Say goodbye to your comfort zone, you're about to OD on undiluted adrenalin.
Touring in South Africa
Author: Adélle Horler.
Purchase Book here
Copyright © 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.
We hope you have a head for heights because there's abseiling at either end of this route - the first off Table Mountain, the last off the Knysna Heads - with plenty of white-knuckled paragliding, shark-diving and bungee jumping action in between. In fact, whatever your preferred adrenalin rush, here's your fix, so brace yourself and, whatever you do, never, ever, look before you leap.
Three nights, four days
Approx 800km - one way (add about 500km for direct return to Cape Town)
THE ROUTE:Day One :
Abseil off Table Mountain, or Tandem paraglide wherever the wind blows, or try a high speed mountain bike ride on the slopes of Table Mountain, or Free-climb a 32-graded route at City Rock (okay, you can top-rope it) Overnight in Cape Town.Day Two:
Bridge (or bungee) jump off the Gouritz River Bridge. Dive with great white sharks at Mossel Bay. Overnight in Mossel BayDay Three:
Try a deep dive off Plettenberg Bay, or a spring tide dive between the Knysna Heads. Tackle the world's highest bungee off Bloukrans Bridge. Cable slide from tree to tree in indigenous forest. Sail through Knysna Heads. Overnight in KnysnaDay Four:
An awesome foursome in Knysna - kayak across the lagoon, ride quadbikes, abseil over the sea then rap jump off the Heads. Chill out on a slow drive back to Cape Town on the N2 or take an extra day or two and return to Cape Town on Route 62 via Oudtshoorn.
BEST TIME TO GO:
Definitely all year, though these activities are generally outdoors and weather-permitting, so the summery fine weather from November to April is best. The scuba dives require a minimum Openwater One qualification. Bring your card as operators will not let you dive without it. It's vital to book first and remember that all outdoor options are weather permitting. Shark Africa, the Mossel Bay cage dive operation, closes from early December to mid-January. The tandem paraglide is dependent on current conditions and wind direction. So book that first and schedule other activities around it.
The Getaway Adventure Guide, by Jennifer Stern (Ramsay, Son and Parker), lists adventure activities not only in South Africa, but also Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. If you want something really scary, get Extreme Ironing by Phil Shaw (New Holland), but it's only for people who take their housekeeping seriously.
DAY 1 Waterfront to Table Mountain - 12min
From the Waterfront turn right into Buitengracht (M62 Camps Bay) and follow cableway signs. At about 4.5km turn left into Tafelberg Road. The lower cable station is about 1.5km further. What is it about mountains that makes people (well, the slightly insane) want to leap off them? Here's the ultimate in 'yes, I really did this' - step right off the edge of Table Mountain, a world heritage site and Cape Town's most loved icon. Abseil Africa operates the Western Cape's highest natural abseil from a rocky and seriously exposed perch close to the upper cable station.
It's an awesome 112 metres long and if that sounds like kid's stuff, bear in mind that there's a whole lot of nothing between you and the sea, 1 063 metres below. After donning a harness, listening to a quick safety briefing (which includes useful advice such as 'remain calm at all times') and having a quick practice on a static line, you're set to go. The take-off point has a spectacular view over Camps Bay and Clifton. Enjoy it, as it's probably the last thing you see before you step off the edge, your brain shuts down and fear takes over.
Then, just as you begin to realise how exposed you feel, bouncing off a sheer cliff 1 000 metres up, it gets a whole lot worse. The cliff vanishes into an overhang, and you're left dangling (with another 60-odd metres to go) in mid-air. This is guaranteed to get your attention. It could be worse, though. You're now abseiling more or less down the line of South Africa's toughest rock climb, graded 33, which has been climbed by only a handful of very brave people, who have thoughtfully called it 'Mary Poppins' Giant Umbrella', due to the length of time spent hanging from one knuckle as they try to negotiate their way up the overhang.
The average time for the abseil is about 10 minutes, then there's an easy, half-hour walk that gently climbs back up to the top. No experience is necessary. The abseil is, of course, weather-dependent. One of the best things about this abseil is that they have two ropes side-by-side, so if you think you'll be lonely out there, do it with a friend. If you prefer going up rather than plummeting down, try mountain climbing with Out There Facilitation. They'll find a route to suit your experience and need for adrenalin, covering the basics for novices who're still learning the ropes, to guided sport and traditional ascents for accomplished climbers.
