Great African Adventure: A Guide to the Mother Continent’s Ultimate Outdoor Adventures

Tales of high adventure, in-your-face photography, destination overviews, maps and contact details
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Great African Adventure: A Guide to the Mother Continent’s Ultimate Outdoor Adventures

Author: Jacques Marais
Struik Publishers
Cape Town, 2008
ISBN: 9781770072794
Soft cover, 21x25 cm, 216 pages, throughout colour photos


Africa may rate as uncharted territory to the majority of mainstream travellers, but an advance guard of intrepid adventurers has long been exploring this intriguing continent.

If you have yet to experience the countless adventures brimming between Cape Town and Cairo, this Do-it-yourself guide contains all the information you need to trip confidently onto the Mother Continent.

Tales of high adventure, in-your-face photography, destination overviews, maps and contact details make this the ultimate adventure primer to Africa.

Join the author and a handful of respected contributors as they river-board the Nile, climb Mali’s Hand of Fatima and run the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, to name but a few of the adventures.

An edgy style, up-to-date content and award-winning photography make this a must-have book for everyone from armchair adventurers to card-carrying members of the outdoor tribe.

About the Author:

Jacques Marais is a respected adventure writer and extreme sports photographer, and was selected as one of only 50 finalists in the prestigious Red Bull Illume Sports Photography Competition.

He regularly contributes to premium travel magazines around the world, and this is his fifth book on outdoor adventure. He shares a house on the Cape Peninsula with his wife, two boisterous children, a ragtag of rescue pets and a serious selection of adventure toys.


About the Author
Author's Preface
Chapter 1: Abseiling
Rope Me Up!
Chapter 2: Adventure Racing
A Test of Stamina
Chapter 3: Whitewater Rafting and River-boarding
Aqua Action
Chapter 4: Mountain Hiking
Crank Brothers
Chapter 5: Sand and Snowboarding
Members of the Board
Chapter 6: Game Tracking
Wild, Wild Life
Chapter 7: Surfing
Wave Play
Chapter 8: Trekking, Hiking and Backpacking
Boot Camp
Chapter 9: Canopy Tours, Walkways and Bridge Tours
A Natural High
Chapter 10: Ocean Paddling and Boating
Ocean Motion
Chapter 11: Mountaineering, Scrambling and Traverses
The Thin Air Zone
Chapter 12: Catamaran Cruising, Kiteboarding and Windsurfing
Gone with the Wind
Chapter 13: Paragliding, Ballooning, Hang-gliding and BASE Jumping
The Air up There
Chapter 14: Endurance Marathons and Off-road Trail Running
Cool Running
Chapter 15: Shark Diving, Scuba and Free-diving
Into the Big Blue
Chapter 16: Rock Climbing
Age of Rock
Chapter 17: Canoeing, Kayaking and Motoro-poling
The Life Aquatic
Chapter 18: Off-roading, 4x4 and Quad-hiking
Dirt Road Tripping
Chapter 19: Horse Riding, Elephant Safaris and Donkey Trekking
Wild Riding
Chapter 20: Kloofing, Canyoning and Caving
Crack Addicts

Author's Preface:

Writing this book has been a buzz, and on some days it truly felt as if I was mainlining on 100% proof adrenaline. Victoria Falls was a case in point where, in a matter of a couple of days, I had to fit in whitewater rafting, river-boarding, ultralight flying, an elephant-back safari, flying foxes, an abseil, a bungee jump and a chopper flip over the falls.

To relax, I grabbed an hour-long break to hike into the spray of Mosi-oa-Tunya, and counted my blessings while tramping through the stunning rainforest perched above one of the world's modern Seven Natural Wonders.

There I was on a July morning, amid the towering tree ferns and verdant lianas crowning the precipitous slopes overlooking Victoria Falls, with this grand panorama just about all to myself. No tourist hordes. No burger joints blighting the landscape. No overhead speaker systems piping out elevator music. Sure, I had to make polite conversation with a gaggle of sprightly geriatrics and politely refuse the insistent touts selling bright umbrellas and plastic cutlery sets at the gate, but the experience was as authentic and untouched as one could hope for.

For all her faults and imperfections, the mother continent remains an awesome home base.This is where I live and this is where my children are experiencing their wonder years. I'm sure they will, ike me, see Mama Africa not as a darkling land, but rather as a continent shimmering with infinite light, colour and hope.

Much of the material in this book has been reworked from my travel journals as well as features and articles I've written for a range of local and international magazines over the past decade or so. My intention was to focus the bulk of these adventures on the southern African subcontinent to make them more accessible to readers, but there were the obvious 'big ones'further north that absolutely clamoured for inclusion in these pages.

Thanks should go to all the other individuals who contributed to this book. Fiona Mclntosh, Jeremy Samson, Andy de Klerk and Pierre van der Spuy wrote sections on areas and adventures I have not had the good fortune to experience. A host of other explorers, accidental travellers, photographers and colleagues offered input on areas they know well.

And finally, in the engine room at Struik Publishing, Felicity, Samantha, Marielle and their team of designers and illustrators worked their magic on a book that will surely prove to be as much of an adventure to read as it was to write.


Africa is not for sissies. Early explorers referred to it as the Dark Continent with good reason, and even today, adventurers taking on her rugged terrain do so with a certain amount of trepidation. Vast plains, towering mountains, uncharted rivers and primeval jungles await you when you step beyond the edge of the urban creep, and nothing is ever quite as straightforward as you think.

