Having trouble with your 2018 bucket list? These unusual adventures across South Africa are sure to inspire.
1. A new way up Lions Head
Cost: From R400 for a half day, secretadventurer.co.za
Where? Cape Town
From a cave nicknamed Sally’s, we could see mountain and sea, paragliders sailing just above us and, further down, missioning along a well-worn track, people on their way to the top of Lion’s Head. We were going there too, but Henk Brand had shown me an alternative route. Our journey began with the zigzagging ascent to Wally’s Cave; Instagram-famous, it is no longer Cape Town’s best-kept secret. (Ed’s note: Wally’s Cave is no longer open to hikers, but Henk can still arrange other secret routes up the mountain) After an impromptu lesson in moving across a ledge, we left Wally’s behind, passing several other caves along no discernible path. I had to trust Henk as we scrambled higher and squeezed between rocks.
The heights were sobering but the 360-degree views of Cape Town were worth it. We did not encounter another human until, three hours later, we arrived at the top, the crowds oblivious to ‘our secret’. I can’t recall the route we took but I think that’s kind of the point. If you are relatively fit, it’s doable (plenty of rock scrambling). I’d definitely do this again at another location. The Secret Adventurer offers outings in Cape Town and surrounds but Henk’s research is ongoing. He’s recently found new routes on Devil’s Peak, at Bakoven and Boulders and the 12 Apostles. ‘It’s about testing one’s limits and going above and beyond what one knows.’
2. Camp out with a cool soundtrack
Cost: From R750 per person (includes four days of camping), mieliepopfestival.co.za
Billed as a ‘rock, reggae and blues’ fest, there’s also folk, world music, a Rave Cave (DJs) and Cool in the Pool dance floor (electronica). The venue, Tolderia Farm near Lothair in Mpumalanga, is a watery, hilly playground with rivers, pools, fields, caves and a lake – the latter of interest to anyone who’s interested in trying SUP yoga, which will be offered at the Yoga Flow Festival running concurrently. From 21 – 24 March 2018.
3. Find alien life
Cost: R200 adults, R180 children, thealienexpo.com
The Alien Expo is not what you might expect. It’s deadly serious, super educational – and loads of fun. The ‘headline act’ is models of the seven most common kinds of aliens seen on Earth, but from here you could enter Prehistoric World to mingle with lifesize dinosaurs, take selfies with your favourite cartoon characters, explore the planets of our solar system in Astronomy World, try out the latest in virtual reality and gaming, take fun rides and do robot ‘meet-and-greets’. A red-carpet parade of wax figures (including Mandela, Obama and Lady Gaga) rounds off the experience. Running from 9 – 18 February in Joburg (after that in Cape Town and Durban).
4. A new cycle route for gravel riders
Cost: Free, capecycleroutes.co.za
Where? Western Cape
You can now cycle on gravel (almost) all the way from Plett to Stellenbosch – away from maniacal motorists – and explore the best of the Western Cape on two wheels. We say ‘new’ because the roads have always been there but the launch of CrossCape has given them a name, and a home on an epic map that includes distances, directions, points of interest, emergency contacts and other important details to keep cyclists safe and, just as importantly, pedalling! Emulating Europe’s hugely popular EuroVelo route network, ‘The plan is for this to be the first of many,’ said Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde, just before leaving me in his wake of dust up Montagu Pass. ‘As the route gets more popular, it’ll give locals opportunities to open coffee shops, bicycle repair centres and more accommodation options along the way,’ he said while casually eating his second roosterkoek at the other end of the pass, in Herold, while I tried to catch my breath.
The total distance of the route is a hefty 742 kilometres (ruefully, I only rode half of it, parting ways with the minister of fitness and his small group of pioneers in Oudtshoorn) but riders can do the route however they like: in bits, in full, and in as many or few days as they want. Aside from beautiful back roads (the 7 Passes Road between Knysna and George is just out of this world), there’s a special magic in discovering some of the Cape’s lesser-visited towns along the way. The best part? It’s open seven days a week, 365 days a year. And it’s free. All you need is the map and a bicycle.
5. Race down hills
Cost: From R450 per person, R290 passengers (kids under nine), scootours.co.za
Where? Western Cape, Drakensberg, Franschoek, Stellenbosch, Knysna and Kaapsehoop.
