More and more tourists are looking for activity and adventure on their holidays. South Africa is just the place for those seeking an action-packed time in the Great Outdoors.
South Africa`s near perfect climate provides ideal conditions for ballooning. This is a superb way of getting a bird`s eye view of the countryside. What better way to round off the experience than touching down deep in the bush to enjoy a hearty champagne breakfast?
South Africa boasts one of the highest bungee jumps in the world. The drop from the bridge over the Blaukrans River, is 216 metres, more than twice the length of the fall from the bridge over Victoria Falls.
A great way of exploring South Africa is by bike or mountain bike. The glorious scenery throughout the country can be best appreciated at a slower pace. If in Cape Town, a breathtakingly beautiful cycling tour is to follow the coastal roads to Cape Point. Tours of the wine regions are also recommended.
Large areas of South Africa`s vast tracts of diverse scenery are not accessible by vehicles.
That`s why increasing numbers of visitors are voting with their feet - and turning to hiking. Not only does hiking provide the opportunity of getting close to the natural environment, it is also an inexpensive way of exploring the country.
There are self-guided as well as guided off-the-road hiking trails. The self-guided trails are ideal for groups of family and friends and are well marked, with sleeping huts for overnight stays on the longer routes. Be sure to take enough food, water and bedding, if necessary, for the trip.
Guided trails in nature reserves could span a few days and are less demanding as the hike is usually led by a trained, armed and experienced game ranger, who provides information about ecology, plants and animals.
There are more than 300 trails to choose from and for those backpackers on a budget (the great majority!) there are nearly 50 hostels featured by the HISA (Hostelling International - South Africa), which is recognised by the International Youth Hostel Federation.
Here is a brief, region-by-region, description of some of the most popular trails.
Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Northern Province: The most popular hiking trails and nature walks in the region are situated on the plateau, which dominates the landscape.
There are sections of evergreen forest, rivers, panoramic views and rocks eroded into strange formations. Birds of prey are abundant and small game such as rhebok, oribi and duiker can be found in the area. The Kruger National Park offers guided walking trails under the supervision of game rangers.
KwaZulu-Natal: The province consists of four main regions: the South and North coasts, the Midlands and the Drakensberg. Lake St Lucia attracts a large number of hikers, and coastal paths, such as the Ngwanase Trail in the Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, also draw many visitors. But by far the most popular area is the Drakensberg Mountains. With its peaks, steep gorges and basalt outcrops, the Drakensberg has become synonymous with hiking and backpacking. In the Midlands region trails take in many of Pietermaritzburg`s historic buildings and sites.
Free State: The Golden Gate National Park, with its strikingly coloured sandstone cliffs, is a major draw. Hikers can see game, such as blesbok, zebra and wildebeest as well as birds such as the black eagle and the lammergeyer. A number of other nature walks exist, some established along the edges of the major dams.
Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West: This area covers the majority of South Africa`s total landmass and offers a wide range of scenery. Many hikers flock to the Swellendam Hiking Trail, while wilderness areas such as Cedarberg and Boesmanbos, are popular with more experienced hikers.
The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma forests offer numerous walking and hiking trails, whilst along the shoreline of the Garden Route, hikers can follow the renowned Otter Hiking Trail. Dense, coastal forest and dune vegetation can be explored in the Alexandra State Forest while the Amatola Trail passes through stunning, mountain terrain.
In the Great Karoo, hikers on the Mountain Zebra Trail can also spot eland, kudu, red hartebeest, jackal, the Cape Fox and duiker. To the north-west, Namaqualand and the west coast offer magnificent vistas when the wildflowers come to life after the rains in July/August. Guides will also take hikers through the Pilanesberg National Park.
You don`t have to be an experienced rider to take part in a horseback safari, and in the saddle you`ll probably get closer to the game than you would in a vehicle. The combination of riding and game viewing is irresistible. Horse trails and safaris are widely available throughout the country and a number of UK operators offer them. Horse riding is particularly popular in the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal.
Various motorcycles can be rented. It is advisable to travel in small groups in case of breakdowns.
ports and Trout Fishing
There`s nothing tame about sports angling off the coasts of South Africa, with fishing trips often taking on a tough, pioneering atmosphere. There are 1,500 species of fish to be caught off the South African coastline.
Indeed, where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean currents meet near the Cape of Good Hope, a greater concentration of game fish can be found than anywhere else in the world.
The Cape is famed for its concentration of large tuna, including the albacore, yellowfin and southern bluefin, whilst the recently discovered populations of swordfish have drawn international attention amongst the world`s big game fishing fraternity.
There are about 750,000 marine anglers in South Africa and the staging of regular tournaments has been well-developed throughout the region - so the infrastructure for angling is excellent, with accommodation, charter boats, party boats and specialist guides available at most venues.
