There’s always plenty to celebrate in South Africa over summer, most of all: SA’s glorious abundance of space. Here are 19 ideas to enjoy some ‘you’ time in the great outdoors, by Tudor Caradoc-Davies. Photographs by Teagan Cunniffe.
1. Aerial discovery at Cape Canopy Tour
If you’ve ever driven the N2 through the Overberg, passed through Riviersonderend and thought that it’s highly unlikely a river exists with no end, you have a chance to find out for yourself by taking on the Cape Canopy Tour near Grabouw. There, high up in the 70000-hectare Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve you will step into the void and zip between the kloofs above the tailwaters of the ‘river without an end’.
Details: There are 13 platforms and the slides reach up to 330 metres long. Tours include a scenic 4×4 trip and a light meal at the Sunbird Café. Pack a warm top as it can get cold in places and be prepared for the one-kilometre hike back to the start. R695 per person. Tel 0213000501, capecanopytour.co.za
2. Kayaking at Mtentu Lodge
Mtentu Lodge in the Transkei/Wild Coast is a magical little place we featured in our off-the-grid series – but it’s special enough to feature again. From it, you can canoe up an estuary set aside for breeding kingfish (leave your rods back at the lodge as it’s a no-fishing zone). And on the other side of the estuary, there’s a wonderful hike along the coast and that leads to the incredible Horseshoe Falls in the Mkhambathi Nature Reserve (one of our wildest experiences in Southern Africa). It’s a great destination for birders, harbouring numerous species from the trumpeter hornbill and Rameron pigeon to predators such as the African crowned eagle.
Details: Phone them and chat – they’re very helpful. R700 for a four-sleeper chalet. Add R280 per adult and R120 per child between eight and 12, for three meals a day – compulsory – self-catering no longer available. Kids under eight eat free. Specials run throughout the year. R100 per person for camping. Tel 0838053356, mtentulodge.co.za
3. Paddle the Breede River
The Breede, the Western Cape’s biggest river, is an incredible waterway fed by hundreds of smaller streams, creeks and rivers. From wine farms and holidaymakers to large sharks and tiny minnows, it provides for everyone. A slow meandering day of rafting from the Worcester section of the Breede River is an excellent way to spend a hot day. Handle the odd rapid, swim, sunbathe, race each other or just let the current take you. Or you can rent a SUP close to the mouth of the Breede where it runs into the sea. If you’re a little unsteady balance-wise, take a SUP class with PiliPili first (six students maximum per guide). And after the exertion toast yourself with a PiliPili Kiff Brew craft beer.
Details: There are two options for rafting with River Rafters: a full day from 8am, including breakfast and lunch, costing R655 per person; and a half-day option (morning or afternoon, you decide) for R550 for adults. Tel 0219759727, riverrafters.co.za. For SUP-ing, you can rent from PiliPili for R100 per hour, or take a safari with a guide to nearby Pansy Island for R200 per person. Tel 0285371018, pilipili.co.za.
4. Go tiger fishing
When the subject of tiger fishing comes up, the assumption is that it will mean heading to the Zambezi river in Zambia or Zimbabwe, or perhaps Pongolapoort Dam (also known as Lake Jozini) in KwaZulu-Natal, but on the outer edge of its riverine range, the Komati river in SA also stars this ferocious fish. At Komati River Chalets, you can experience tiger fishing while on a bush holiday. Not convinced? A 7,2kg tiger fish was recently caught there. How about now?
Details: Only guests are allowed to fish from Komati’s shores, but you can hire a boat for the day (a minimum of two people, and three maximum). If staying there, Komati River Chalets has smaller units, and family and luxury options available. Boat hire costs R750 per person, no lunch or drinks included. Chalet costs start from R460 per person sharing. Tel 0137937623, komatiriverchalets.co.za
5. Visit KZN’s mist-belt forests
Mist-belt forests are a specific type of KZN forest that you find in patches as you start moving away from the coast. They tend to have bigger, older trees (such as yellowwoods) than the coastal forests and harbour rare endemic birds such as the Cape parrot. Pockets of mist-belt forest are dotted across KwaZulu-Natal, from Weza-Ngele forest near Kokstad to the very special Nkandla Forest northeast of Eshowe. Ancient, and cooled by mists while lower coastal areas swelter in the summer heat, many of these forests have great walking trails for birders, hikers and mountain bikers.