They also guide kloofing and hiking routes.Want to go higher? Okay, get ready for take-off.Imagine the serenity of soaring higher than eagles while surrounded by spectacular beauty, the silence broken only by the rush of the air. And all this from the comfort of a Lazee-Boy of sorts. Armchair travelling has never been this good. The quick-fix for wanna-be paragliders is to do it in tandem, strapped to a pilot who'll do all the flying while you settle back in the harness and put your feet up. And the in-flight entertainment will take your breath away, as you float on thermals, a weightless wisp of freedom in a blue world of sea and sky.
Good news if you have a height phobia: some say the serenity gets to you, and although you're high up, the feeling of vertigo disappears as you're not on the edge of anything. Go on, give it a go. Local operators have formed a joint company called the Air Team, which co-ordinates all the paragliding options. Depending on the wind direction, you may take off from Signal Hill, Lion's Head, Sir Lowry's Pass, Franschhoek or Hermanus (allow a full day for the last two destinations), or Porterville (overnight trip).
No experience is necessary - you'll get a full briefing and all the required gear, and flights usually last between 15 minutes and half an hour. A word of caution: there are various paragliders willing to take you for a ride. Before leaving the safety of planet earth, make sure your pilot has a tandem-rated paragliding licence and insurance that covers you as a passenger.
Waterfront to Kloof Street - 8min
From the Waterfront turn right into Buitengracht (M62 Camps Bay) and follow cableway signs. After 2km turn left into Buitensingel Road, then straight through traffic lights. Downhill Adventures is on the right. If you're more of a speed demon than a height head, here's your fix: scream down Table Mountain on a hi-tech mountain bike, flashing past the fynbos with nothing between you and the world but wind and a sturdy helmet. Allow half a day (at least three hours) for the guided Table Mountain Double Descent from Downhill Adventures.
The route starts at the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road, then hurtles off-road along a jeep track, traversing the slopes on a downhill rollercoaster, with fabulous views of the City Bowl, Lion's Head, Devil's Peak and Table Bay. Of course, a double-descent means at some point you need to go up again, but with 21 gears the cycle back up to Tafelberg Road is quick. Saving the best for last, the route veers off-road again from the end of the tar, with a long downhill race into Vredehoek. You need to behave once again on the tar road down into the city before ending at the shop.
Downhill Adventures will supply bikes, helmets and water, but you need to bring closed shoes. The route suits advanced riders (who'll go faster) as well as absolute beginners - no experience required although you must be able to ride a bike. Another mountain biking option is Daytrippers who, aside from routes below Table Mountain, have various tours around the Peninsula and the Cape Winelands, where you cycle between wine estates.
DAY 2 Waterfront to Gouritz Bridge - approx 3hr 50min
From the Waterfront turn left onto the highway, following N1 Paarl then N2 Somerset West. Remain on N2 (Caledon, Mossel Bay, George) for 340km. Gouritz Bridge is about 16km after Albertinia. This is where bungee jumping began in South Africa but with bigger plunges later on, get into the swing of things with the bridge swing. As you teeter on the edge of the jump platform, look across to the new road bridge - that's where your lifeline is attached. This is much better than looking down into the river bed way, way below.
Then, leaving your stomach behind, dive/leap/fall off, and feel the rush as you freefall and pendulum through the air. If you want to get closer to your partner than ever before, do the bridge swing in tandem. Wear walking shoes for once you've swung to a stop, you're lowered to the ground to walk up out of the gorge. There's an age limit of 14 years and a minimum weight of 40kg. Under-18s must get parental consent. Now that you're back on terra firma, be prepared to leave it behind again. We're off to play with some predators.
Gouritz to Mossel Bay - 20min
Continue into Mossel Bay. Follow road left down the hill and turn right into Marsh Street, then left into Church Street. Mossel Bay Tourism is on the corner of Church and Market streets. Or follow the sharks signs from Marsh Street. The alarming thing about the steel cage that's dangled off the edge of Shark Africa's catamaran is the rather large viewing port, which might look to a shark like a handy feeding hatch. Comfort yourself that it's standard size and there have been no incidents. So far.
Just don't lean out. Shark Africa sails out to Seal Island (home to about 4 000 seals) where they anchor, set bait and wait. It could be anything from five minutes to three hours before the great whites come; then, geared with a wetsuit, mask and air supply, you're lowered into the cage to go face to face with Jaws (who may be anything from twice your height to a mind-blowing six metres long). You don't need any dive qualifications and there are no age limits (youngest so far was five years, and oldest eighty-eight).
