You don’t have to go far these holidays to get your thrills. These super-fun and action-hero escapades are close to home and will get your heart thumping … and give you dinner-party bragging rights for years. If you were looking for that one thing that will make this your best summer yet, look no further.
Here is our list of 5 epic summer adventures under R3000, tried and tested by our journalists.
1. Kayak (& Lilo) Up The Storms River
This two-to-three-hour adventure starts with a paddle in a two-man kayak on the Indian Ocean, passing under the iconic Storms River suspension bridge – a popular picturesque stop on the Garden Route (an hour from Knysna or two from Port Elizabeth) – and heading into the river mouth.
Pretty soon our expedition is in the formidable Storms River gorge, which is over 100 metres high in some places. The river guides share the history of the woodcutters who used to inhabit the area and you’ll see the caves they often slept in – now home to a big Egyptian fruit bat colony. Chances are also good you’ll spot dark shadows in the water as you paddle.
The Storms River is a prime ‘nursery’ for ragged-tooth sharks and rays that shelter from sea predators until they’re mature. Otters and seals could also pop up at any moment. Once in safer water behind a boundary of big river rocks, the kayaks are stashed and the journey continues on heavy-duty lilos. It’s a lazy paddle upriver and the guides know the best rocks for jumping off.
In summer you don’t need a wetsuit and the sea is more likely to be calmer – when I visited in October, big waves meant we had to kayak from the river rather than the ocean and its famous marine-protected reefs full of fish. Locals reckon that February is the best time to visit. – Melanie Van Zyl
Do it: Pack a sun hat, smother on the sunscreen and leave any valuables in the car. Also bring a towel and change of clothes for after the excursion. Life jackets and a bottle of water are provided; aqua booties can be hired for R40. The kayak and lilo adventure costs R450 per person (anyone over five years old can do this activity), plus there’s a R45 per adult and R22 per child conservation fee to enter the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp. It’s best to book at least three days before to secure a spot as summertime is busy.
Contact: 0731300689, untouchedadventures.com
2. Coasteer on the Cape Peninsula
Windmill Beach, like its better-known neighbour Boulders, is well-protected from the wind that can whip across the Peninsula, but it has the additional benefit of a wider, more panoramic view across False Bay. This makes it the perfect setting for an activity known as coasteering. Developed in Wales, it’s a sort of marine kloofing – snorkelling, scrambling over rocks and jumping off them along the coast.
There are often penguins here, but they must have been performing their tiny-butler duties elsewhere on our visit. For most of the morning, your job is to explore the rich Atlantic waters like a kid. First is the snorkelling: red, pink and purple urchins line the rocks like pompoms, as well as massive starfish.
This water, usually fairly chilly, is perfectly friendly when wearing a wetsuit. Rounding the seaward face of one of the granite boulders, there’s a massive drop-off: you can use the sturdy necks of the kelp to jettison yourself down on one lungful of air, watching bigger fish flit about in the depths. (Not terrifyingly big, though – great whites tend to avoid kelp beds.) Then it’s time to swap your snorkel for a helmet and life vest, and play in the gully, which feels almost like a white-water rapid when the swell churns through it. (Fighting with the current was infinitely entertaining for the teenage boys among us.)
Then there is the jumping. Unlike kloofing, there isn’t a ‘route’ – so the jumps aren’t a necessary means of getting from A to B, but a glorious way to up your adrenalin for the thrill of it. After about two hours of being tugged around by the tide, and leaping eight metres into the glassy embrace of the Atlantic, I was out of breath, salty, and utterly satisfied to laze on the beach and take in some sun. – Kati Auld
Do it: It’s a 45-minute drive from Cape Town to Windmill Beach. The coasteering takes around two to three hours, and costs R450 per person, plus R85 per person if you’d like lunch provided. Minimum four people per trip, maximum 10.
Contact: 0216833698, gravity.co.za
3. Learn to drive a 4×4 like a pro
Not heading into the bush these holidays, to one of Southern Africa’s exciting 4×4 destinations? Neither am I, primarily because I don’t own a 4×4. But in my mind, that shouldn’t stop you from having an off-road adventure. So I looked for a way to do that … in the middle of Joburg, and found the full-day advanced 4×4-driving course at Land Rover Experience Kyalami.
You can pick what vehicle you want for the day (I went for the Defender – I still like ‘em old school) and, after some intensive driving theory, are led through a series of obstacles, mostly natural, along the Jukskei River. Each is more challenging than the last, and the level of detail and instruction I got along the way was impressive.
