Route. ‘Adventure’ doesn’t have to mean throwing yourself off a bridge or out of a plane either (although definitely do the skydiving too).

You can also hike, raft, track lions, or just sit with a sandwich and watch a great white shark go hunting. There are loads of adventure activities to do on the Garden Route, but these 10 are my favourite.

Setting camera traps and tracking lions with radio-collar telemetry at Gondwana Game Reserve.

Setting camera traps and tracking lions with radio-collar telemetry at Gondwana Game Reserve.

 

1. Spend five nights as a game ranger at Gondwana Nature Reserve

Cost: From R11550 per person for five nights, including all activities, meals and accommodation.
More info: gondwanagr.co.za

I’ve always wanted to be a game ranger, but I never thought I’d get my first taste of it on the Garden Route. Gondwana Nature Reserve is an 11000ha game park north of Mossel Bay, which as recently as 2003 was 100 percent commercial farmland. They park is new, and committed to rehabilitating the vegetation and wildlife that once occurred naturally in the area. Key to this is their public conservation programme, centred around a Tented Eco Camp in the north west corner of the reserve. Here, husband and wife team Brendan and Stevie Strydom, host guests in beautiful luxury tents and lead a variety of hands-on conservation activities: setting camera traps, clearing alien vegetation, recording game numbers and distribution, and keeping an eye on where the newly-introduced lions might be hiding.

Key to the conservation process is determining how many animals the reserve can support. There are currently 13 elephants, including this little guy, in Gondwana.

Key to the conservation process is determining how many animals the reserve can support. There are currently 13 elephants, including this little guy, in Gondwana.

This is true immersion in day-to-day wildlife conservation, coupled with great cooking (Stevie’s malva pudding is amazing), five-star treatment and luxurious tented accommodation. Don’t expect a lie-in – the breakfast call is before dawn – but you’ll have time for a splash in the plunge pool over lunch and ample opportunity to kick back and relax at the end of each activity-packed day with a beer or glass of wine under the stars.

The communal area and luxury tents at Gondwana Eco Camp.

The communal area and luxury tents at Gondwana Eco Camp.

 

2. Jump out of a plane over Mossel Bay

Cost: From R2800 for a 10000-foot tandem jump.
More info: skydivemosselbay.com

The most comforting thing about my first tandem skydive was that presumably the guy strapped behind me also didn’t want to die. It’s something to think about as you sit with your feet dangling over three kilometres of fresh air, but happily not a thought you have to dwell on too long before you’re propelled out into the abyss, stomach in knots as you accelerate towards the distant coastline. And then you’re flying. 30 to 40 seconds of free fall doesn’t seem much from the ground, but adrenaline, apparently, has an elastic effect on time and the fall seems to last for minutes. If you’ve never done it before and have even the vaguest inkling to do so, then make a plan and make it happen. A skydive over one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world should be on any adventure seeker’s bucket list.

This is two activities for the price of one really: a flight over one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, and an adrenaline rush like never before as you plummet down towards it.

This is two activities for the price of one: a flight over the beautiful Garden Route coastline, and an adrenaline rush like never before as you plummet down towards it.

 

3. Stay at Ebb and Flow Campsite and canoe to the waterfall

Cost: Camping from R200 per stand (2 people), two-sleeper rondavels from R220 and four-sleeper cottages from R380 per person, plus a daily conservation fee of R40 per adult and R20 per child per day (Wildcard holders free). Canoe hire at the campsite is R140 for three hours or R200 for the day
More info: sanparks.org

Up the coast in Wilderness, SANParks’ Ebb and Flow Campsite is the base for a more relaxed adventure. The camp is divided in two, along the banks of the Touws River, which winds north through indigenous coastal forest and is ideal for canoeing. Crystal-clear water glides under the boat as you paddle easily upstream until, after 3km (about 45 minutes) a rocky beach marks the limit of navigable river. From there you can join the Giant Kingfisher Trail, which follows the eastern bank of the river to a beautiful waterfall and deep swimming pools.

After 3km of tranquil paddling, leave your canoe and take to the trail for a 3.5km hike to the waterfall.

After 3km of tranquil paddling, leave your canoe and take to the trail for a 3.5km hike to the waterfall.

The 3.5km hike is not strenuous, but give yourself 45 minutes to an hour for a leisurely stroll. Canoes can be hired from Ebb and Flow Campsite for three hours or the whole day, and although you can make it to the waterfall and back inside three hours if you push hard, it’s better to take your time and make a day of it.

The waterfall hike passes through beautiful indigenous forest and the pools at the end are great for swimming.

The waterfall hike passes through beautiful indigenous forest and the pools at the end are great for a refreshing dip.

Also read: The South African hiking bucketlist

 

4. Go paragliding over Wilderness beach

Cost: R750 for a 10-minute flight.
More info: cloudbase-paragliding.co.za

If a headlong plummet from 10000 feet seems a little too intense, the more tranquil joys of paragliding might be for you. You don’t need any experience to take a tandem flight with Cloudbase Paragliding, but conditions do have to be just right so you will need good luck with the weather. From high above the waves you can spot whales and sometimes even the dark shadow of a patrolling shark. Paragliding is the closest humankind has managed to get to the eagles – not jumping out of planes or speeding past cliffs on wingsuits, but floating high on thermals, an effortless soaring that I didn’t want to stop.

Soaring over the Wilderness dunes with Cloudbase Paragliding. Photo credit: Scott Ramsay.

Soaring over the Wilderness coastline with Cloudbase Paragliding. Photo credit: Scott Ramsay.

