Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Mountain Biking Through the Drakensberg
For thrill seekers looking to get off the beaten path in South Africa, mountain biking through the Drakensberg offers adventure in spades. This rocky escarpment stretching across KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provides an exhilarating backdrop for an epic ride.
Traversing singletrack and jeep tracks past sheer cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and rolling grasslands, a mountain bike tour of the Drakensberg delivers scenery and excitement around every corner. Tackling climbs through indigenous forests and cruising downhill runs set against epic panoramas, riders can savor the freedom of exploring remote terrain under their own power.
While arguably best known for its hiking, the Drakensberg presents boundless opportunities for two-wheeled exploration. Ever-changing topography keeps rides interesting whether meandering through valleys or grinding uphill to high alpine plateaus. From intermediate trails to extreme technical challenges, options abound for every skill level.
For multi-day trips, riders can camp under the stars or bed down in cozy lodges after epic days in the saddle. Mountain Kingdom offers guided Drakensberg biking tours hitting highlights like the Amphitheatre, Sentinel Peak, and Tugela Gorge. Intrepid travelers can also rent bikes and venture out solo to create their own adventures.
The legendary Sani Pass provides the ultimate adrenaline rush, climbing over 1500 meters into Lesotho through off-camber switchbacks and loose, rocky terrain. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a bucket list conquest with staggering scenery as a reward.
Wherever you ride, keep eyes peeled for wildlife like baboons, antelope, and hundreds of bird species while avoiding deadly puff adders slithering across trails. See flowering aloes and proteas in spring or enjoy cool, crisp air during autumn trips. With an experienced guide, navigation and safety come ensured so you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
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- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Mountain Biking Through the Drakensberg
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Paddleboarding with Hippos on the Zambezi
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Paragliding over Victoria Falls
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Sandboarding Down Namibia's Coastal Dunes
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Surf Safari Along the Wild Coast
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Horseback Riding Through the Okavango Delta
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Cycling the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Rooftop Yoga in Johannesburg's Inner City
- Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Exploring by Hot Air Balloon Over the Serengeti
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Paddleboarding with Hippos on the Zambezi
Drifting down Africa’s fourth-longest river offers a unique perspective on one of the continent’s most intriguing creatures – the hippopotamus. Paddleboarding the Zambezi provides an up-close view of these massive mammals in their natural habitat, an exhilarating experience for adventurous travelers.
As your board gently glides across smooth water, pods of hippos begin to emerge, splashing about with gaping jaws in a show of dominance. Standing up offers excellent visibility over tall river grasses, allowing you to spot sunbathing hippos scattered along the banks. Approaching too close can elicit aggressive behavior, so it's safest to keep a respectful distance while taking in the scene.
Beyond thrilling wildlife encounters, stand-up paddleboarding the Zambezi also provides a peaceful way to experience majestic river scenery. Drifting downstream from rapids below Victoria Falls, boarders navigate small channels winding through lush islands flanked by thick brush and soaring trees. Crystal clear waters reveal colorful fish darting below the surface. Sandy beaches provide ideal rest stops to snorkel and explore the shoreline.
Sunset paddles treat boarders to a fiery sky reflecting off still water at day’s end. Under moonlight, the sounds of hippo grunts and splashing echo across the river. Paddling in total darkness with only stars overhead makes for an unforgettable nighttime adventure.
Several operators offer guided multi-day Zambezi paddleboarding safaris departing from locations near Victoria Falls. Experienced guides ensure safety while providing insight into the river's ecology and wildlife. Camping under the stars on white sand beaches creates lasting memories for paddlers eager to immerse themselves in nature.
For travelers craving an adrenaline rush, paddleboarding through rapids just below the falls injects serious excitement. Special boards designed for river running allow boarders to bounce through Grade II-IV whitewater, taking on challenges like The Gnashing Jaws of Death rapid. It's an incredible way to experience the falls' raw power up close.
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Paragliding over Victoria Falls
For adrenaline junkies, paragliding over Victoria Falls offers a bird’s-eye view of one of the world’s natural wonders. As you take off from the Zambian side, the deafening roar of cascading water accompanies your ascent. Gaining altitude, the immense power of the falls comes into focus below. From 300 meters up, the scale is simply staggering. Over a mile wide and 354 feet high, columns of mist billowing up from the cascade fill your panoramic view.
Skimming above the Zambezi’s zigzagging gorges, only the sound of wind rushing by breaks the thrilling sensation of free-falling through the air. Guides in tandem with you expertly maneuver the paraglider, providing both safety and the chance to focus on scenery. Surveying the “Devil’s Pool” perched at the edge of the falls, up-close perspective creates deeper appreciation for the site’s grandeur.
