South African adventure activities to add to your bucket list

From canopy tours to white water rafting to seeing the whales from above, there is something for everyone in this adventure activity list. Make the leap and add these South African adventure activities to your bucket list.

Choose your own adventure: click on a link below to jump straight to the adventure that appeals to you the most. Or scroll down and read through the whole article for inspiration.

 

  1. Uniondale on a Tuk-Tuk
  2. House Boat on Langebaan Lagoon
  3. Incredible Vacations for Solo Travellers
  4. Whale watching from an airplane, Stanford, Western Cape 
  5. Hottentots Holland Mountains canopy tour, Stanford, Western Cape 
  6. Zip lining Lake Eland, Oribi Gorge, KwaZulu-Natal
  7. Skydiving in Carletonville, Gauteng
  8. Hiking Cathedral Peak, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal
  9. Cederberg on bike, Western Cape
  10. The Whale Trail, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape 
  11. Family outdoor fun at Albertinia, Southern Cape
  12. River rafting the Vaal River, Gauteng
  13. Surfing at Westbrook Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
  14. The Pafuri Walking Trail through the Kruger National Park, Limpopo
  15. Hiking, biking and microlighting in Swellendam, Western Cape
  16. Orange River rafting, Northern Cape 
  17. Hiking Table Mountain, Western Cape

Fly over Southern Right whales, Stanford, Overberg, Western Cape
Marianne Heron, travel writer

A bird’s eye view of southern right whales engaging in intimate behaviour comes high on my bucket list of exceptional things to do in South Africa.

A flight with Stanford-based African Wings allows you to see whales nursing their calves, or pods of whales undisturbed by a Cessna plane with a low noise signature overhead.

“I have just seen around 7 pairs of whales off Cape Agulhas,” enthuses David Austin, pilot and owner of African Wings as he returns from a flight.

And that’s not all, pods of dolphins, sting rays winging through the water, Bryde’s whales and sharks are just some of the creatures that can be seen going about their business in the clear water from the high wing, four-seater Cessna 182 or 175.

“You see the most incredible sights,” says David, who like African Wing’s Philip Bredenkamp, is a very experienced pilot with a fund of local knowledge.

READ MORE about whale watching along the coast 

For me, flying at low altitudes in a light plane is the ultimate form of sightseeing, revealing the contours and secrets of the landscape.

It’s also an almost magical form of wish fulfilment, allowing you to be whisked effortlessly between fascinating sights and places. It was a breathtaking experience.

African Wings also do air safaris around the Cape Peninsula and Cape Agulhas or day trips to places like Oudtshoorn from their base just outside Stanford.

Stanford is in the Overberg, a veritable playground given the choice of things to do, little more than an hour from Cape Town. Have your choice of restaurants, wineries, galleries, and horse safaris. Head for Hamilton Russell, one of the Cape’s most southerly vineyards located in the beautiful and aptly named Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and try their Southern Right Wines.

TRAVEL WRITER MARIANNE HERON ALSO RECOMMENDS: Canopy tour of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, Stanford, Overberg, Western Cape

As for being airborne, it’s hard to beat the adrenaline rush of slip sliding high through the Hottentots Holland Mountains at a pristine World Heritage Site with Cape Canopy Tours.

Eleven stainless steel slides carry viewers between 13 platforms built into precipices high above a secret gorge with a double waterfall and primal afromontane forest.

The four-hour visit begins with a 4×4 ride followed by a short walk to the canopy tour, lunch and then the return trip to base.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Make the most of the Overberg with our pick of the best activities on offer.

Lake Eland, Oribi Gorge, KwaZulu-Natal

Bucket list: Jackie Cameron
Award-winning chef, Jackie Cameron

Not so long ago, we had a lovely weekend away at Lake Eland, Oribi Gorge. I couldn’t believe I had never been there before.

The views are world class and there is plenty of fun to be had under the beautiful South African sun.

Lake Eland zip lines is a must! It’s the longest and most thrilling zip line tour in Africa.

It was the first time in ages that my boyfriend saw me so relaxed. It took me back to my childhood, and I just loved every second of the experience.

You simply have to go and sit on the Leopard’s Rock – the views are what memories are made of. Quite unbelievable and not too far from home.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re out and about in Southern KwaZulu-Natal, here are three more gems to visit.

 


Reader’s Choice: Skydiving in Carletonville, Gauteng


Not only was this the freest and most insane experience ever, it was also the most peaceful and tranquil. You could see the curve of the edge of the earth. It was absolutely amazing. – Mishkaa Tharman, Country Life reader

Mischkaa-Tharman-cartonvill
Mishkaa Tharman skydiving in Carletonville

Hiking Cathedral Peak, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal
Bucket list: Matt Brittain
Olympian Gold Medallist rower, Matt Brittain

One of my favourite places in South Africa is the Drakensberg, Cathedral Peak in particular.

