Man hanging with one hand from a cliff over cape town in his rock climbing clothes

Travel Guide: The Most Extreme Outdoor Adventures in South Africa

South Africa is famous for its national parks and coastline, but did you know about South Africa draws people from across the world for its extreme adventures? When visiting South Africa, whether you are young or old, there is an adventure option within everyone’s fitness range. If you are not the adrenalin rush type, you will still have a lot of fun during your stay in South Africa. There are plenty of activities to choose from and the choices are growing all the time.

1.   Shark Diving

It is not only on land that South Africa takes things to the extreme. Shark diving is an extreme adventure that takes living on the edge to the next level. However, shark diving is different from shark cage diving. There is no cage involved in this activity. Durban’s Aliwal Shoal Diving activity allows you to scuba dive with sharks. There are five species of sharks, including Tiger sharks, Ragged Tooth sharks, Black Tip sharks, Humpback whales and the Brindle Bass. Your adrenaline is sure to get pumping when you get up close to these creatures.

But if you are a little less adventurous, cage diving is another option. As opposed to shark diving, a diver is put in a cage. With this extreme adventure, you can get close but not as close as when shark diving. While there is a wealth of areas to go cage diving with sharks, the best area is Gansbaai. Great sharks dwell near the seal colonies that live in this area. As a result, there are several commercialised locations available on local trips. The water of the Atlantic Ocean is icy cold, so wetsuits are advised.

A shark staring at 2 men in a cage underwater who are filming it. The sunlight is streaming through the top. The men in the cage are wearing a yellow and black diving suit.
Extreme Adventure 1: Shark Cage Diving (Credit: Where the Lions Roam)

2.   Skydiving

When it comes to extreme adventures, it really doesn’t get more extreme than skydiving. Melkbosstrand in the Western Cape is one of the most popular places in South Africa to skydive. There is a jump site only 25 – 30 minutes north of Cape Town. You can take in endless views of the ocean as you jump from 9 500 feet in the air.

Another skydiving location is Skydive Mossel Bay. It is situated on the scenic Garden Route. Their skydiving drop zone is the local airfield, less than 5km from the beach. However, skydiving is offered in most of the larger cities, each offering its own unique views. Witbank Skydiving Club in Mpumalanga is a non-profit skydiving club. The emphasis is on “fun skydives and a great social scene”.

Extreme Adventure 2: Two skydivers, jumping tandem one with an organe jumpsuit and the other one with a black suit and helmet, high up the sky with a white parachute
A tandem skydive – (Credit: Skydive Mossel Bay)

3. Bungee Jumping

The highest commercial bungee jump in the world is the Bloukrans Bridge in Plettenberg Bay. It is situated in the Tsitsikamma area of the South Africa Garden Route. This astounding bridge is 216 meters above sea level. It is one of only three highways in the world to have a bridge exceeding 500 feet.

Leaping off the Bloukrans Bridge would give even the most seasoned extreme adventurer an adrenaline rush like no other. This is a good activity for families with older children as the minimum age for bungee jumping is only 10 years. For those who prefer keeping their feet on the ground, a gentle walk along the catwalk to the top of the arch is a safer option.

Extreme Adventure 4: A man jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge with a bungee chord tied to his feet. He is wearing yellow shorts and a blue top without any shows. Below him the water in the ravine is visible
A man bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge (Credit|: @chanellolivier via Instagram)

4. Canyoning

South Africa has some of the most beautiful cliffs, waterfalls and nature reserves. It was a matter of time before canyoning (kloofing) became another extreme adventure. Kloofing is a combination activity of walking, swimming and jumping. The excitement lies in jumping off the cliffs into the fresh water at the end of the hike. The Kogelberg’s Biosphere Reserve hiking trail leads to the Crystal pools (in Gordons Bay), which is an adrenaline-packed experience. The hike is a 5 to 6-hour walk, so a medium fitness level is required.

The Suicide Gorge in Cape Town is another popular spot. It is famous for its 14 m cliff jump. A good kloofing trip will be designed to work its way up from easy jumps to more technical ones at the end of the day. This extreme adventure is definitely not for the timid.

A woman in a harness lowered on a rope down a waterfall into a canyon, she is wearing a yellow helmet, blue shirt , shorts and running shoes
Kloofing at Smalblaar Canyon (Credit: Frixion Adventures)

5. Paragliding

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of South Africa is to soar above it. This weightless experience is the closest you can come to flying like a bird. This extreme adventure allows you to explore the gorgeous landscapes of South Africa from the incredible vantage points of the heavens.

Paragliding flights usually last 7 – 20 minutes, depending on weather conditions. Garden Route paragliding spots include Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Sedgefield and Wilderness which have gorgeous views that are best enjoyed from these heights. You will have a paraglide pilot, who can also record the trip on a video. Even though the Garden Route is popular with tourists, most South African cities have paragliding packages.