Glimpses of rainbows forming in the mist add an element of wonder. Below, the Zambezi snakes downstream through thick forest with flashes of white water revealing rapids in the channels that weave between islands. Bushbuck, warthog, and crocodile camouflaged in greenery can be spotted from up above.
A dozen paragliding operators launch daily flights from Livingstone, Zambia. With over 20 years of experience, Batoka Sky offers trusted expertise for first-time flyers. Their pilots maneuver close enough for photos but avoid risky positions near spray and downdrafts from the falls. With Batoka’s radio support, pilots dynamically select ideal flight paths based on weather and wind conditions. Flights last around 10-15 minutes, an unforgettable quarter hour.
Livingstone adventurer Jane Wellard described her paragliding experience in thrilling terms, “Once we took off it felt as though we were flying! No dropping feeling that comes with some types of flying. It was just utterly, utterly peaceful yet so exhilarating at the same time.”
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Sandboarding Down Namibia's Coastal Dunes
Far off the typical safari track, sandboarding down Namibia’s towering coastal dunes serves up adventure with an ocean view. Strapping in and riding the dunes delivers thrills along with perspective on the Namib Desert’s epic landscapes.
As you climb over 300-foot sand mountains, the sheer scale hits you. Shades of orange, yellow, and red stripe the mammoth mounds, sculpted by wind into smooth ridges and valleys. Standing atop a dune surveying the desert rolling out to the sea feels humbling yet powerful.
Time to pick your line. Shifting your weight, the board accelerates as gravity kicks in. Wind whips across your face as the dune blurs by. Carving wide arcs across the ridge, you glimpse the blue Atlantic in the distance before diving straight down the fall line. Exhilaration peaks as you hit 40mph, gritty sand spraying your legs before sliding to a stop at the bottom.
Adrenaline-pumping rides reward intrepid travelers venturing beyond the classic safari scene. Swakopmund serves as sandboarding central thanks to expansive dunes minutes outside town. For first-timers, it’s wise to book a tour hitting key spots like Dune 7, said to be the world’s tallest at 1,256 feet. Knowledgeable guides handle transport and provide boards, wax, and safety gear. They select the perfect slopes for all skill levels, allowing newbies to gain confidence on smaller dunes before hitting the mega-dunes.
“It was absolutely incredible having so much sand at your fingertips,” said Thomas of the Namibia Tourism Board. He recommends the half-day Blue Mountain tour for families, with gentle runs and scenic vistas of Walvis Bay. “Even just going down on your back like a sled delivers amazing views of the vast emptiness meeting the shoreline.”
Once you’ve got sandboarding basics dialed in, day tours out to the desolate Deltaland coast provide access to legendary spots like Elim Dune, over 20 stories high. “It was by far my biggest dune yet,” remarked Peter, who booked with Alter Action after polishing his skills on multiple tours. “The rewards of bombing down something that massive with the Atlantic as a backdrop - it’s an experience that sticks with you forever.”
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Surf Safari Along the Wild Coast
For surfers seeking empty waves far from crowded lineups, South Africa’s Wild Coast beckons. This unspoiled stretch of shoreline delivers consistent surf with nary another soul out enjoying the swell. Embarking on a surf safari road trip along the Wild Coast promises secluded surfing adventures in stunning settings.
This remote coastline south of Durban remains largely undeveloped, with scattered traditional Xhosa villages and rural homesteads connected by rugged dirt tracks. Lack of access has kept crowds away, meaning patient surfers will likely score empty waves. Exploring by 4x4 allows you to bounce down bumpy backroads to isolated setups revealed by local guides.
Scouting swells from points and coves scattered along 200 miles of desolate beaches, you’re bound to discover your own personal playground. The challenge lies in narrowing down where to set up camp each day. Signs of offshore storms grooming swell over 3000 miles away across the Southern Atlantic indicate ideal conditions to chase waves. Strong winds blow out weaker North or South swells, allowing powerful westerlies to dominate.
Surfers living out their Cast Away fantasies experience the thrill of uncrowded tubes and barrels far from any glimpses of civilization. “It’s just you, that perfect A-frame barrel, and an endless rugged coastline. Nothing else matters in those moments,” said Cape Town native Ross Belfort after a recent Wild Coast excursion. “This is a surf paradise for anyone looking to detach from crowded reality and score epic waves in complete solitude.”
With consistent swell direction, points and river mouths create endless setups to test your tube-riding skills. Reef and sand-bottom breaks spread out along the coast reveal fickle rhythms requiring patience and an explorer’s mindset. Setting up at ideal locations based on conditions allows for front-row views of offshore storms sending plumes of spray skyward as waves build.