I usually stay a night in a hotel and then hike the mountain and spend one or two nights under the stars.

I am one of four brothers and we used to hit the Berg together every year after I finished my rowing camp.

Since retiring from the sport, I have been back once with my wife.

My best is hiking to one of the peaks and spending the night somewhere interesting. Next time, I plan on getting to Roland’s Cave, which sits way up high. Apparently, you have to climb across this frightening narrow path on the cliff face to get to it, but I reckon when the sun rises in the morning, it’ll be worth it.

For me, the thing that makes the Berg special is the quiet time spent with friends and family. Hiking is physical enough that you don’t get bored, but not so demanding that you can’t let your mind go and think about other things.

I find it amazing how few places there are where you don’t see humans, but much of the Berg is pristine and untouched.

I remember one trip where it drizzled non-stop for three days. We braved two nights before giving up and descending for a hot meal.

Negotiating the terrain in that mist and wondering if we really knew where we were, still lingers on my mind. And I’ll probably never live down the time I forgot the matches and disappointed my wife with a lack of Bear Grylls skill to start a fire by rubbing twigs together.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you’re in the Northern Drakensberg, here are some other must-try activities.


READER’S CHOICE: Cederberg on bike, Western Cape

Travelling through the Cederberg with your best friends on a road to nowhere. This done on a motorbike has to be one of the best trips you can take.

We travelled from the wild mountain roads of Wupperthal, into the unending dusty roads bordering the Northern Cape. Definitely for the bucket list if you ride an adventure bike. – Mark Divey, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

There’s something for everyone in the Cederberg – from adventure junkies to culture vultures and foodies, here’s our pick of Cederberg spots to add to your journey.


The Whale Trail, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape

Nita Hazell, Country Life editor

A few years ago I was invited to join a media trip on the five-day slackpacking Whale Trail through CapeNature’s flagship property, De Hoop Nature Reserve on the Overberg coast between Struis Bay and Witsand.

The trail can be walked all year round but if you go between July and September as we did, you’re sure to see some southern right whales and the flowers are at their best.

Every night, you sleep in a comfortable bed and the baggage transfer allows you to enjoy a glass or two of wine. My kind of trail.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Albertinia, Southern Cape
Bucket List: Elana Meyer
Olympian runner, Elana Meyer

I love going back to the Southern Cape, to the farming area I grew up in.

We lived on a farm called Skilpadgat, 5 km outside Albertinia. These days my brother Boet and his family live there. They converted our very old home into a guesthouse where we stay.

There is always so much to do, especially for our children. They all love to get out and see animals and ride around on quad bikes. There are also beautiful trails to run and cycle on.

In fact, those are the very trails I took my first run on and where I fell in love with the sport.

About 40km from our spot is a small beach town called Gouritz, which is where my parents live. Where the Gouritz River meets the ocean provides a beautiful lagoon where the water is normally shallow and warm, which is ideal for the kids. It has a lovely, sandy beach and a long stretch of rocky coastline. We always take lots of ‘toys’ along for the whole family – we bike, surf ski, boogie board, run, and just have a good time in the outdoors. Every night we gather around a big fire to tell stories and braai under the stars.

There’s an old gravel road that runs along the coast and we often take it up to Voëlklip, where we used to celebrate New Year’s Eve many years ago. This is one of my favourite spots. The waves are big and you’ll often spot some fisherman casting lines from the rocks.

The whole area is so special because it is where I connect and spend time with the people I love so much. It also offers the chance to be close to nature. Meals turn into feasts and we sit around the table and enjoy it together.

The whole family leaves feeling refuelled, and we arrive home with lots of energy for the year ahead.

When in and around Albertinia, COUNTRY LIFE recommends:


Reader’s Choice: River rafting in Parys along the Vaal River, Gauteng

Anyone at any age can do this whether you can swim or not. So you take the young ones for a nice outing. – Amanda Mondise, Country Life reader

Amanda Modise vaal river
Amanda Mondise river rafting in Parys

Surfing at Westbrook Beach, North Coast, KwaZulu-Natal 
Bucket list: Patrick Lambie
Springbok and Sharks rugby player, Patrick Lambie

Westbrook Beach is one of my favourite places in South Africa. We’re really lucky to have our pick of beautiful beaches in KwaZulu-Natal, but this beach on the North Coast stands out as one of the top options.

My family have a home there, where we’ve been spending time for as long as I can remember.

