Go Kung Fu Panda in SA: the Art of Surfing, Rock Climbing and Sky Diving
By Marlijn van Berne
Po [breathing heavily] I know you’re trying to be all mystical and Kung Fuey, but could you at least tell me where we’re going? Author (sounding sage and serious), you, my friend, are going on an adrenaline adventure! For those of you looking for that ‘something’ extra that will make your heart race, your toes curl and your hair stand on end… You have come to the right place! Now like Po, put your heart and girth into the task and turn those dreams into reality! For many, South Africa is a destination that promises rest and relaxation, and/or a 3-D experience that gets under your skin. For thrill seekers staying in and around Durban during the 2016 International AIDS Conference, look no further! (..Unless you are more mountain goat than lounging lizard. Then turn west).
For you surfing dudes out there – book into any of the fabulous hotels framing Durban’s Golden Mile and wake up every morning facing the Bay of Plenty; balmy weather, a rolling swell and the promise of hot sand between your toes. Put on your bathing suit and ‘sunnies,’ slather on the sunscreen and take a stroll along Marine Parade. Although I wouldn’t say that Durban dishes the absolute, ultimate, “Surf’s up!” – You are certainly set for a good time at our seaside playground; swim, tan, paddle, dive and surf. Take your pick!
There really is a lot to be said for the usually calm waves that grow as they run up the coast from uShaka Beach at the southern end, to Blue Lagoon at the northern tip. Generally, local surf enthusiasts flock to Diary Beach or North Beach, near the north-most pier, opposite the main hotel precinct. This is one of the main swimming beaches, so beware that you may be sharing the surf with local bathers and surfing novices taking advantage of the surfboard hire, lessons and surfing safaris on offer (African Wild Surf Tours). For the more surf-savvy, take to the waves, test your mettle against the elements, but know it can get really EEEK-big! If too tough to tame, turn back and try your luck at Addington, Pirates or Ushaka beaches. Addington Beach is more protected, with smaller waves and a flatter contour that lends itself to those learning how to surf and uShaka beach borders on uShaka Marine World, which offers a vast choice of additional action adventures. Visitors can hire a surfboard, surf-ski or canoe, take lessons and guided trips, or spend the day deep within uShaka Marine World’s Wet ‘n Wild zone. uShaka is a spectacular marine theme park with shops, a mind blowing aquarium sunk into the belly of a man-made shipwreck and 17 water slides boasting names such as The Mamba, The Drop Zone and The Torpedo!!
All swimming beaches in Durban are protected by anti-shark nets and you can also see which stretches of beach have lifeguards by the red flags. 41 beaches around South Africa’s glorious coastline have been awarded Blue Flag status – a prestigious and trusted symbol of quality; that earmarks these beaches to be of a certain quality and standard, environmentally sound, and have adequate facilities and services for tourists; including maintained ablution facilities, professionally trained lifeguards, clean water, clean beaches, and safe parking. Westbrook Beach, Ushaka Beach and Umhlanga are three beaches in and around Durban with Blue Flag status, while Umgababa, Brighton, and two beaches at Umdloti currently boast pilot blue flag status.
My personal favourite, surf ski is to my mind, the most thrilling paddle sport to date! Look back at Durban’s sun-kissed skyline as you glide atop a gentle swell and enjoy the incredible view. If lucky, you may also coast alongside a pod of dolphins as they make their way up the coast. Blissssssssssssssss! Easy enough at uShaka Marine World where you can hire surf-skis and enjoy a lesson or two to get you onto the water. For more serious paddlers, pop in to the beach at the Point clubhouse south of uShaka Marine World. It’s a real friendly spot for family and friends to park off, while you paddle out to sea. You can also contact the Paddling Academy Durban, and join their Coastline Tour; a good option if you have never paddled before; as it includes a crash course in paddling and a unique opportunity to experience Durban from the sea.
South Africa is an excellent destination for kite surfing enthusiasts; with year-round wind, sun and waves aplenty. Even as a beginner, know that you have committed to a sport that requires stamina, strength, mental vitality and sheer guts. You can also enjoy a more sedate experience on one of the inland lagoons, such as Umdloti Lagoon, about 30 minutes north of Durban, as the sea can be a bit hectic for beginners. If you want to hire or to learn, try Ocean2air (Cell: 082 880 1888 | Tel: 031 562 8886 | Email: email@example.com). Situated just seven kilometres north of Durban at La Lucia beach, Ocean2air are a very chilled, friendly bunch, with a wealth of experience to their name. Apart from being able to give you some invaluable insights into kite surfing conditions and kite surfing locations, the team offer a fantastic in-depth course that will take you from the ‘beginners’ foundation course, into the water and focusing on your board work.
Under the waters you will find an equally entrancing world. South Africa has plenty to offer; be it shark diving, snorkelling or diving down to any one of the many wrecks and reefs dotted along the coast line. Thanks to the weather and warm Indian Ocean, visitors to South Africa can enjoy snorkelling and diving pretty much all year round!!
