With its wondrous topography, awe-inspiring wildlife, and many places of intrigue, South Africa is a bucket-list favorite that’s perfect for any type of traveler. From vintage African escapades to harrowing experiences not for the faint of heart, it’s also the ideal place to cut loose and delve headlong into adventure. For anyone considering South Africa for a bit of thrill-seeking, don’t skip these opportunities for an unforgettable experience.
You don’t have to be a quad-bike enthusiast to enjoy cruising through the pristine South African terrain inspecting elephants, leopards, rhinos, and more. While there are many different options for safaris throughout the continent, quad-bike safaris have become very popular near both Cape Town and Johannesburg for their unique combination of thrill-seeking and scenery.
At the renowned Aquila Game Reserve about two hours from Cape Town, guests have a spread of options catered to creating an individualized experience. While those looking for a mild adventure can do a half-day trip and stay in a luxury lodge, there are also overnight camping options that will take you right out under the stars among the local wildlife. Along the way, explorers can expect to see the Big 5 in African wildlife, including a chance to get just close enough to snap compelling photos of a pride of lions. Aquila Game Reserve also has a working conservation center, where you can check out animals that are being rehabilitated before being sent back into the wild.
While there are plenty of transportation options to get to a quad-bike safari near Cape Town, the same goes for near Johannesburg. One of the most popular spots in the area, Segwati Getaways, taps an extensive network of quad-bike trails that cuts right through stunning terrain. Snaking up the beautiful Witwatersberg Mountains, trails showcase some of northern South Africa’s finest scenery, and visitors are likely to have close encounters with giraffes, water buffaloes, exotic birds, and plenty of others. Trails also are very close to the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site that offers numerous cultural experiences. Although there are many ways to see South Africa’s famous wildlife, zipping through the gorgeous countryside on an easy-to-use quad bike has become a go-to favorite for thrill-seekers.
Rock climbing (or Hiking) in the Drakensberg Mountains:
The Dutch settlers who first came to the region named them the Mountains of Dragons (Drakensbergen in Afrikaans), and there might not be a better or more interesting place to be a beginning rock climber. Swirling with local legends and panoramic beauty, the Drakensberg Mountains are mysterious and inspiring, complete with enormous grasslands and green hillsides filled with endangered plant species. A morning’s drive south from Johannesburg, near the eastern border of Lesotho, the Drakensberg Mountains have more trailheads and outdoor adventures than you’ll know what to do with.
One of the favorite spots for visitors is the Didima Camp at the base of Cathedral Peak, where hikers can find comfortable lodging as they launch into the neighboring attractions. While you can easily spend an entire day or even a week walking through the Didima Valley, most find their way to one of the nearby Cathedral Peak trails that will take you to the breathtaking summit the region is known for. Very green in the summer (December through March) and brown during most of the dry winter, Cathedral Peak has multi-day hiking trails for the most adventurous, and you can even sleep in a cave on the side of the escarpment (Twins Cave).
For those who aren’t quite up for that level of excitement, staying at the Cathedral Peak Hotel or Didima Camp and taking a more direct day hike to the summit still guarantees plenty of thrills and scenery. Also in the Didima area, the Rainbow Gorge Trail is a pleasant 3.4-mile woodlands hike that ends at a waterfall that often boasts a rainbow when there is enough sunshine.
Even if you’re not much of a mountain climber, the Drakensberg Mountains are also a great place to be a curious beginner. At the Sentinel Peak in the northern part of the mountain range, popular beginner courses will have you scaling up rocky bluffs in only a couple days of training, ending with a triumphant view of the escarpment and valley. For those not afraid of a little winter adventure, novices can also learn the art of ice climbing during the coldest parts of the year, and the views are every bit as sensational.
Shark cage diving and cableway tours near Cape Town:
If you’ve ever wanted to slip into a Discovery Channel documentary, all you need to do is charter one of the many boat tours that leave from various spots in Cape Town. While searching for sharks jumping out of the water is sure to yield a memorable experience, true thrill-seekers can find their way into a shark cage in Shark Alley, where your sense of adventure will be challenged by face-to-face meetings with great whites.
One of the most popular launching points is False Bay, where there is a wealth of options for a close encounter with the local marine life in the area. From fall to spring (March through September) you can expect clear waters all around internationally famous Seal Island, the hot spot for catching great whites jumping out of the water in a feeding frenzy. If you want to get into the water next to a great white, a shark cage expedition from either False Bay or Gansbaai Harbour is sure to be one of the most intense experiences of your life. Between the chilly Atlantic waters and a close-up of a great white buzzing by your cage, even a seasoned thrill-seeker will have a spike in adrenaline.
If diving with one of the greatest predators in the history of the planet is a bridge too far, there are also terrific whale-watching options just south of Cape Town off the coast of Hermanus. Sailing along the southwestern tip of South Africa between July and November, visitors can check out the massive southern right whales gliding just off the rugged coast. Thrill-seekers can still take it to the next level here as well by renting a kayak for an even closer look at the many sea beasts of Cape Town.
Meanwhile, taking a cable car to the 3,500-foot peak of Table Mountain will yield a spectacular view of Cape Town and miles upon miles of ocean-hugging coastline. The gigantic Table Mountain National Park – spanning almost the entire west side of Cape Town – also has an exceptional assortment of hiking trails that boast impeccable views of the region, including down to the majestic Cape of Good Hope. With thrill-seeking opportunities to fit every type of traveler, Cape Town is simply an outstanding launching point for adventure.
Gauging the weather:
Many of the activities in South Africa change substantially from season to season, although they’re still predominately doable year-round. In the Drakensberg Mountains, for example, the pinnacle of fall between April and May is generally seen as the best time to hit the hiking trails, as you’ll see a lush green landscape without the constant threat of summer thunderstorms. By winter (roughly May through August) you’ll have to be prepared for temps to drop below freezing at nighttime, though you also won’t have to deal with the rainfall you’ll have to overcome during the summer months. A similar dynamic will be at play for anyone eager to check out a safari; knowing the local climate and bringing the right gear will be a fundamental part of your trip.
As for chartering a boat or hopping in a shark cage, your tour will completely weather dependent and keeping a close eye on forecasts is a must. You’ll also want to have an alternative in mind in case you get bad weather, though that shouldn’t be difficult considering Cape Town’s extensive network of popular sites and icons. For those ready to persevere no matter the weather, however, South Africa is difficult to surpass when it comes to thrill-seeking.