After a decade of nursing apartheidÂ’s hangover, South Africa is finally coming into its own as an adventure-travel destination. An influx of outdoorsy Europeans, a good exchange rate, and South AfricansÂ’ growing interest in the outdoor lifestyle have fueled a boom in the past two years. About three times the size of California, this country has more than 200 designated long-distance trails and almost as many sports.
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Mountain Biking Around Sabie: In the northern province of Mpumalanga, Sabie is the hub for trails wending along the 1,640-foot Blyde River Canyon (the worldÂ’s third-largest). DonÂ’t miss the steep 13-mile Cylon Trail or the 28-mile Stables Trail. The Bike Doc (011-27-13-764-1034 or 011-27-82-878-5527; e-mail [email protected]) rents front-suspension bikes ($24 per day), provides guides ($3 for two hours), sells trail permits ($3 per day), and arranges guided multi-day tours. Bed down at the stone-and-wood Sabie Townhouse ($45 per person, including breakfast; 011-27-13-764-2292, www.sabietownhouse.co.za).
Rafting the Orange River: The Orange River snakes through much of the Northern Cape, South AfricaÂ’s largest province. At Augrabies Falls National Park, east of the Namibian border, the Orange plunges 213 feet into a granite gorge and then becomes fine Class III whitewater for rafting. YouÂ’ll see sandstone formations and glistening stands of wild oliveÂ—but not another raft. Khamkirri Lodge (011-27-54-451-0325, www.khamkirri.co.za) offers three-hour, full-day (13 miles), and three-day (30 miles) Orange raft trips; prices are about $28, $72, and $215. The three-day trip includes meals and lodging in tent bungalows and an A-frame house.
Surfing JeffreyÂ’s Bay: One of the most consistent surf spots on the globe, J-Bay, about an hour west of Port Elizabeth, churns out Eastern Cape supertubes. Take your pick of point, reef, and beach breaks or head a few miles west to Cape St. Francis for BruceÂ’s Beauties, the legendary waves named after Bruce Brown, director of the 1963 surf flick Endless Summer. YouÂ’re virtually guaranteed clean three- to four-foot surf any time of year. Cape TownÂ’s Wavescape Surf School (011-27-21-701-3112, www.wavescape.co.za) offers all-inclusive J-Bay surf vacations ($1,200 per person for a group of six, including accommodations, breakfast, and surfboardÂ—you get to keep it).
Abseiling in KwaZulu Natal: Abseiling, or rappelling, is a nationwide craze. Start in Cape Town with the 300-foot plunge from Table Mountain. Next up, the Tsitsikamma Forest, where you can careen from atop a waterfall into the Storms River Gorge. Then head to the province of KwaZulu Natal, east of the Drakensberg Mountains on the southeast coast, and abseil 320-foot-high Howick Falls into a raft. Over the Top (011-27-82-736-3651, www.overthetop.co.za), KwaZulus adventure experts, offer a Howick Falls abseil for $34.
Animal Tracking in the Kalahari: Sprawling north of the Orange River to Botswana, the immense Kalahari Desert is a wild land of red sand dunes, cracked riverbeds, and exotic inhabitants, including barking geckos, puff adders, and the ubiquitous bok. The Kalaharis remote 13,000-square-mile Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is known for its predators, including the dark-maned Kalahari lion. Molopo Kalahari Lodge (doubles, $25, including breakfast; 011-27-54-511-0008, www.molopo.co.za) has chalets with flagstone showers and leopard-print sheets, and the friendly owners arrange game viewing within Kgalagadi. Nearby Kalahari Trails (www.kalahari-trails.co.za) offers three-hour biologist-guided sunset walks ($7) and night treks ($6).
Horseback Safaris in the Waterbergs: A few hours drive north of Johannesburg are the 6,800-foot Waterberg Mountains and the 87,395-acre Lapalala Wilderness, prime habitat for the dwindling black rhino and perfect horseback-riding country. Trot alongside zebras and canter with warthogs and wildebeests. At night, rest your legs while sipping a sundowner and listening to hippo calls from the bush lodge veranda. Hidden Trails (888-987-2457, www.hiddentrails.com) offers all-inclusive eight-day trips for $1,210 per person, with lodging at a farmstead and bush camps.