Hardcore surfers will find plenty to test their skills, while beginners can stick to mellow lefts and rights breaking over shallow sandbars. Seeking out a wise local guide like Wild Coaster Mike provides insight on navigating shifty peaks and avoiding rocky outcrops lying in wait to punish the overconfident.
After long days battling surf, unwind in rustic beach camps under a blanket of stars. Fall asleep to sounds of crashing waves, the crackle of a fire, and fish sizzling on the braai. Surf, braai and repeat – it’s a schedule that’s easy to embrace. Just don’t forget the mosquito repellent as dusk approaches!
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Horseback Riding Through the Okavango Delta
Saddle up for a horseback safari through Botswana's Okavango Delta, an iconic wilderness teeming with wildlife. Riding through shallow floodplains, narrow islands, and thick bush provides an intimate experience with elephants, lions, giraffes, and more from horseback.
Cantering alongside a towering giraffe striding gracefully through the bush or a massive bull elephant displaying dominance makes your heart race. Horses' height offers excellent visibility over the Delta's lush grasses, allowing you to spot predators like leopards stalking antelope through the brush. Patient riders might glimpse wild African hunting dogs on the prowl.
"I'll never forget when four lionesses with cubs crossed directly in front of us, so close I could hear them purring," remarked Rebecca, an equestrian who rode out from Macatoo Camp. "Being on horseback put us at eye level with the lions while still feeling safe atop our trusted steeds."
Okavango horseback safaris appeal to experienced riders and newbies alike thanks to highly-trained local horses with unflappable dispositions. Surprisingly smooth gaits make covering long distances comfortable whether trotting past herds of zebra or navigating knee-deep water crossings.
With camping gear hauled in trailers, nights are spent beneath the starry African sky. Hearing lions roar or hippos grunting in the distance makes for unforgettable overnight experiences. Days offer nonstop wildlife encounters, the Delta's fertile floodplains teeming with game.
Finding quality guides like Uncharted Africa's Ginette ensure expertly-planned routes avoiding thick bush and tricky terrain. They position riders for prime spotting and photo opportunities. With up to 350 bird species and diverse ecosystems from grassy plains to thick forests, the scenic diversity astounds over multi-day excursions.
Okavango safaris appeal to riders of all skill levels seeking thrilling experiences in a pristine wilderness. Hwange National Park, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Linyanti Marsh offer other epic destinations for intrepid equestrians. Post-ride massages ease sore muscles after full days in the saddle traversing rugged terrain under Africa's expansive skies.
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Cycling the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
Pedaling over 200 miles along South Africa’s picturesque Garden Route serves up sweeping coastal views, charming seaside villages, indigenous forests, and abundant wildlife. Following quiet backroads from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, intrepid cyclists experience the region’s highlights at a relaxed pace.
The Garden Route connects a string of charming coastal towns dotted with excellent coffee shops, farm stands overflowing with produce, and sleepy inns beckoning thirsty riders. Quaint spots like Wilderness and Nature’s Valley exude a relaxing beach vibe far from city bustle. Seeing ostriches ambling along empty roads reveals the Garden Route’s more rural character.
In Knysna, fuel up on coffee and homemade baked goods before tackling the seven-mile Knysna Heads ride. It follows the aptly named Scenic Drive revealing spectacular views of the lagoon meeting the sea. Gentle climbs deliver glimpses of vervet monkeys playing roadside and colorful kingfishers darting by.
Further along, the Tsitsikamma Forest’s shady canopy shields riders from the summer heat during rolling rides through ancient indigenous woodlands. Stop to explore suspension bridges spanning scenic gorges carved out by the Tsitsikamma River’s turbulent flow.
While towns and forests offer cultural allure, for many the main appeal lies in roads skirting the wildly beautiful coastline. Blaine rode the Garden Route in 2018 and described the coastal stretches as true highlights. “I’d crest a hill and see these stunning vistas of rocky cliffs with waves crashing below. Pulling over to soak it in never got old.”
The half-day ride between Nature’s Valley and Storm River epitomizes the coastal scenery many cyclists dream of discovering. With dedicated bike paths hugging the shoreline, it serves up plenty of tempting places to stop and savor mesmerizing panoramas of rocky outcrops and white-sand beaches.
Wildlife encounters add excitement, everything from troops of baboons to curious ostriches. Brynner, who cycled the Garden Route in 2017, said a special experience was spotting southern right whales breaching and spouting offshore. “I had no expectations of seeing whales from land, so watching them suddenly surface so close felt like an incredible bonus.”