When it comes to 4x4ing there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and throughout the day we picked this apart, testing our abilities to find the right lines, make the right decisions and use the full potential of our vehicles to get through tough terrain that’s close to a real adventure destination. Environmental consideration is a big priority too, as it should be with all 4x4ing.
Many 4×4 owners think that having an off-road vehicle means you have a licence to drive over everything. That’s not 4x4ing. Using your nut to figure out a route that doesn’t damage the terrain or your vehicle is infinitely more challenging (and ego boosting) – now that’s 4x4ing, and it’s hella exciting. – Tyson Jopson
Do it: It costs R2934 for the full-day advanced course, with lunch and refreshments. At the end you receive an advanced driving certificate – some insurance companies will knock a chunk off your premiums on presentation of the certificate.
Contact: 0114651883, 4x4experience.co.za
4. Hike the ‘iron way’ in Magaliesberg
Ever heard the term via ferrata? Not many South Africans have. It’s hiking, with a radical twist – instead of gaining elevation along a walking trail, you strap on a harness and tackle parts of the route vertically by way of iron rungs and safety cables fastened to the mountainside. It originated in Europe as a way to connect low-lying villages to high pastures but became popular after World War I, when it was used to move troops over the Alps.
In SA, there are just a handful of rung-assisted ascents (most often used as part of an abseil adventure) but currently the only place where you can do an actual, guided via ferrata (Italian for ‘iron road’) hike is at Shelter Rock in the Magaliesberg. We started at 9am on a Saturday morning with a quick demonstration, before hiking 30 minutes to the base of the shimmering Magaliesberg range and the start of the ascent.
It takes a little time to get comfortable with the dynamics but once I found a rhythm it was exhilarating. With each rung you’re thrust further into the sky, and the horizon behind you (if you’re brave enough to turn around) spreads out like a dancing fan.
There are spots to stop and take in the view, and once at the top it’s a leisurely two-hour return walk around the back of the mountain. If you’re hiking in spring, keep an eye out for the colourful African bush grasshoppers at the top – they’re quite spectacular in flight. – Tyson Jopson
Do it: It’s safe and easy to learn (according to the organisers, 99% of clients are first-timers) but decent hiking fitness is required. Ascents are done with a guide and must be booked in advance (weekends and public holidays are best). It takes about four hours in total. From R300 per person (minimum eight).
Contact: 0714736298, shelterrock.co.za
5. Skydive over the West Coast
The 25-minute flight up was so scenic that I lost myself in the lusciously green patches of farm fields that make up Malmesbury, and the view stretching from the Cederberg, Table Mountain and Robben Island through to Cape Point.
While I was enjoying the spectacle, Fred strapped himself even closer to me, like ‘sit on my lap’ kind of close – I was happy that I wasn’t going down alone. Just as I got back to enjoying the view, suddenly the door opened and I could hear the sound of the heavy wind. Jean-Jacques leaped out first and held onto the wing of the plane, waiting for me to jump so he could capture the moment. Holy shit – it all just started happening.
And it was happening fast. ‘Get your feet out,’ said Fred over the roaring wind. Looking out way down, I wanted to say, ‘You mean I should physically put both my feet outside of an aeroplane in the sky?’ – except there was no time to contemplate backing out of what I had soberly signed up for. So I reluctantly put out one leg. ‘Let the other leg out,’ he shouted. All I knew at this point was to do exactly as I was told. So I put my other leg out into the sky, and we dived. We were spinning at first, falling into a stunning massive green patchwork, the ground moving closer to our faces.
Soaring through the wind at that speed made me feel like Superman, which to be honest, was the real reason I’ve always wanted to skydive. Then the parachute opened and there was silence. We were going down much slower now.
It was only when the wind and speed slowed that I could utter words, and I had my first moment to scream with pure excitement and joy. With the parachute open and knowing for sure that I was not going to die (at least not from this jump) and that I was going to be okay, I looked around and tried to take in the moment. It was all too good. And so I got back to screaming, ‘This is sooooooo good!’ – Welcome Lishivha
Do it: Mother City SkyDiving is based in Malmesbury, an hour’s drive from Cape Town. From R2300 per person for a tandem skydive, plus R650 to R950 for stills or a video of your jump. Transfers from the city can be arranged for R450 per person return.
Contact: 0793372443, mothercityskydiving.co.za.
• The Parachute Association of SA lists dropzones and operators around the country on its website. para.co.za
WATCH THE VIDEO: Welcome Lishivha Skydive with Mother City Sky Diving
This story first appeared in the November 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.
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