There are some important fish runs that take place. The highlight of the Sardine Run (June), along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, is the hordes of feeding game fish and sharks. In the summer, the tuna and king mackerel abound, while the autumn and winter brings huge runs of snoek.
Trout fishing in South Africa is probably the least expensive in the world. Major trout fishing areas are to be found in the southern mountain ranges of the Western Cape and throughout the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal. In Mpumalanga and Northern Province, Dullstroom, Lydenburg, Belfast and Tzaneen are among the best areas. The Eastern Cape has exceptional fly-fishing conditions in the mountain streams and along the beautiful coastline.
Professional yachtsmen will take visitors on sailing trips. Because of the unpredictable seas off the South African coast, yachts will not be rented out to inexperienced sailors.
Scuba Diving and Snorkelling
There are four key types of diving experience:
Tropical reef diving - Sodwana Bay (on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal) is similar to the Florida Keys in the USA and Aliwal Shoals (on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal) is where divers look for ragged-tooth sharks.
Wreck diving - The rugged Cape Coast is notorious for the number of sunken ships.
Cape Diving - Conditions here vary from those in KwaZulu-Natal and compare favourably with those off the California coast in the USA. Diving for abalone, crayfish and great white sharks is popular. Tsitsikamma Coastal Park offers excellent opportunities for underwater photography and there are two underwater diving trails.
Shark dives - Sharks migrate through False Bay, at the Cape, from June to August, and ragged-tooth sharks move into the Durban (KwaZulu-Natal) area from October to January.
More than 10,000 scuba divers are trained in South Africa each year and over 100,000 dives took place in the coral reefs of the St Lucia Marine Reserve in a single year.
Scuba divers need special equipment and training before taking the plunge. An alternative way of seeing the rich marine life of the underwater world is snorkelling - all you need is a pair of flippers, a snorkel and a mask.
South Africa has some of the best and least crowded surfing beaches anywhere in the world. Durban is the main centre, but surfing is possible along most of the coastline. Surfers are advised to bring their own surfboards.
For years, South Africa has been proud to be home to the "Big Five" - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Now the country is starting to boast about the "Big Six" - the addition being a creature somewhat larger than the elephant - the whale.
The Western Cape Tourism Board, together with the local Hermanus Publicity Association, recently established a Cape Whale Route. This guides visitors to the best spots for observing these leviathans of the deep as they swim close to the shoreline - so close in fact that it is not unusual for observers to be soaked from their spray!
Whaling along the Cape coastline dates back to the 1770s but was discontinued many decades ago. Little remains of the whaling stations, but implements from this era can still be seen at the South African Museum in Cape Town and at the Residency Museum in Simon`s Town.
The whales, though, are very much in evidence from June to September. The most common is the Southern Right Whale, so called by whalers because it is fat and slow moving and was therefore considered to be the "right" whale to catch. In 1940, the species was given complete legal protection in South African waters.
The Southern Right Whales are easy to recognise because they have no dorsal fin and carry light coloured patches of roughened skin on the head called "callosities." Adults average 14m in length and probably weigh about 40 tonnes.
The highest concentration of Right Whales occurs in Walker Bay, between Hermanus and Gansbaai and the picturesque stretch of coast between Hermanus New Harbour and the mouth of the Klein River lagoon. These sites provide outstanding viewing as the creatures come particularly close to the shore. At the height of the season they can also be seen in False Bay.
The reason they swim so close to land is because the females have just given birth and they use the inshore waters as nursery areas.
Humpback and Bryde`s Whales can also be seen. Both have small dorsal fins and lack callosities.
A `Whale Festival` is held at Walker Bay every year during the last week of September, an event celebrated with music, theatre, cabaret and sporting events, which include a cycle race, a triathlon, a fun run, volleyball, kite stunt flying and competition flying.
Thousands of people flock to the seaside resort of Hermanus to join in the fun. During the day, craft markets colour the streets and everyone enjoys the star performers - the magnificent Southern Right Whales.
White Water Rafting and Canoeing
This activity can be as challenging as you choose, depending on the river. Some, like the Doring in the Cape, are fast-flowing and steep. Others, including the Orange River, are less demanding, though still offering their share of thrills and spills. You need to be fairly fit to cope with the really wild rivers, but most swimmers can deal with the more gentle conditions. And if you`ve time to look at the scenery - you`ll find it as breathtaking as the rafting.
South African Tourism is producing a series of Fact Sheets on activities and special interest topics including: animals of South Africa, camping, diving, fish of South Africa, fishing, flying, game reserves, golf, hiking, plants of South Africa, special interest themes and surfing. Other Fact Sheets feature: accommodation, UK and South Africa contact sheets, food and wine, geography, incentive holidays, SATOUR = Service, shopping, "The Classic Tour", "The Cultural Tour", "The Outback Tour", the people of South Africa, wines and wine routes and useful websites.