 

5. Hike Robberg Nature Reserve and spot a great white shark

Cost: The Fountain Shack is R920 for four, then R320 for each additional person (sleeps up to eight). There’s also a daily conservation fee of R40 per adult and R20 per child (Wildcard members free).
More info: capenature.co.za

We weren’t lucky with the weather for our overnight hike to Fountain Shack on Plettenberg Bay’s Robberg Nature Reserve. The rain started 10 minutes in so instead of the usual two-hour loop around the north of Robberg peninsular, we cut directly to the south-side exit trail and made it to the shack in about 30 minutes. We had a 3kg bag of compressed braai fuel given to us at reception, but sadly the outdoor braai is not protected from the elements and starting a fire was impossible. The shack itself is a basic hiking cabin, but decently equipped with mattresses, solar lighting and crockery. We soon had the gas stove going and were warming up with a good meal as the storm howled and waves thundered into the rocks just outside.

A late spring storm only served to make Robberg that much more wild and beautiful.

A late spring storm only served to make Robberg that much more wild and beautiful.

The next morning seemed brighter so we cut back around the northern side – a route I’d not recommend at high tide as the trail runs close to the sea and the rocky sections become very slippery when wet. Taking a break on the cliff edge, just above the seal breeding colony, we got a beautiful sighting of a great white shark stalking a small group of seals in the water below. By then the rain had started again and my camera was safely packed away, but shark spotting from Robberg is not uncommon as you can see from this video by William Ashurst below.

 

6. Commit to the void at Bloukrans Bungy

Cost: R990 for online bookings.
More info: faceadrenalin.com

I’ll admit I was scared for this one. More scared than skydiving even: probably because at 216 metres you can quite clearly see the rocks and trees in the valley below. Also, with a tandem skydive, there’s that sense of comfort from the experienced instructor strapped securely to your back. When I booked Bloukrans Bungy I swore I’d do a swallow-dive, but when the time came I’m afraid I looked more like a Lindt Bunny falling off a shelf. It wasn’t flattering, but it was mind-blowing. Maybe one day I’ll even do it again.

A Face Adrenalin crew member shows how it's done as rain pours down into the Bloukrans valley.

A Face Adrenalin crew member shows how it’s done as rain pours down into the Bloukrans valley.

 

7. Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours

Cost: R650 per person, including a light meal and soft drink at the end.
More info: canopytour.co.za
New: If you’re heading to the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn, then check out the Cango Caves Zipline’s 500-metre line in the mountains just south of the caves. (R295 per person, cangocavesestate.co.za)

From the intense to the far more relaxed, Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours offers a beautiful and exhilarating alternative for those not keen on leaping off bridges.

Zipping through the trees with Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours.

Zipping through the trees with Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours.

Based out of Storms River village this friendly local crew will lead you through the beautiful Tsitsikamma treetops, securely strapped to steel cables strung high between the trees. There are 10 connected platforms and the tour takes two to three hours depending on the size of the group.

There are 10 platforms, connected my steel zip lines up to 100m long, suspended 30m above the forest floor.

There are 10 platforms, connected by steel zip lines up to 100m long, suspended 30m above the forest floor.

 

8. Gorge yourself on Blackwater Tubing

Cost: Full day R995 and half day (3.5 hours) R595 per person, plus SANPark conservations fees of R40 (half day) and R60 (full day).
More info: blackwatertubing.net

You need to be reasonably fit to go tubing on Storms River, and although these aren’t serious rapids, you definitely have to be comfortable spending time in the water. There’s a half and full day outing, but only the full day gets you down into the gorge itself, with jumps and rapids depending on the water level. If it’s too high then the gorge section is completely off limits so best to pick a clear day, after just a little bit of rain, when medium to low water levels provide good flow and the most fun. This is medium adrenaline, but maximum beauty – especially the exit at Storms River Mouth, one of my favourite places in South Africa.

Black Water Tubing with Tube and Axe in Storms River. Photo credit: Teagan Cunniffe.

Black Water Tubing with Tube and Axe in Storms River. Photo credit: Teagan Cunniffe.

 

9. See the most beautiful stretches of Garden Route coastline on the five-day Otter Trail

Cost: R1220 per person, plus a daily conservation fee of R49 per adult and R24 per child per day (Wildcard holders free)
More info: sanparks.org

Hiking the Otter Trail is not really a spontaneous trip. Bookings must be made about a year in advance, although if you’re just one or two people you may be able to tag onto an existing reservation. It’s worth the wait though. There’s just no other way to get access to this incredible, unspoilt coastline. The four-night trail crosses beautiful rivers (get the tides right or you’ll have to swim!) and climbs up and down and up again through vine-laden forest and across wind-swept cliffs. You’ll need to be moderately fit – there are a couple of pretty steep ascents – but the maximum elevation is only 156m and the distances per day are easily manageable, with plenty of time to swim and picnic and catch your breath. Book today. It’ll be the highlight of next year!
Also see: Photoblog: hiking the Otter Trail

The Andre huts. Photo by Chris Davies.

The Andre Huts, on day 4 of the Otter Trail.

 

10. Learn to surf at Jeffreys Bay

Cost: R240 for a group lesson and R340 for a 90-minute private lesson, board and wetsuit included
More info: learn2surf.co.za

An uncontrollable shark phobia means I’ll never be the surf legend I dreamed of as a kid, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pretend for a day. And what better place to do it than South Africa’s premier surf destination, J-Bay? You won’t be out on the famous ‘Supertubes’ on day one though. There’s a more placid beach a bit further down from the tubes, so you won’t get run over by a pro. There’s a special kind of joy when you stand up on a surfboard for the first time and actually I think the fear of sharks was an incentive. It certainly focusses the mind on getting up and out of the water. Be aware that conditions vary and if deemed not suitable for beginners, you’ll need to be flexible to reschedule.

Well you won't be doing this on your first day, but it's the dream right?

Well you won’t be doing this on your first day, but it’s the dream right?