Details: There are several hiking trails and mountain-biking routes in both the Ingeli section of the Weza-Ngele Forest and Magoebaskloof, while the Nkandla Forest is quite raw; there are no visitor facilities but hikes start from the reserve office. The park is over 2300 hectares in size, and due to its great altitudinal variation has incredible bird and plant life, as well as Samango monkeys. Organise a hike with a bird guide (trained by BirdLife South Africa), who can lead you to all the gems. Hiking is from R20 per person at Ingeli and entrance to Nkandla is free, but rather take a guide. Sakhamuzi Mhlongo charges R800 for a full-day birding hike (six to seven hours, Tel 0834362252), while Jotham Maduna charges R400 (three to four hours, Tel 0712252704). Contact Ingeli Adventures on Tel 0395530600, ingeliadventures.com and Nkandla Forest Reserve on (Conservation Manager Elliackim Zungu) Tel 0790290004.
6. Hike, fish and pony trek in the Drakensberg
Can’t afford the Annapurna Circuit? Try the Maloti Drakensberg Route instead. It’s a collaborative eco-tourism project between South Africa and Lesotho, encompassing the Eastern Cape Highlands, Eastern Free State, Lesotho and Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg. Activities include pony trekking, fly fishing for SA’s prized indigenous yellowfish, and discovering more than 3000 plant species (look out for the alpine Lesotho poker – a traditional charm against lightning).
Details: Tailor-make a route to suit your taste using the Maloti Drakensberg route website. Don’t forget your passport. Pony trekking booked through Malealea Lodge costs R190 per person per hour and R475 per person for a full day. Other costs vary depending on activities and accommodation. Contact malotidrakensbergroute.com; Tel +26650181341, or 0825524215, malealea.com
7. Step into the void at Oribi Gorge
If you don’t consider it a holiday unless there’s adrenaline involved, the Oribi Gorge offers plenty of thrills. Mountain biking and hiking aside, there’s a huge swing across the gorge (165 metres high), a foefie slide, and the chance to abseil down a cliff next to a waterfall. If grandma is in tow (and she declines the chance to jump off a cliff), you can pop her in a white-water raft or unleash her on the paintball course.
Details: The gorge swing, foefie slide and abseil operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. Rafting and paintball must be booked in advance and require at least six people. Gorge swing R550, foefie slide R250, abseiling R400, white-water rafting R550, paintball R150 (includes 100 paintballs). Tel 0825667424, wild5adventures.co.za
8. Do go chasing waterfalls
Mpumalanga is home to more waterfalls than any other province in SA, and if you’re travelling to the lowveld or visiting the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, it’s well worth stopping off to take them in. Horseshoe, Bridal Veil and Lone Creek falls are all a short drive from Sabie. Further north along the R532 you can add Berlin and Lisbon falls, at 80 metres the province’s highest, to your list. And if you have two to five days and enough energy left, take on the Fanie Botha Hiking Trail that runs through Tweefontein plantation and Mac Mac and Lone Creek, a heritage site, taking in the falls – it’s spectacular.
Details: For the falls, go through Sabie’s tourist information office and buy a Panorama Route Tourist Guide for R50. Book the hike through Komatiland Forestry Museum. Most of the falls have a nominal R10 entry fee, while the hike costs R105 per person per night. Sabie: Tel 0137641177, sabie.co.za; Komatiland Forestry Museum Tel 0137542724, firstname.lastname@example.org
9. Mission to Mission Rocks lookout
Near St Lucia and part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Mission Rocks has a view over the southern part of lake St Lucia and the sea. From here you can take a short walk to the Bat Cave (Bruce Wayne not included) where a healthy population of Egyptian fruit bats (on the IUCN’s threatened list) roost. At low tide, the beach is perfect for rock-pool fossicking with kids, but snorkelling and swimming are not advisable. It’s easy to get there: from the parking lot, walk down to the beach and turn left; walk for about 2,5 kilometres where you will see the overhanging cave (just south of Bat Cave there’s also a small overhang which has resident Schreibers’ long-fingered bats – listed as near-threatened). It’s easy enough for kids to do, but be sure to only walk at low tide.
