South Africa’s adventure diversity

15 January 2009

Our family completed a wonderful tour of South Africa this past December. Our 18-day adventure tour took us from Johannesburg to Cape Town and interesting points in between, with a set of international travel companions from three continents.

We came back sunburnt, cut, scraped, sore – and thoroughly satisfied, as the end result of adventure tourism should be!

This article was first published in The Vancouver Sun. Republished here with kind permission of the author.

It was the big game parks and the country’s post-apartheid era of change that initially drew us to this land.

As well, visiting the famous Paul Kruger National Park and the historic and political black township of Soweto were certainly everything advertised and expected. The big game animals that Africa is famous for were a thrill to see.

Cultural/historical/political dynamic

Also, the cultural/historical/political dynamic that is prevalent in this land was fascinating to observe. The apartheid era ended only about 15 years ago and the Asian, black and white people are apparently still feeling each other out, so to speak.

But it was our observation that there is a relative sense of peace and security here that is missing in many other parts of Africa.

On our sojourn, we were delighted at how beautiful and varied the South African landscape is. From rolling green hills, fertile lands, soaring mountain ranges, plunging canyons, near jungle environments, Indian Ocean-side paradises, semi-desert regions, big city settings, and a non-stop montage of small African villages, it was one unexpected surprise after another.

The Barrier of Spears

Particularly beautiful and memorable was the Drakensberg Mountain Range, a world heritage site in the northeast corner of the country. Called “The Barrier of Spears,” this impenetrable-looking wall of mountains looks like a cross between the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Drakensberg is a favourite vacation spot for many South Africans and they take justifiable pride in it.

Our tour guide took us on a 16-kilometre hike as part of our time spent in the Drakensberg Mountains. It was a challenging experience, to be sure, as my bad knee swelled up like a grapefruit during the course of this adventure, as a result of all the climbing and descending.

Still, the mountain vistas, the alpine meadows, the plethora of local flowers, plants and insects, a cascading waterfall, examples of Bushman rock art, and the curious mountain antelope and noisy baboons made for a memorable day.

Night-time miracle

However, it was a middle-of-the night event that caused my visit here to rise to the level of the sublime.

I awoke and walked outside my mountain cabin to a night-time miracle of sight and sound so spectacular it took my breath away: a three-quarters full moon lighting up the alpine landscape, the nearby mountain range a mixture of moon-tinged clarity and shadowy quarters, moonlit clouds reaching over a part of the range like a ghostly waterfall, croaking frogs and chirping insects adding a background harmony of natural sound, the Southern Cross and Orion constellations standing out in the midst of a starry belt above, with the lights of a faraway African settlement providing an earthly contrast.

Just me and South Africa in the middle of the night.

It was a breathtaking, emotional moment and it ended up being one of the highlights of a fantastic 18-day tour of this beautiful country.

The lesson here is that there is more to South Africa than the great game parks. Pay a visit to the Drakensberg Mountain Range and other parts of this wonderful land and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

William Lindsay of Vancouver teaches at the University of British Columbia. The Lindsays’ tour was hosted by Drifters Adventure Tours.