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Rooftop Yoga in Johannesburg's Inner City
For an elevated perspective on South Africa's largest metropolis, head to the rooftops. Several inner-city hotels and residences host open-air yoga classes with panoramic views of the Johannesburg skyline serving as a dramatic backdrop. These one-of-a-kind wellness experiences allow locals and travelers to find tranquility amidst the urban buzz.
The opulent 54 on Bath hotel offers a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of the city. Their bi-level garden terrace provides a surprisingly serene setting for morning yoga overlooking downtown. Instructor Astra Sieff brings a gentle, personalized approach to Vinyasa flow classes tailored to students' abilities. Her soothing guidance helps students de-stress and gain balance to start the day centered.
Participants often comment on how calm and present the rooftop classes allow them to feel, even with the frenetic pace of Jo'burg life bustling below. "It was remarkable how tuning into the spiritual flow of our practice seemed to mute the hustle and traffic," said Robin, a regular student. "I could look out from warrior pose at the skyline but feel completely immersed in the moment."
For stunning sunset sessions, the pool deck atop The Leonardo skyscraper can't be beat. DW Yoga's popular classes time Salutation Sequences and hip openers to synch with the setting sun. As evening light softens, students move through sequences in sync with their breathing. "The combination of late afternoon light and energetic flow really stirs your spirit," said instructor Daniël Weitz. "Students feed off that magic."
The Leonardo's saltwater pool shimmers golden in the fading light. Down Dog stretches echo approving hoots from urban parrots roosting nearby. Laughter from lively bars rises up to mingle with soft music. As darkness envelopes downtown's towers, a sense of tranquil possibility prevails. The evening yoga ritual above the city rhythms renews the spirit.
Even Johannesburg's gritty edges gain grace when viewed through a wellness lens from atop a high-rise. Serial yogi Morgan Gainsford holds donation-based community classes on the Carlton Centre's 50th floor observation deck. "New students are always shocked when they walk out and see the class overlooking neighborhoods like Hillbrow and Yeoville," said Morgan. "But preconceptions instantly melt away as people breathe and move as one."
The studio may be makeshift, but the inclusive, nonjudgemental environment fosters connections across socioeconomic lines rarely made at street level. Wrapping up with Savasana in the shadow of the four-sided Ponte Tower, a renewed sense of oneness resonates.
Saddle Up and Cycle On: 5 Thrilling Alternatives to Classic African Game Drives - Exploring by Hot Air Balloon Over the Serengeti
Drifting silently over the Serengeti Plain’s boundless savannahs and acacia woodlands offers a spectacular bird’s-eye perspective of East Africa’s most famous wildlife sanctuary. Floating in a hot air balloon over cheetah on the hunt, immense herds stampeding across the grasslands, and lumbering elephants trudging between watering holes provides once-in-a-lifetime vantage points. This unique way of witnessing the daily dramas of the world’s greatest theater of wildlife interaction allows deeper understanding of the natural rhythms underpinning the Serengeti’s complex ecosystems.
During an average three-hour early morning flight, passengers gain the chance to spot enormous congregations of animals difficult to fully appreciate from the ground. Massive gatherings of over 200,000 wildebeestdominating the landscape convey the Great Migration’s awe-inspiring scale. Viewing prides of over 20 lions on patrol highlights the cooperation underpinning big cats’ hunting strategies. Seeing thousand-strong buffalo herds kicking up dust and trampling the earth emphasizes their massive impact as a keystone species.
Up in the basket with 360-degree visibility, you’ll easily spot and track animals moving through terrain with herds thundering past below. “It gave us such a more nuanced perspective watching how different species reacted to crowds of animals around them,” said Katie, who took a Serengeti balloon safari during her honeymoon. “We got to see hyena’s watchful maneuvers trailing just behind a wildebeest stampede from above, something you’d probably miss from a safari vehicle on a game drive.”
Soaring over kopjes, the iconic rocky outcrops dotting the plains, you’ll appreciate how their vantage points allow predators to survey the surrounding lands. Your pilot may dip lower to provide thrilling flybys of elephants gathered at a watering hole, their massive forms and flapping ears on full display as you sail past. If luck is on your side, glimpse predators like cheetahs speeding through the grass in pursuit of hapless Thomson’s gazelle. Their blurring speed seen from above helps you appreciate the world’s fastest land animal in action.
The immense scale of the Serengeti’s sprawling landscape becomes clearer from the air as well, putting its nearly 15,000 square kilometer expanse into perspective. As Simon Garner, Managing Director of tour operator Wildlife Worldwide, described, “From ground level you get intimate glimpses, but from above you start to comprehend the grand scale as far as the eye can see. Two completely different experiences that complement each other beautifully.” Hovering over the seemingly endless terrain, you gain renewed respect for the resilience and adaptation required for species to evolve and thrive within it.