Details: Enter through the park’s main gate, Bhangazi. Make a day of it: the route has lots of loop roads for excellent game viewing, and there’s a fabulous picnic site under the trees just off the parking area. The park is open from 5am to 7pm in summer. There’s a vehicle cost of R47, plus R45 per person (R30 for children under 12). Tel 0355901633, isimangaliso.com
10. White-water rafting in SA
Yes, it exists outside of the Zambezi! While you may not be facing the cavernous holes and giant waves of water below Vic Falls, there are decent rapids within South Africa. On the Ash River near Clarens there’s a strong flow year-round thanks to water from the massive Katse Dam in Lesotho. For a longer paddle, do a three-day trip on the Umkomazi River in KwaZulu-Natal and for something very sedate, take a five-day trip on the Orange River (suitable for kids as young as five years old).
Details: Rapids on the Ash River range from grade three to four (moderate to difficult) while rapids on the Umkomazi River are a consistent grade three. All meals are included on multi-day trips and tents are provided. You just need to bring a sleeping bag and mattress. A half-day adventure on the Ash River is R450 per person, a three-day trip on the Umkomazi River is R3360 per person and a five-day trip on the Orange River is R3980 per person. Tel 0834859654, outrageousadventures.co.za
11. Go birding in Wakkerstroom
Wakkerstroom’s marshy surrounds make it a paradise for bird spotting, and there’s a good chance you’ll see the rare red-chested flufftail.
Details: Tours can be booked at the BirdLife South Africa Tourism and Education Centre just outside of town. It’s best to book in advance as guides are not available daily. R450 per person for half a day and R750 for a full day (rates for a group of eight maximum). Contact BirdLife South Africa: Kristi Garland, Tel 0832270128, birdlife.org.za
Also read: Guide to Wakkerstroom
12. Or birding in KZN
Twitchers in KZN can spot the striped flufftail and the bush blackcap at Mount Currie Nature Reserve. But perhaps the most elusive of all the raptors, Pel’s Fishing Owl, can be seen at Ndumo Game Reserve in Northern KZN on the border with Mozambique. Also see the info on birding in the mist-belt forests (number 5 above).
Details: Both nature reserves are open to self-drivers and have self-catering accommodation. Ndumo is considered a malaria area so take necessary precautions. Entrance to Ndumo is R45 per person (R25 per child) and R45 per car. Rest huts are R750 for two and camping is R130 per person. Entrance to Mount Currie is R20 per adult (R10 per child) and camping is R70 per person. Cottages R180 per person (sleeps two). Contact Ndumo Tel 0338451000, and Mount Currie Tel 0823797775, kznwildlife.com.
13. Fat bikes: A new kind of cycling
While Hermanus and other Overberg coastal towns draw the crowds in summer, after a few days basking on the beach, boredom can set in. For something a little different, try a Fatbike Tour on one of the Walker Bay beach trails. Varying from two to five hours, the company supplies you with a specialised fat bike, with oversized tyres that allow you to cruise over sand dunes and beaches where no other bike can go. The rock formations along the beach are stunning at low tide and sometimes riders also see seals and whales, plus the endangered African black oystercatcher. The tours are very environmentally conscious and only use designated paths and areas (plus they report litter and anything else detrimental to the reserve – we love those who do their bit).
Details: For the shorter two-hour trail, only moderate fitness is required, but for the longer ones: ‘really fit’, they advise. Tours start at 9.30am and 2pm, but they’re flexible. Prices start from R500 per person. Tel 0795148386, fatbiketours.co.za
14. Mountain biking in Kruger National Park
Prefer to view game on two wheels? You can take a three-day ranger-guided mountain-bike ride into SA’s prime Big Five territory: the Kruger National Park. Tours are fully-catered and include accommodation in a four-star lodge on the first night and wild camping on the Letaba River on the second, with oodles of time in between to soak up nature at its most unspoilt.