There’s no child on Earth (and few adults) who will reject a downhill run on a fat-tyred scooter on the slopes of Table Mountain. The Deer Park leg from Tafelberg Road to Van Riebeeck Park trundles past hot fynbos and cool pines; a warm-up run on Signal Hill teaches the basics. Shuttles take you to a high point and it’s all downhill from there.
A mountain scooter is like a regular stand-on scooter but with all-terrain wheels. It’s a bit like a bicycle, too, with no seat or pedals. It can be steered and it has brakes, which give you control over the stability and speed of the scooter – although I’d been warned that if I used the front brakes only,
I might flip over. I could slow down through muddy bits or when a sharp bend loomed. The newest location where these tours are available is near Nelspruit, in Kaapsehoop.
6. Camp in the trees
Cost: Hire a tent (from R400 per day, excluding delivery), or join Tentsile SA on a three-day Cederberg escape. It includes transport, food, hikes and setting up and taking down of the tents (from R3000 per person). Or, buy your own. Two-person tents from R5880. tentsile.co.za
Two of your favourite childhood hangouts, treehouses and tents, have finally met. British architect Alex Shirley-Smith was inspired by the Ewok tree village in Return of the Jedi and created Tentsile, which he dubbed ‘the world’s most innovative portable treehouse’. We took them to the Berg River Resort near Paarl and, after scouting for three well-spaced trees (very important), got down to getting them up. Finding well-spaced trees can be a challenge. As can finding the right sleeping position: lie straight, over the stiffest part, to avoid bundling. Once figured out, it’s lots of fun!
7. Track wild cheetahs
Cost: R400 per person. Booking essential (age 12 and up only), sanparks.org
Where? Mountain Zebra National Park, Cradock
Lions have been introduced to Mountain Zebra National Park (near Cradock) and the five resident cheetahs are being monitored to assess their adjustment to the new arrivals. You can see these lithe creatures in the wild by tracking them. The drive begins at 8.30am and whenever the guide gets to an elevated, open space, he tries to get a bearing. Two of the cheetahs wear collars, but radio tracking doesn’t guarantee sightings. To pinpoint the cheetah you’ve got to walk a particular pattern and use your senses. Participants get a game drive into private parts of the park too.
8. Find secret pools
Cost: R25 per day visitor, bokloof.co.za
A Baviaanskloof canyon foray doesn’t have to be macho. From Willowmore, our ancient French hatchback braved the stony swirls of Thomas Bain’s R332 for a good 80 kilometres – more than far enough to find a secret slot canyon to cool down in. Bo-Kloof’s Waterkloof, for one, is a remarkable shadowy slice in the landscape, with smooth rock walls that loom dizzyingly above and in places almost meet overhead (beware: baboons dislodge rocks at these junctions). The thorny, dusty outside world is replaced by natural air-con, secret pools with pale frogs and, most surprisingly, forest and birds. Waterkloof is not the only keyhole to a hidden world – other canyons abound.
9. Do the hula
Cost: Drop-in class R100 per person, hoopflowlove.com
Where? Fish Hoek
‘The biggest challenge of hula-hooping is being open to picking one up again after, say, 20 years,’ say Basil and Sandra-Dee Scordilis of Hoop Flow Love, who offer classes for adults in Sea Point and Fish Hoek. They focus on the dance aspect (new moves are constantly being created in the US and Europe), although there’s room for a little philosophy too: mastering the ‘Escalator’ requires learning to let go at just the right moment. The ‘Weave’ and ‘Vortex’ will develop core strength, joint flexibility and hand-eye coordination.
10. Glide on a gondola
Cost: Night rides cost R220 per couple, gondolas.co.za
So it’s not quite Venice, but there is something magical about silently gliding on a gondola through the canals of the Point Waterfront as night sets in. Colours bleed from the sky as city lights flicker on like electric candles for your romantic outing. If you’re lucky you’ll have Bongani Xaba as your guide – he’s been with Zulumoon Gondolas from the start and can point out where the netted-off shark nursery is (ssshh, to those of you in the know). The 30-minute ride takes you into a section of the new precinct planned for Durban beachfront, and craning your head upwards at the buildings gives you an idea of what this luxe area is set to become.