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South Africa's other big 5!

Friday, June 29, 2018
Pics courtesy: South African Tourism

As one of the world’s newest adventure sports capitals, South Africa is more than just a world-class safari destination. And the Garden Route in the country’s Western Cape region is just the place to indulge your every adrenaline-laced fantasy, as Raul Dias recently discovered

Hugging the Indian Ocean with all its might, South Africa’s stunning Garden Route—or to use the local Afrikaner name ‘Tuinroete’—is one of the most popular drives in the world you could ever take. Stretching a languid, 300 kilometres along the south-western coast of South Africa which extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape, the route takes in the beauty of places like Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay and George, among others.

Here, nestled amidst the imposing Swartberg mountains you will also find the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma indigenous forests. You will see a unique mixture of Cape Fynbos and Temperate Forest here, where you can indulge in the many hiking trails and eco- and adventure-tourism activities. Speaking of which, cast aside all preconceived notions of South Africa being a safari stronghold and think adrenaline-pumping, daredevilry when in this region. With everything from cave exploring to bungy jumping and shark cage diving, the Garden Route has it all and then some more.

We bring you South Africa’s ‘Other Big 5’…

Great white shark diving

With probably the most accessible Great White Sharks in the world, Seal Island in Mossel Bay is only two kilometres from the harbour and very close to the local beach. Once you meet the shark diving crew, you can enjoy a light breakfast and will receive a safety briefing about the boat and the trip to come. Arriving at anchor site, the crew will immediately start to ‘chum’ the water (add blood to water) to attract the sharks which consists of natural marine products and fish which is natural to their diet. Once the sharks are around the boat and comfortable with the boat, the cage will be dropped into the water and attached to the side of the boat. Then you will be lowered into the cage and your close encounter with good old ‘Jaws’ will begin! Interestingly, you do not need any experience in diving to do the shark cage dive, as this is a simple surface dive and non-technical. (www.sharkzone.co.za)

Go cave exploring at Cango

The magnificent Cango Caves in the Klein Karoo area of the Garden Route are regarded as South Africa’s largest show caves. And rightly so! Discovered by Dutch colonists in 1780, the caves are said to have begun forming 20 million years ago when acidic ground water chemically eroded the 100-million-year-old limestone rock. Take the daily adventure tour and visit the deepest sections of the caves. Once inside the 5.3 kilometre-long caves, put aside any latent claustrophobia, as you wriggle and slither your way into the bowels of the cold, damp caves. Make sure to stop every now and then to ogle at the dramatic melted wax-like formations of stalactites and stalagmites. And they have equally dramatic monikers like ‘Bridal Chamber’, ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ and ‘Frozen Waterfall’ to name a few. (www.cango-caves.co.za)

Ride an ostrich!

Oudtshoorn is famous for its huge ostrich population, which thrive in the semi-desert conditions. To ride an ostrich, you need to visit one of the town’s many ostrich show farms like Highgate. Here, you can first observe large flocks of ostriches at various stages of development. You will then be instructed on how to hold on, along with the commands to be employed to stop the bird, and off you go for the ride of your life. And once you’re done with your ostrich race, make sure to add to the adventure and try an ostrich steak or an ostrich egg (which feeds 20 people). You can also visit the shop on site and purchase exclusive leather handbags and feather boas and a variety of decorated and plain ostrich eggshells. (www.highgate.co.za)

Close encounter whale watching

With the only close encounter whale watching permit holder for the greater Knysna area, Ocean Odyssey takes you on its 26-seater boat for a spot of whale watching. Departing from Thesen Harbour Town, an island off the main Knysna coast, the boat cruises across the sweeping Knysna estuary and out to sea through the iconic Knysna Heads in search of both the Southern Right and Humpback whales. These two species of whales are said to leave their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica and migrate and calve in the warmer waters of this coastline and chances of sighting a few are very good here. But don’t worry. Even if the mighty gentle giants of the ocean prove to be elusive the day you set out to visit them, their playful companions—the bottlenose dolphins are always present along the Knysna Heads to show you a wonderful time! (www.oceanodyssey.co.za) 

Jump the world’s highest bungy jump

We’ve truly saved the best…or, rather the most dreaded of all Garden Route activities for last! Combining the thrills of a bungy jump and of being part of a Guinness World Record, this jump off the Bloukrans Bridge that fords over the Bloukrans River valley at a depth of 216 metres, is terrifying, to say the very least, but worth every ounce of adrenaline that kicks in once you’re done with it. Recognised as the ‘highest bungy from a bridge’ in the world, the Bloukrans Bungy uses pendulum bungy technology to ensure that you get to enjoy a 360-degree view of the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park and of Africa’s highest bridge. But one needn’t do the bungy to enjoy the view, Face Adrenalin, the guys who conduct the jump, also offer ziplining and a walk under the bridge for non-jumpers. (www.faceadrenalin.com)

Getting there

Although there are no direct flights from India to South Africa at the moment, the best way to get there is via Dubai on Emirates that has daily flights to and from Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Once in South Africa, you can hire a car and drive down the Garden Route. Book a car at www.avis.co.za, www.europcar.co.za or www.budget.co.za. Indian passport holders need a visa to enter South Africa, which is easy to procure via the VFS facility.

FACT FILE

When to visit

Because South Africa is situated in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are in reverse. This means that spring (mid-September to November) through to summer (late November to March) are ideal times for a vacation along the Garden Route when the temperature hovers between a comfortable 19°C to 25°C.

Accommodation

The Garden Route has an excellent selection of hotels to choose from to suit all budgets and tastes. Some of the best options are:

  • Turnberry Boutique Hotel (www.turnberryhotel.co.za) in Oudtshoorn
  • Belvidere Manor Hotel (www.belvidere.co.za) in Knysna
  • Park House Lodge (www.parkhouse.co.za) in Mossel Bay.
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