Rates include gear, and you pay less if you're planning to watch from the boat. If you don't see any sharks, you get half your money back! Bank on spending up to five hours at sea. More to do in Mossel Bay: Parasailing; microlighting; 4x4ing on the Vleesbaai Dune Route; game viewing; scenic flights; fly-fishing; whale-watching cruises to Seal Island; quadbiking (also game drives on quads); and helicopter trips.
DAY 3 Mossel Bay to Knysna - 1hr 15min
Watch your speed - there are lots of speed traps along here. Leave Mossel Bay following signs to N2 George, Hartenbos. Go through Wilderness and Sedgefield. Knysna Tourism is on the left at 106km. At 108km turn right into George Rex Drive and follow the signs to the Knysna Heads. The treacherous sea between the Knysna Heads ups the fear factor on the drift dive offered by The Heads Diving Adventure Centre. It's a shore-entry at the Heads, then you drift down the channel with the current and over the wreck of the Paquita, an iron barge that was claimed by the Heads a hundred years ago. But perhaps drift is misleading: at spring high tide (the best time for this dive), you scream in at 12 knots.
So there's no stopping - anything you grab hold of is coming with you. You can more or less choose your depth, from five to eight metres in the current, or dropping down into the channel at 16 to 18 metres, with the wreck at around eight metres. The Knysna lagoon is home to the extremely rare Hippocampus capensis, more recognisably known as the mystical sea horse, where you'll find them especially beneath Thesen's Jetty. Openwater One dive qualification with experience is required; advanced is recommended.
If diving isn't your kind of thing, The Heads Diving Adventure Centre also offers township tours and canoe safaris up the Knysna River into the forest. Abseiling, rap jumping, sea kayaking and paintball are also on the menu. More to do in Knysna: Leisure Island, or Knysna Heads beaches (when snorkelling, don't go out in the channel); abseiling next to a waterfall in Kaaimans Gorge; houseboats on the lagoon; the Knysna Elephant Park; and the famed Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, a unique steam train that puffs and blows between George and Knysna every day. The week-long Knysna Oyster Festival, held in July, includes a marathon and various cycle races.
Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay - 1hr 40min
Follow route to Knysna and keep straight through the town. At 138km turn right into Plettenberg Bay and keep straight to the sea. You'll see the Beacon Isle Hotel at the bottom of the hill; cross the river to get there. Deep-dive junkies will love Whale Rock, at the tip of the Robberg Peninsula off Plettenberg Bay. It's one massive rock whose pinnacle just clears the water and then drops down a full 35 metres. Here's where the deep blue sea meets land for the first time, so, as operator Robin says, things are big out here. Robberg Peninsula supports a seal colony, so you'll definitely see them on the surface and there's a good chance of diving with them swimming all around you.
And of course seals attract great white sharks, which have also been seen on dives. (Advanced dive qualification required.) Whale Rock is one of several Plettenberg Bay dives offered from the Beacon Isle Hotel, operated by The Heads Adventure Diving Centre. More to do in Plettenberg Bay: Skydiving; glider trip; eco-marine cruises to see whales and dolphins; Monkey Land Primate Sanctuary; fishing; horse riding; canoe trips up the Keurbooms River; golf; polo; and a visit to a traditional mampoer and witblits distillery.
Knysna/Plettenberg Bay to Bloukrans - 50min/25min
Continue on the N2 towards Port Elizabeth. Cross Bloukrans Bridge about 70km from Knysna, or 30km from Plett. Turn left to Face Adrenalin after 500m. Once you've dried off from your dive, face your fears on the world's highest commercial bungee jump off the 216-metre Bloukrans Bridge. You won't even notice the jaw-dropping beauty of the Tsitsikamma forest and gorge below as you inch your way to the middle of the bridge (you get there via a catwalk suspended beneath the road surface - and by coincidence it's also 216 metres to the middle).
Five, four, three, two, one BUNGEE! And you've got five heart-stopping seconds to wonder whether you're actually attached to anything. An instructor will help winch you back up to the platform for the walk back. Minimum weight for jumping is 45 kilograms, with a bottom age limit of 14 years, and some medical conditions may rule out a jump. Under-18s must get parental consent. The Bloukrans bungee is really a three-in-one bargain. The first stomach-lurching drop is up to 180 metres. After the rebound, your second drop at 111 metres is higher than the Victoria Falls bungee.
