Outside Magazine recently published an article on nine life-changing adventures that the average outdoor enthusiast can attempt (rafting, kayaking, surfing, mountaineering, skiing, mountain biking, adventure travel, road biking and wilderness exploration). Unfortunately, while the nine adventures mentioned certainly provide interesting reading, none of them can easily be undertaken by South Africans, since they are all based in America. But the article did make me think about my own life-changing adventures. Here are the adventures that have really stuck with me, and that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.
1. Gorilla tracking in Uganda
Yes, gorilla tracking is expensive and requires quite a bit of tough travel, but it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime must-do activities. Sitting amongst a group of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is one of the most intimate and breath-taking wildlife experiences one can possibly have. Just be warned, though: it requires more physical activity than some might bargain for. Mountain gorillas tend to live in, well, mountains, so trekking after them can be tough. Moreover, there’s no telling where in the area they may be. Finding them might require no more than a 30-minute stroll, or you might be forced to slog over harsh terrain for nine hours. Whatever it takes to see them, though, it will be worth it.
2. Hiking up the Drakensberg Escarpment
The hike to the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment caught me completely by surprise. Firstly, it was quite a bit tougher than I had anticipated. To be sure, it’s not an utterly grueling hike – if you’re moderately fit, you should be able to do it – but it’s not a effortless amble either. Speaking from experience, I would recommend that you stay away from the pub the night before and get to bed early. Secondly, the top of the escarpment provided one of the most astonishing views I have ever experienced. I thought that the view from the top would be impressive, but I had no idea how unbelievable it would be.
3. Dune driving in Namibia
Is there any greater 4×4 experience than dune driving? In my opinion, dune driving is the most fun one can possibly have behind a steering wheel. I’ll never forget the first time I piloted a 4×4 down a long slipface and up a steep dune. I t will always stay with me. If you are passionate about off-road driving, you owe it to yourself to visit Namibia’s dunes. Yes, organising such a trip can be pricey, but we’re still very lucky to have such exquisite dunes so close to us.
4. Visiting the Skeleton Coast
Known by the indigenous people as “the land God made in anger”, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is certainly not picturesque, but there is something haunting about it. Its harsh landscapes and wide open spaces has a strange effect on the soul. We once drove all the way to the mouth of the Kunene, and the couple of days we spent in the northern sections of the Skeleton Coast were some of the most magical I have ever experienced. Never before or since have I felt so far from civilisation. We might as well have been on the Moon.
5. Overlanding in Lesotho
Lesotho is, I think, a very underrated overland destination. I love the small, mountainous country. It has challenging 4×4 trails, lovely mountain views and interesting places to stay. Semonkong Lodge, for example, is a great place to spend a few days. It also operates the longest commercial abseil in the world (more than 200m!). The abseil is at Maletsunyane Falls, which is close to the lodge, and drops into a stunning gorge. Even if you have no interest in abseiling down, Maletsunyane is worth visiting.
6. Mountain biking
You don’t need to travel far to have a life-changing adventure. Some of the best adventures are literally right on our doorsteps. Cities such as Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town have wonderful mountain bike trails in and around them. For me, as for many others, my first mountain bike outing was a life-changing experience, since it immediately hooked me on the lifestyle. Not only is mountain biking a lot of fun, but it keeps you healthy, and is something the whole family can enjoy.