A woman is on a tandem jumo with an instructor., floating high above the beach with mountains in the background and some clouds. Both are wearing black clothes and the paraglider is yellow, blue and pink
Paragliding high in the sky (Credit: Viator.com)

6. Tankwa Camino

If hiking long stretches is your idea of an extreme adventure, the Tankwa Camino is just for you. The Tankwa Camino is a 313 km gravel hike over 15 days. The route follows the R354 between the towns of Calvinia in the Northern Cape and Ceres in the Western Cape. The Tankwa Karoo is one of the richest arid areas in the world, a “friendly desert” filled with life. However, it is the silence and wide-open spaces of this region that draws the souls of pilgrims.

The walks are limited to 50 hikers per event. Fortunately, there is a vehicle that provides water, so there is no need to carry extra water. Additionally, luggage and tents are also transported daily on the Camino truck to the next campsite. The quirky turquoise Tankwa Padstal is the highlight of the walk – take cash for roosterkoek burgers and beer. Local farmers visit the camps with ice-cold beers too.

Two men in their hiking clothes, one in shorts and one with long pants, with backpacks on their backs and walking sticks, wearing hats. They are hiking the Tankwa Camino. They are going down a dusty dry gravel road in an arid landscapee
Two hikers on the Tankwa Camino trail (Credit: Melanie Van Zyl / Getaway)

7. Windsurfing

South Africa is one of the leading windsurfing locations in the world. Windsurfing is a combination of surfing and sailing. This activity is not difficult to master. Unfortunately, you will need strong summer wind to windsurf. This extreme adventure is thrilling with the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and the ocean as your friend.

Areas with suitable wind conditions are places like Langebaan, Cape Town, and also Bloubergstrand. Wind speeds are very reliable and when the wind is on your side, you can reach remarkable speeds. There are two-hour lessons provided with equipment for a reasonable price. The best time to book your kitesurfing holiday is during the months of November through to April.

Extreme Adventure 8: A man in a black wetsuit windsurfing in aquamarine wocean waters with nothing else on the horizon. The sail is transparent with red edges and a yellow board.
Windsurfing the aquamarine waters of Cape Town (Credit: Get My Boat)

8. Bridge Swinging

Bridge swinging is a popular extreme adventure at the Orlando Towers in Johannesburg, Gauteng. Here you can swing in a harness between the two gigantic towers. Join the fearless as you leap off one bridge only to be swung through the air on a rope attached to the other. The power swing provides enough adrenaline with the 40 meters free fall before the cable kicks in. If you are slightly less adventurous, there is a viewing platform from where you can watch. The creative edge of this historic landmark makes it unique and definitely a place to visit.

The Orlando Tower in Gauteng looming above the city, the picture is taken from below , showing the white clouds above the graffotted water towers
Orlando Towers in Gauteng (Credit: Atlas Obscura)

9. Zip Lining

The world’s longest over-ocean zip-line in Mossel Bay, 384km from Cape Town, is a must for adrenaline junkies. This extreme adventure promises to be an unforgettable experience for those who are not afraid of hurtling through space at 80km/h. However, zip-line adventures can be booked across South Africa. Picturesque locations are found from the Cederberg Mountains to the Cango Caves to the Drakensberg Mountains. This extreme adventure is fun for the whole family as children from 7 years up are allowed to participate.

A man and a woman swinging above the canopy of a gorge on a zipline, wearing their harnesses and helmets, both are dressed casually in shorts and t-shirts
Ziplining above a gorge (Credit: Canopy Zipline)

10. White Water Rafting

White water rafting is a fun family activity. This extreme adventure can be either gentle or terrifying, depending on the river. Some, like the Doring in the Western Cape, are fast-flowing and steep. Others, including the Orange River, are calm and undemanding. You need to be reasonably fit for the really wild rivers, but most people who can swim can cope with gentle conditions. Prime locations include the Palmiet River, the Ash River and the Orange River.

6 people in a boat on the ash river, white water rafting. All are wearing life jackets and various coloured helmets. Some are rowing but all are having a good time
White water rafting down the Ash River in Clarens (Credit: Clarens Xtreme)

11. Sandboarding

“The Dragon” dune in Mossel Bay is the longest sandboarding slope in South Africa. Professional snowboarders will easily become accustomed to the change. However, beginners can practice on a smaller dune. Remember to wear sunglasses, keep your mouth closed and be prepared for the sand to get in just about everywhere.

The beaches near Gqeberha are also very popular for this extreme adventure. The northern part of the country shares part of the Kalahari Desert with the neighbouring country of Namibia. Therefore, it is a known sandboarding hotspot. Additionally, there are opportunities for this sport on Mount Mayhem near Johannesburg.

