Exploring South Africa outside your comfort zone

Written by George Van De Schyff

adventure south africa

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a little four-man plane wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into! It got me thinking as I looked to my right and the Atlantic was glistening away on a rare windless day on the West Coast of Cape Town and up ahead of me Table Mountain basked in all her glory. To my left the Ceres valley was shrinking as we made our way up to 12000ft.

I realized, as we gained altitude that I had managed to accomplish a little holy trinity over the weekend (well to me anyway!) I had enjoyed my almost daily trail run on Table Mountain on Friday afternoon, surfed the icy waters of Big Bay alongside the always smiling crew of Stoked Surf School on Saturday and charged down the mountain biking trails of Eeselfontein in the Ceres valley on Sunday.

Adventure south africa

And on this day, the cool as cucumber crew of Mother City Skydiving were taking me into the heavens only to throw me back down at over 200km per hour. WTF?!

Adventure south africa

What got me here? Hailing from the humid, wild coastal city of Durban I grew up surfing and cycling through the multitude of sugar cane farmlands. It’s an epic place to lose touch with reality. We would rush out to the Bluff and surf the reefs, eat chips and surf again. The good guys at Anstey’s Beach Backpackers would sometimes let us leave our bags there and as we got older it became a hub for travellers and surfers alike and opened my eyes up to the world out there. People from around the world and the country would tell us about places they had been, waves they had ridden and that was it! I wanted to see it all.

Life happened, varsity came and went and jobs ebbed and flowed. My desire to see this country didn’t waiver and as soon as I could I was back on the road. I started discovering awesome things local to my hood, like swinging from the arch at Moses Mabida stadium with Big Rush, which happens to be the highest swing in the world. I still get goose bumps thinking about it! Seeing Durban from that perspective reminded me how lucky I am to have grown up in such an outdoor paradise. I made my way up to the Berg as we call it back home, to Sani Lodge where we stayed with Russell and Simone. While there we got to do stuff I feel every South African should do at least once in their life with Drakensberg Adventures. From the madness of mountain biking the Sani Pass into Lesotho (remember your passport!), to spending the night in the rural Lesotho Matsoaing Village, home to the Nkune family, we did it all. They even rear an exclusive local breed of horse that will take you through the surrounding rolling hills, an absolutely mesmerizing experience!

Jumping on the hop on hop off Baz Bus, which runs the lengths of this country taking adventurous youths (and some enlightened elders) to the extremes of their imaginations, I found myself in the Eastern Cape and did what every red blooded surfer would do, I got to experience the holy grail of surfing at J-Bay. Despite what you saw recently about a certain Aussie pro getting a “howsit” from a great white, it’s a very rare occurrence. But we are in their backyard so must be respectful nonetheless.

Speaking of sharks, I recently got a bit of face time with a few great whites in the sturdy cages of White Sharks Projects. Gerald and Mandla got us close to the action and managed to give me a real respect for the predators. When you are sitting on your board out there you pretend they don’t exist. Well this sure put that fallacy to rest! I also recently found myself aboard a boat with Andre and crew from Marine Dynamics, who were not shy to share their knowledge and love for the ocean having been involved in marine conservation for decades. I can attest that this is not just a business but also a vital contingent in gaining knowledge about these apex predators, which will in turn save millions of sharks in the years to come.

Adventure South Africa

As I made my way down towards Cape Town I stopped in the sleepy town/city hybrid of Plett, where I found a home away from home at Amakaya Backpackers, where I got chatting to the locals there over a cold one on their deck. Looking out over the balmy Indian Ocean with the Tsitsikamma to your right is a good opportunity to zone out and reflect. However, the locals pointed me in the direction of the Crags for something us Durbanites don’t do enough of. I went kloofing. Sounds odd I know but what an amazing experience! The crew at Africanyon got us into high end safety gear as we charged through waterfalls, down natural waterslides, swam through ravines and saw parts of the valley very few people ever have. All the massive ferns and teaming bird life gave us the feeling that a T Rex was going to pop around the corner and block our path. Well this time they didn’t, and neither did the fabled Knysna elephant.

Adventure South Africa

Finally I arrived in Cape Town, where I now live and venture from. I find myself having nostalgic laughs with the guests at Once in Cape Town, a cross between a backpackers and a hotel which attracts the most amazing mix of people both local and international with its unique concept and central position. I get to meet the young and old as well as the rich and budget conscious over a good local craft brew. The guys from Earthstompers often roll through with a few inspiring stories to spark your imagination back to life. They really do the local scene properly, whether it’s exploring the wine lands by bicycle or riding an elephant out at Addo, they are the go to guys for us, even as Capetonians.

I recently wanted to go further afield, so Avo Orange took me and some others up to Vic Falls in one of their massive unimogs; which really is a great way to see this continent. You are above the grass line and out of the lions reach whom you can see without being touched. Coming eye to eye with a giraffe was one moment I will definitely take to the grave! We camped in some ridiculous places along the way (Fish River canyon being my personal favorite) and when our tents became too stuffy the crew arranged some well-priced accommodation along our way to Zambia.

Finally we found ourselves trading stories over a sunset braai at the Jollyboys Backpackers & Camp in Livingstone. Because locals run it you are guaranteed to see the area through their eyes. They took us to lesser-known gems (go see for yourself) and naturally they guided us to the most adrenaline pumping sections of the Zambezi. Being a surfer I thought I had seen it all when it came to water sports and the dangers thereof. Woah was I wrong! We flew down rapids and narrowly escaped certain injury many times. To say I came out humbled and pumped doesn’t do the experience justice! But that being said, they gave a crew of gentle Swedish lasses a much more chilled experience. Either way it’s a must do in the region.

Something a little closer to surfing is sandboarding the dunes in Namibia. Imagine snowboarding on Mars! My cousin and his new wife recently went up west to Namibia for their honeymoon and they weren’t interested in the usual lie by the beach read a book type of thing. Instead, Jackie and Bossie at Chameleon Safaris took them into the dessert and through canyons. They found the dynamic duo really caters to families or wanderlust 20-somethings in search of adventure. Either way they keep you glued to your binoculars or window (no tv screens needed there!). Where else can two dine atop a blood red sand dune on local venison as a million stars come to life above you? As soon as I get married its on my list, alongside surfing the world’s best left at Skeleton Bay, google it, your mind will be blown. Rated as the world’s longest single barrel, guys are getting in the green room for close to a minute! Sounds like a good honeymoon to me

Adventure South Africa

Recently I had a few school mates out from the UK. These guys are well travelled so I was more than a little nervous as to what to do with them! A mate of mine luckily had mentioned he had recently done an epic solo mission on his scrambler to the Eastern Cape. So I checked on Dirty Boots website to look at the biking tours they have available. So when the lads got around the table I told them to write off six days as we would be heading along the R62 towards De Hel. As we travelled we saw more mind blowing passes then we can possibly mention, and there is absolutely no other way you will want to experience it all. Along the way we did the compulsory stop at Ronnie’s Sex Shop for a few beers and Karoo lamb chops as we headed towards the secluded Gamkaskloof Reserve where we slept under the stars and spoke way too much junk around the fire with some of our finest local brandies. Honestly at the end of it all, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to catch up with these guys and see the back roads of this insanely beautiful country.

I am not done. I may be older on the outside and no wiser on the inside but I still have a lot to see and do here down south. All I can say is thank goodness I live in beautiful South Africa because I know I will have the time to continue to adventure in this stunning land.

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