Situated on the Indian Ocean between Lake St Lucia and Lake Sibaya, and some three hours north of Durban, Sodwana Bay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is considered among the top dive sites in the world. It boasts a number of beautiful reefs renowned for their incredibly dense coral cover and wide diversity of fish and crustaceans. Depending on the season you may get luck and get up close and personal with humpback whales and manta rays, while the rest of year you should see dolphins, turtles and whales sharks, seahorses, and too many fish to mention (sounds like a song). As the wind and currents here can play havoc with your dive, conditions tend to fluctuate between ‘idyllic to challenging’ with dives can be as shallow as 10 meters or just plain deep. Sodwana’s reefs take their names from the distance they are from the launch site at Jesser Point and include Quarter Mile, 2 Mile Reef, 5 Mile Reef, 7 Mile Reef and 9 Mile Reef – with a few ‘hangers on’ reefs, namely Stringer and Bikini. As one witty author put it: “Life’s a beach and then you dive!”
Another absolute dive “topper” is Aliwal Shoal (Aliwal Dive Centre, Tel + 27 (39) 9732534). Given the ‘thumbs up’ by famous marine biologist, Jacques Cousteau, the diving here is probably more suited to the experienced diver, as conditions can be demanding and may include tricky boat launches, swells and currents. The shoal is located just off the coast of Umkhomaas and is a popular hangout for shark enthusiasts who come to enjoy swimming with our ragged tooth friends as they migrate to their favourite resting ground, from July to November. Other lesser known sharks also visit this shoal, and there have been sightings (but much less frequent) of great whites, tigers, white tips and whale sharks. To dive at Aliwal Shoal, you will need your PADI, NAUI, or CMAS Open Water qualification – and please bring your C-Card with you. Note however, that you don’t have to be an experienced diver, and that it is possible to ask an instructor to dive with you. Last, but certainly not least, is the stunning Protea Banks, a world renowned shark-diving reef situated further down the south coast, about 7.5km out to sea from Shelly Beach. The reef lies at a depth of between 27 and 40 meters, and is about 6km long and 800m wide. Join African Dive Adventures, if you are an experienced diver and diving with sharks is your passion. With the support of the team at African Dive Adventures you are set to enjoy one of the most thrilling experiences of your life as you get to interact with sharks and other beauties of the deep! For more information on this amazing adventure, contact Roland on 082 45678 85 or e-mail him at email@example.com
While visiting us in KZN, why not enjoy our varied landscape a bit more and set your sights on a bit of rock climbing. With its numerous hills (Midlands) and mountainous areas such as the Drakensberg Mountains, there are many destinations and levels of exertion to whet your appetite. The main rock climbing areas are the Drakensberg Mountains, Monteseel Crag, Shongweni and Kloof Gorge. At Montseel Crag you can get on your Bat Man and enjoy several hard-faced fully bolted and partially bolted routes. At Shongweni you will find two crags, Magnetic Wall and Wave Cave, with views that will take your breath away, not to mention leave you gasping for air as you try to navigate some of the more challenging overhangs. There are 40 routes to choose from, all within 26 to 28 grades, with some more technical than others. During Conference time, the Wave Cave will be the better of the two to visit, as the winter temperatures will ensure less slippery rocks. If you want to stay overnight (and I don’t mean hanging off the side of the rock face for the night), there are camp sites and luxurious bush tents to choose from. A bit closer to Durban, you will find Kloof Gorge’s cliffs which offer a climbing bonanza, with 200 routes to hailed as one of the province’s if not South Africa’s, best and finest routes. Nonetheless, if you are talking about sheer magnificence and majesty, look no further than the Drakensberg Mountains. With towering peaks up to 3000 meters, and a choice of countless steep ascents and narrow gorges, this is the climbing spot of choice. Do bear in mind, that these mountains are generally deemed for the more experienced climber, and even hikers are encouraged to carry at least a few provisions and safety gadgets, appropriate clothing for the weather (Winter is from June to September and it gets freezing) and don’t forget your map at home – Getting lost does happen! Now get climbing and revel in some of the most beautiful and breathtaking views of the province that you will ever see! Contact Gavin Raubenheimer, acting President of the Mountain Club of South Africa on: 082 990 5876.
Skydiving, Hot Air Ballooning, Microlights, Helicopter Tours and much more…
There are many more unique and wonderful ways to explore Durban and further afield. We have looked at underwater adventures and now it is time for the airborne kind! There is almost too much to mention; hot air ballooning, paragliding, skydiving, gliding, air safaris, helicopter flips, microlight flights, and the Big Rush Big Swing at Mozes Mabida Stadium (mmstadium.com) which will see you screaming at the top of your lungs as you swing in a 220 meter arc, 80 meters above the ground (nothing like the elegance of a trapeze artist, mind you). Take your pick!! For some professional advice, contact Sky Adventures, operating from Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, which has been providing aviation rides, flights and experiences throughout South Africa for some ten years. Contact the Skydive Centre on 072 214 6040 or Sky Adventures on +27 (0)73 334 7911, Fax: +27 (0)86 671 0974 or visit www.skyadventures.co.za
Now, for the ‘pièce de resistance’ – forget about our Kung Fu friend, Po. Think Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Harnessed onto a series of steel cables, high up among the treetop canopy, the canopy tour experience will take you on an unforgettable adventure as you soar like a bird in the sky from one part of the forest to the next, and one platform to the next. This is something not to miss out on; an adrenaline pumping adventure that has you whizzing through the air. Buckle up, and enjoy the flight! What a thrill! Visit Karkloof Canopy Tours on 033 3303415 or 076 241 2888.