It’s a fantastic little community, one that has modernised along with the rest of the North Coast, without losing too much of its unique character.

It’s a real piece of ‘old KZN’, with a long stretch of unspoilt beach and vegetation, and when I’m there I feel a million miles from the bustle of the city.

One of my favourite things to do is surf, and it’s fantastic to be able to throw my surfboard in the car and take a short drive out of Durban to the Westbrook waves – where the surfing is really great.

It’s also got loads of snorkelling opportunities and there are plenty of golf courses nearby where I can indulge my other passion.

Because Westbrook is close to Umhlanga, Ballito and Durban, my friends, my wife Kate and I can drive the short hop to restaurants, or take in some nightlife and catch a bit of a buzz.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

 

The Pafuri Walking Trail through the Kruger National Park, Limpopo
dawn jorgenson bucket list
Dawn Jorgensen, The Incidental Tourist blog


The four-day Pafuri Walking Trail is hosted in the private 24,000 ha Makuleke Concession in the remote Northern part of the Kruger National Park, in a place where South Africa meets Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The trail offers you a chance to focus on the little things in life but you will also experience a rush of adrenaline when you happen upon members of the Big Five.

Each day, you walk for about 4 to 5 hours (a distance of about six miles) with water breaks and plenty of stops to look at tracks in the sand and find the birds calling out as you pass.

You will traverse one of the most remote regions in South Africa, one with an abundance of wild animals and landscapes that change from woodland to riverine, mountains, floodplains, fever tree forests and groves of baobabs.

At night in your catered tent, you’ll hear the resident bushbaby crying in the trees, and possibly the roar of a lion and call of the hyena. The hippos are also likely to keep you awake.

There’s something very humbling about walking in an area that belongs to the wild. It’s more than just insight into how things were, even more than how they are meant to be. It’s actually, where nature just happens.

The experience takes you completely off the grid, not a bad thing in these busy times.

Highlights of the experience include a visit to Crook’s Corner, where the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers meet, as well as the Lanner Gorge and the Luvuvhu fever tree forest. Also take the opportunity to have a limb in each – Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique at the same time.

To read more about Dawn’s exciting travels, visit her blog, The Incidental Tourist or follow her on Twitter @DawnJorgensen

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

If you visit Pafuri, here are some must-do ideas to make the most of your stay.

 

Swellendam, Overberg, Western Cape
the travel manuel bucket list
Vaughan and Lauren Manuel McShane, The Travel Manuel blog


A little town we’ve recently fallen in love with is Swellendam. We had no idea that beyond the little cafes and historical buildings is an adventure hub filled with mountain trails, microlighting and gourmet cuisine.

If you have any sort of hankering for the outdoors and adventure, Swellendam will totally surprise by offering you ways to experience its unassuming beauty from the sky, your mountain bike, or while donning your hiking boots.

Picking berries, braaiing on a barge and horse riding are all sweet possibilities too.

Must-try adventures include:

Stay at Schoone Oordt Country House, a luxury country hotel boasting a history dating back to 1853. Eat at Field and Fork and be prepared to be mesmerised.

Vaughan and Lauren Manuel McShane are travel writers for The Travel Manuel. To follow their adventures visit their website or follow them on Instagram @vaughanmac or @thetravelmanuel

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Here are some of our favourite things to do in and around Swellendam.

Orange River rafting, Northern Cape
Bucket list: Orange River Rafting
Nita Hazell, Country Life editor

I’ve done Orange River rafting twice – the first time as a young family and again, not so long ago, with three girlfriends to celebrate a big birthday.

No paddling experience is required but it helps to have some muscle on board so you can sit back and relax and enjoy the jaw-dropping natural beauty of this rugged landscape and incredible bird life.

It’s probably the most fun one can have on the water.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:


READER’S CHOICE: Hiking Table Mountain and sitting on the Diving Board

As a view point/photo opportunity, the amazing Kasteel Poort hike up one of SA’s greatest World Heritage sites, as well as one of the seven Wonders of Nature, tops my bucket list.

It’s a thrilling experience! This hike up Table Mountain is in many peoples’ opinion the best way up. The view is amazing all the way.

There’s nothing like the smell of fynbos and the picturesque scenery of nature and ocean all around you. When you get to the top after about 1.5 hours, you will see an amazing rock formation known as the Diving Board, which is a must on everyone’s bucket list when coming to Cape town.

It does take a little bit of bravery but is so worth the adrenaline rush. – Jaime Letts, Country Life reader

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

A stay in Cape Town warrants that you try at least one of these Table Mountain experiences.


If this bucket list inspired you, have a look at our other bucket list ideas:
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