Details: Riders average 40 to 65 kilometres per day. Northern Kruger is a malaria-risk area and necessary precautions need to be taken. It gets hot in summer and rides break in the afternoon to miss the heat. Tours take place on the last Friday of each month. Bring a good book. R7750 per person sharing (excluding bicycle hire – riders can bring their own or hire a bicycle for an extra R800). Tel 0835382865, toerboer.co.za
15. Fly over the Blyde River Canyon
If you like the idea of a bird’s eye view and a thrill, take a flight out of Hoedspruit with Leading Edge Flight School in a light aircraft that’s open to the elements. There’s only space for one passenger, and the pilot will take you wherever you want to go, from Big Five country in the area (they fly at a height at which game is easily visible) and along the Olifants river, to over the Blyde River Canyon (as pictured here, when we went up with Deon). It’s a truly exhilarating experience and well worth the cost.
Details: There are two aircraft (both open to the elements) and each can only take a pilot plus one person no more than 120 kilograms. Flying is also dependent on the weather. The flight over the Blyde River Canyon takes one hour, but there are shorter ones available. R650 for 20 minutes, R850 for half an hour, and R1500 for an hour. Tel Deon on 0834001405; email@example.com, lefssa.com
16. Visit SANParks’ smaller gems
At the lesser-known, smaller parks you can get many of the Big Five, but also great access to many different, less PR-friendly species – from antelope such as the regal nyala or awkward-looking tsessebe to incredible bird, reptile, insect and plant life. With fewer cars competing to watch a dung beetle, a tortoise or a duiker, you can take it slow while entertaining (and educating) the young ones. The smaller parks usually cost less too. From Mountain Zebra National Park (feature image at top of page) near Cradock to Mokala near Kimberley, discover all the gems.
Details: The SANParks website will give you all the details of opening times and costs. Buy a Wild Card. Prices start at R420 per person for a cluster of parks (see which one you want on the Wildcard website), but it’s cheaper per person if you buy a card for two – and even more if you buy a family card. sanparks.org, wildcard.co.za
17. Take a SANPark multi-day hike
Many of SANParks’ multi-day hikes are both under-subscribed and seriously under-rated. Check out the Kruger’s Olifants, Mphongolo and Lonely Bull ranger-guided, backpacking trails to get really close to big game. If you prefer a beach and bush combo the 32-kilometre, two-day Alexandria Hiking Trail in the Woody Cape section of the greater Addo Elephant National Park is a surf ’n turf offering that takes you from deserted beaches and massive dune fields through indigenous forest and fynbos. Keep an eye out for trumpeter hornbills.
Details: Each of the Kruger’s backpacking trails stretch over four days and three nights and you’ll need to bring enough food for those days. All three of Kruger’s trails cost R2350 per person, minimum four people. The distance on the first day on the Alexandria Hiking Trail is 18.5 kilometres and the second 13.5 (minimum of three hikers and maximum 12 per day). Alexandria Hiking Trail costs R150 per person per night, with a daily conservation fee of R58. Kruger trails: Tel 0124289111, firstname.lastname@example.org; Alexandria trail: Tel 0414680916, sanparks.org
18. Hike in Gauteng
For fit locals looking for a short hike, Tonquani and Castle Gorge in the Magaliesberg offer stunning scenery and a variety of short trails to suit.
Details: The hikes are accessible from Mountain Sanctuary Park and permits must be obtained beforehand from the MCSA Johannesburg. Permits cost R40 per person for non-MCSA members and parking is R30 per vehicle. Tel 0118071310, mcsajohannesburg.org
19. Hike in the Cape
If you’re Cape-based, take SA’s pre-eminent map maker Peter Slingsby’s favourite hike in the Cederberg: a 12-kilometre trail that joins Pakhuis to Heuningvlei called the Heuningvlei Donkey Cart Trail. ‘It’s a great hike with the option of a donkey-cart ride back.’
Details: It’s an easy walk. If you’re keen to stay in the area, there are plenty of options and Cederberg Heritage Route can give suggestions. Permits start from R60 per person (R35 for children). Contact Heuningvlei on Tel 0274923070 or the Cederberg Heritage Route, Tel 0274822444, cedheroute.co.za
Also read: 8 of the best campsites in the Cederberg
This article first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.
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Please note that all prices were correct at time of publication but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before traveling.