Extreme adventure 12: A woman sandboarding a huge dune with the blue sky behind her, suspended in the air,. Her board is red and she is wear a white t-shirt and black pants, her sunglasses are on her face and her hair whipped up behind her in the air
Mossel Bay’s Dragon Dune (Credit: Mossel Bay Info)

12. Ostrich Riding

How many people can say they have ridden an ostrich? If you visit Oudtshoorn in the Karoo, South Africa, you could be one of the few. This extreme adventure is unique to South Africa. Oudtshoorn is famous for its huge ostrich population, which are the tallest living birds on the planet. The ostrich is a large, flightless bird and, because of its strong legs can run at 70 km per hour.

To ride an ostrich, visit one of the ostrich show farms in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. Here you can observe large flocks of Ostriches at different stages of development. There are petting areas where you can cuddle the chicks or feed an ostrich by hand, watch how feather dusters and boas are made.

A man in a red shirt tries to ride an ostrich in Oudtshoorn in South Africa. There are several ostriches surrounding him; some of them have saddles for riding.
Ostrich riding in Oudtshoorn (Credit: SA Venues)

13. Hot Air Ballooning

Hot air ballooning in South Africa is arguably the best way to take in the landscapes of this beautiful country. Soar up into the clouds and enjoy a surreal view of the valley, lush green fields, mountains, and a spectacular horizon. This extreme adventure will usually begin just before sunrise. There are few physical requirements for hot air ballooning, besides being able to stand or lean for about an hour and being able to climb in and out of the basket.

The most popular hot air balloon trips are in Magaliesberg (near Johannesburg), Sabie and Hazyview in Mpumalanga, where the national parks are located. Magaliesberg is located in the Cradle of Humankind. You can see this UNESCO World Heritage Site from a new perspective. Soar over the private game reserves and appreciate the raw, untouched allure of this exquisite wilderness. Other areas include Oudtshoorn, the Drakensberg mountains, the Natal Midlands (KwaZulu Natal) and the Cape Winelands.

Extreme Adventure 14: hot air ballooning over a national park. There is a yellow and brown hot air balloon suspended over a national park with 5 giraffes below on the grasslands
Hot air balloon ride in Magaliesberg (Credit: Gauteng Airventures)

14. Rock Climbing

South Africa has an abundance of rugged cliffs and soaring mountains perfect for all levels of rock climbers. It also offers some of the best and most diverse rock climbing locations in the world. This extreme adventure is perfect for those with no fear of heights and definite adrenaline addiction.

Visitors worldwide flock to Mpumalanga, which offers some of the best rock climbing in the world and includes the famed Waterval Boven mountain. The Drakensberg mountains offer the most exquisite scenery of looming mountain ranges, shimmering waterfalls, valleys and lush forests. Additionally, Table Mountain offers easily accessible climbing. So, whether it’s trade, sport or bouldering that takes your fancy, you are spoilt for choice.

Extreme Adventure 15: A man with blue pants, and no shirt and yellow helmet hangs with one hand from a cliff above a beautiful gorge
Rockclimbing (Credit: Livia Rusu / ZME Travel)

Things to Remember

Please note that all of these activities need to be done safely, with a tour guide.

  • Some of these extreme activities require special skills to participate in.
  • Not all activities are child-friendly.
  • Not all activities are suitable for pregnant women.
  • Inform the guides about any medical conditions like pregnancy, high blood pressure, epilepsy, back disorders etc.
  • Some of these activities may carry a weight limit.
  • If you are unsure of your condition, please consult your general practitioner.
  • Don’t forget to order your videos and pictures ahead when you book.

Also, remember that all outdoor activities require sunscreen, appropriate clothes (comfortable clothes and shoes) and lots of water.

A father and daughter standing on the edge of a mountain cliff with other mountains in the background. She looks about 6 years old, both are wearing harneses and helmet
Time to pose for a picture (Credit: Dirty Boots)

Other Attractions in South Africa

In addition to these extreme adventures, South Africa has almost 3,000km of beautiful coastline to explore. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities for golfing and game driving. Discover exciting wildlife, including the Big Five, zebras, giraffes and many other species, including plentiful bird varieties. Furthermore, South Africa also has world-class shopping malls and fine and casual dining available for everyone. These restaurants boast menus with the best local and international cuisine. For an unforgettable experience, explore South Africa’s own renowned wines in the Cape Winelands.

References

Where the Lions Roam. 2021. 10 Extreme Activities in South Africa.

Netflights. 2017. Extreme Activities in South Africa.

South Africa Venues. 2021. South Africa Adventures.

Travelstart. 2021. 50 of the Best Tourist Attractions in South Africa!

Boesmanland Camino.

Dirty Boots. 2021. Cliff Jumping.

Van Zyl, M. 2016. I hit the road and the road hit back: walking the Tankwa Camino.

The Digital Travellers. 2020. World’s ‘Longest Zip-Line Over The Ocean’ Now Open In South Africa.

3 thoughts on “Travel Guide: The Most Extreme Outdoor Adventures in South Africa

  1. makes me wanna go on adventures. Swimming with sharks is definitely something I wanna try!

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