And at 65 metres, your third is longer than Gouritz. The operators are Face Adrenalin, who also offer a stunning 200-metre flying fox slide (between the concrete pillars beneath the bridge). If you aren't brave enough to bungee, can you walk the walk? Try the bridge walk, à la Sydney Harbour bridge, where you do the catwalk to the bungee-viewing platforms - it's enclosed with netting but not solid, so you can see the gorge way down beneath your feet.
Bloukrans to Storms River Village - 10min
As you continue on the N2, ignore turn to Storms River Mouth. At about 13km turn right to Storms River Village. At T-junction, turn left to Storms River Adventures. If you feel you can't take any more fear, the fun kicks in for the Tree-top Canopy Tour with Storms River Adventures (who also do river cruises, abseiling, river tubing, mountain biking, fishing, scuba diving and guided hikes).
The two- to three-hour (depending on numbers) canopy tour, one of only three in the entire world, is a huge flying fox slide that sets you swinging from tree to towering tree in the indigenous Tsitsikamma forest, a good 30 to 45 metres above ground. Secure in a harness and hitched to a sturdy steel cable, you launch yourself from the tops of giant yellowwoods, seeing (if you're lucky) the shy Knysna louries at bird's-eye level. It's a whole new world up there, and once you've tasted it, you're not going to want to come down.
Storms River Village to Keurboomstrand - 30min
From Storms River Adventures, return to N2 and turn left to George. After 10km, turn right onto the R102 Coldstream, George (or stay straight on N2 direct to Knysna). Bloukrans Pass is at 21km. Remain on R102 across bridge for Grootrivier Pass. At 49km, T-junction left onto N2 George. (If you're skipping Rafikis, stay straight on N2 direct to Knysna.) Turn left to Keurboomstrand at 60km, left again at 62km. At 66km turn right at T-junction. Rafikis is 500m further.
Drink a toast to your day and walk to the looming rock arch at the idyllic Rafikis Restaurant and Bar, above the beach at Keurboomstrand, just outside Plettenberg Bay. Or head back to Knysna for one more adventure - a sunset cruise through the Heads, with champagne and oysters. There are two operators based at Knysna Quays: if you love the classic lines of a 50-foot yacht, look for Spring Tide Charters and yacht Outeniqua, or opt for a spacious catamaran, Zakat, from Knysna Waterfront.
Keurboomstrand to Knysna - 30min
Retrace your route from Rafikis. At 4km T-junction turn left to Plettenberg Bay. At 5km T-junction turn left onto N2 Plettenberg Bay. Enter Knysna at 42km. Knysna Tourism is at 45km. (For boat cruises, turn left into Waterfront Drive at 44km, following the signs for Knysna Quays.) Enjoy dinner at one of Knysna's fine restaurants, but don't make it a late night for you'll need to be up and ready to go quite early the next morning.
DAY 4, Day spent in and around Knysna
The Awesome Foursome is just one of the dynamite packages of non-stop action run by Seal Adventures (depart from Knysna Quays). The half-day starts with paddling a canoe (could be calm and leisurely, could be rough and choppy) from Leisure Island across the lagoon to the Featherbed Nature Reserve on the opposite Head. Then get your boots on, because you're hiking right to the top, with spectacular views of Knysna to take your mind off the strain - just so that you can jump right off it.
No matter how much abseiling you've done before, this one will leave you dry-mouthed. While the actual abseil is 70 metres, your departure point is at the end of a dainty wooden jetty jutting out into thin air, a breathtaking 122 metres above the waves crashing onto the rocks below. Once you've regained your composure - and your breath after the walk back up - you get to do it again, only this time it's face first. You know what they say about not looking down. But when you rap jump, with the rope attached behind you, there's nowhere else to look.
The fourth in the foursome is a quadbike obstacle course that swoops and snakes through the veld on top of the Head, with fabulous views if you're brave enough to take your eyes off the track. Some good advice on quadbiking: 'Steer it like a supermarket trolley and you'll never battle around the corners.' Come down from the adrenalin high on the gentle walk down to the sea, before canoeing back across the lagoon.
Knysna to Cape Town - 5hrs
It's direct to Cape Town along the N2, or take some extra time and head back on Route 62 via Oudtshoorn (take the N12 at George).