Destin-Nation South Africa: The Ultimate Surf and Turf

Destin-Nation South Africa: The Ultimate Surf and Turf


The southern tip of Africa is dense with parks, panoramas and possibilities. The only thing likely to constrain adventurers here is their own physical limitations and phobias. White Sharks wait in the water, lions prowl on land, and tourists who so choose swim in a shallow sea of adrenaline.

The southern tip of Africa is dense with parks, panoramas and possibilities. The only thing likely to constrain adventurers here is their own physical limitations and phobias. White Sharks wait in the water, lions prowl on land, and tourists who so choose swim in a shallow sea of adrenaline.

Thanks in no small part to the 2010 World Cup, the tourism infrastructure in South Africa, which was already the best in sub-Saharan Africa by a significant margin, is better than ever. With flights buzzing back and forth between the country's major cities (Cape Town, Johannesburg and Darwin) and massive national parks taking up so much of the landscape, travel here is a breeze. Many of the difficulties posed by decades of political unrest have also disappeared, though the country's racial history is as fraught as it ever was.

Roughly the size of Texas, Colorado and Wyoming lumped together, South Africa is still wilder and, in places anyway, emptier than any part of the American west. This is the true big sky country – when visitors look up at night and see the blazing Southern Cross, they know it.

Flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg leave daily from London, Amsterdam and New York on South African Airways and British Airways and typically cost between $1,200 and $1,800. Travelers who plan ahead will save enough money for at least one night in a safari lodge.

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Destin-Nation South Africa: The Ultimate Surf and Turf

Looming above Cape Town, Table Mountain is a national symbol and a beautiful hike. The views from the top are spectacular: The cliff drops hundreds of feet into a valley, beyond which lies the city and the sea. Adventurous hikers celebrate the vista by turning away from it, locking themselves into a harness and repelling down the cliff, stopping periodically to take in the view or simply hyperventilate.

Abseiling Africa offers day trips for $86 that allow visitors to descend the longest commercially available rope going. For visitors who find repelling too unexciting, there is also paragliding and base jumping off the cliff, though both activities require advanced certifications and a complete disregard for life and limb.

Getting There: Flights arrive in Cape Town constantly from New York as well as Amsterdam and London on South African Airways and British Airways. Flights from Europe are a little cheaper than flights from the U.S., which cost around $1,400.

The waters off Africa's southernmost coast are some of the most dangerous in the world thanks to extreme tides, powerful currents and a less than amiable population of Great White Sharks. Those viral videos of seals meeting their unseemly and efficient ends? Most of them were taken in South Africa. Adventurers looking for a seal's eye view will find plenty of dive outfitters running cage diving trips off the coast. Head to the town of Gansbaai, arguably the White Shark capital of the world, and hop aboard one of the boats operated by Marine Dynamics, an eco-friendly operation that offers day trips. Learn why the caged diver screams.

Divers looking to get out of the cage should head to Cape Point between May and July when millions of sardines begin to migrate north, inspiring what may be the largest feeding frenzy this side of last Thanksgiving. Divers can see dolphins, shark and whales, most likely up close and at the same time. Seal Expeditions offers week long trips to the party.

Getting There: Gansbaai is a two-hour car ride from Cape Town. Private shuttles can be arranged with most hotels for around $40, but most shark diving centers arrange transport as part of the cage dive package.

Skiing South Africa's none-too-tall Drakensburg mountains won't give adrenaline junkies their fix, but boarding down the side of an incredibly steep 900 foot sand dune absolutely will. The Dragon Dune in Mossel Bay, a town directly between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, presents one of the longest sandboard rides in the world. An afternoon session with Billeon, a local outfitter, will run travelers only $50 dollars, which is bound to buy a good story as well.

A few tips: Long sleeve shirts and gobs of sunscreen are all but mandatory here. Sandals are less than ideal for the hike back up a dune. Falling repeatedly down a sandy hill is not a ton of fun, so sandboarders without any experience snowboarding or skateboarding might want to sit down. 

Getting There: Mossel Beach is about 250 miles from Cape Town on the so-called Garden Route, a scenic drive along the southern coast. The town itself is lovely the beaches are worth a visit even without any intention to plummet down dunes.

Sailing off Cape Town is perilous. Sailing on Cape Town isn't. Blokarts are three-wheeled platforms fused to windsurfing sails and rigged so drivers (captains?) can speed across parking lots and broader beaches. Blokart Heaven on Sunrise Beach in Cape Town is a good place for asphalt sailors to get their feet, well, dry. 

Blokarting, it should be said, embodies the South African spirit of "Why Not?" Many South Africans have a strong rebellious streak and are always looking to try something new, so don't be surprised if yesterdays blokarters are finding more and more extreme ways of getting their kicks (elephant wrestling maybe or Table Mountain Tennis).

Getting There: There are only three establishments in South Africa where adventurers can rent a blokart: Blokart Heaven in Cape Town, Bio Ped Park in Johannesburg and the Sport and Recreation Village in Sedgefield, a coastal town east of the cape.

The major advantages of seeing the Kalahari on hoof rather than from an air-conditioned jeep is that it allows riders to get significantly closer to the wildlife and gives a more immediate sense of the massive space. Riders are likely to come into close contact with topi, gemsbok, jackals, hyenas and lions, though they would be advised to shy away from any curious pride. The land here is pretty flat so riders don't need much experience before setting out into Bushman's land.

Safari's expensive and would-be riders can expect to drop significant coin. Uncharted Africa, which offers luxurious but rugged tours, charges north of $500 per person per night, while Tswalu Kalahari, a luxury lodge that can be a base camp for riders, charges roughly $1000 a night. There are, unfortunately, not many downmarket options.

Getting There: Private flights to Tswalu Kalahari operate daily from Johannesburg and Cape Town, but non-plutocrats will have to make the seven-hour drive from Johannesburg. Adventurers can attempt the drive by themselves, but probably should hire a local driver, which is inexpensive and mitigates the chances of them getting lost or becoming uncomfortable objects of attention.

Kruger is the African park par excellence; a completely unspoiled wilderness boasting remarkable biodiversity and excellent access for Safaris. This is the perfect forum for living out Hemingway fantasies (though travelers should leave their guns at home) while riding through the herds in an open-top jeep. Many similar game reserves in Africa require that visitors have tour guides and a set itinerary, but Kruger does not. Storks aren't the only ones here winging it.
Travelers will need to choose an outfitter from which to rent a vehicle and maps. Guidance is good even if it comes without a guide. Siyabona Africa offers affordable tours that run along somewhat beaten paths for about $500 a head for a several day trip.
Getting There: Flights to nearby Hoedspruit Airport and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport run more than ten times daily on South African Airways from Johannesburg and Cape Town. Prices vary, so book ahead.

Water lovers should head east to Durban, South Africa's third largest city - the Miami of the dark continent. The main attraction here is the Golden Mile, a stretch of exquisite beach (which is, oddly four miles in length) backed by hotels and shiny condominiums and densely populated by surfers looking to test their mettle.

Visitors can grab a rental board at Africa Wild Surf Tours or enroll in lessons and learn to catch a wave. The beaches near Durban, it should be noted, are protected by anti-shark netting.

For those looking for more of a marine safari, the town of Ballito just north of Durban has several outfitters including 36 Degrees that offer whale and dolphin tours. Lucky visitors have a chance to see fin whales, which are 10 times the size of one of those bull elephants back on shore.

Getting There: The new King Shaka International Airport, also known as La Mercy Airport, opened in 2010. South African Airways flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town run a few times daily and cost roughly $100.


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