Dodgy logistics, an overloaded infrastructure and extreme poverty mean you stand a good chance of being chewed up and spat out by Mama Africa. Planning is a mission, which is partly why this bookfocuses mainly on adventures presented by reputable operators with an established track record. (We checked their credentials as best we could but do run your own checks as well -things change quickly here in Africa.)

Don't expect squeaky-clean washrooms, name-tagged guides and air-conditioned transport. This is Third-World travel after all, so get used to enduring the occasional hardship before plugging into your pleasures. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because the flip side of this is that you won't have to share your adventure with a thousand other wanna-be adventurers.

That said, the adventures we selected are generally well known, and it could only enhance your experience if you do your research before heading out. Droughts, extreme temperatures, the rainy season, civil war and political elections are but a few of the factors that may impact on your travel arrangements, so make sure you contact the relevant operators in good time.

Anotherthing - if you're planning an adventure in Africa, it is important that you're able to take care of yourself in the bush. Basic knowledge of the environment you'll be traversing is imperative, and being able to identify dangerous mammals, reptiles and insects may save your life. Also check on harmful or poisonous plants in the area, and make sure you know how to cope in any related emergency.

Every individual taking part in an adrenaline activity will face certain physical and mental demands, and you will to a large extent be responsible for your own safety. Make sure you are relatively fit, mentally prepared and in good health, and pack any medication you might need on the trip.

Traditional customs, religious sensibilities, local cuisine and potable drinking water are but a few of the other issues you need to consider. Last but not least, the environment will be your responsibility when you play in Africa's great outdoors. Make sure you treat it with respect so that others may enjoy the pleasures of the continent's bountiful charms for the years to come.

Chapter 18: Off-roading, 4x4 and Quad-hiking Dirt Road Tripping

Big Five on Four Wheels

The internal combustion engine is certainly not the first mode of propulsion that springs to mind when you think of an ecofriendly outing into the bush. Quad bikes, specifically, are seen by many as destroyers of the great outdoors rather than a sensitive means to experience the natural world.

Experts at Mabula Game Reserve think differently and they recently initiated an eco-adventure trail where visitors get to explore Big Five territory on quad bikes. They have five rugged four-wheelers available, allowing a small group of guests to join a guide on an excursion along a meandering trail within the immediate vicinity of the main lodge.

This is not a hardcore adrenaline experience, and the idea is to get close to nature rather than roar along the trail; speed is therefore limited to a maximum of 20km per hour. Helmets are supplied to all riders, the guide is fully FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) qualified and no previous quad-biking experience is required. The Mabula Eco Adventure Trail is limited to a rather short one-hour loop, but it nonetheless makes for an interesting addition to the outdoor action menu in South Africa.

I reported to the Wildlife Centre at around 16h00, and joined the rest of the group before we made our way to the waiting quad bikes near the airstrip. After a quick safety briefing, we were given a few minutes to familiarise ourselves with the four-wheelers. This hands-on instructional session makes sure anyone who has not been on a quad knows exactly how to operate it before powering up and setting off into the bush.

We're in the pound seats as soon as we head out, with a herd of giraffe skyscraping across our route within minutes of setting off. It's an unbelievable sight to see these gentle giants up close, and they lope past without so much as a glance in our direction. A section of gravel road leads us onto the adventure route, and here we grunt onto a narrow two-track trail traversing typical arid savannah vegetation.

This is where the quads come fully into play as we power through sandy stretches and over the occasional rocky hump. The idea is certainly not to rip up the trail, so we set a rather sedate pace as we scan the dense bush surrounding us. Moses, our ever-enthusiastic guide, is blessed with eagle eyes and we spot ostrich, oryx and impala as we chug along the winding trail. A small herd of zebra en route to the watering hole crosses in front of us, snorting in the afternoon breeze as they warily eye us out.

We take a breather near one of the watering holes and hike down to the water's edge to check out the birdlife. Francolins dart in and out of the scrubby underbrush, and a long-tailed shrike watches us from its spiky acacia perch. A dainty steenbok tiptoes warily towards us, then freezes when it picks up our scent.

Moses takes this opportunity to introduce us to the many natural wonders of the bushveld. The seeds of the russet bushwillow, for example, are used by the Tsonga people to make bush coffee, while the knob-thorn may be rubbed on your gums as a mild anaesthetic if you have toothache.

Back on the bikes, we make our way into the gathering dusk. A sounder ofwarthogs erupts from under our wheels, stiff-tailing into the tall grass before stopping to watch our slow progress. As we slowly putter into camp, the sun hovers like an unreal amber orb over the western horizon.

Off-roading 101


Many of the early motorised expeditions into Africa were either a consequence of expansionist opportunism by early colonists or linked to military conquest, also by European outsiders. The corresponding establishment of Africa's rail and road infrastructures is considered one of the few positive facets of colonialism, and it's no wonder the early twentieth century saw an increase in exploration by these motorised adventurers.

History has it that the original pioneer of motoring in Africa, and the first man to drive a car across the continent, was a German lieutenant named Paul Graetz. He achieved this amazing feat from 1907-09, negotiating a network of roads, tracks and uncharted territory that would in time become the Great North Road. Graetz, who, according to some contemporaries may have been an agent for German intelligence, used a 50-horsepowerjuggernaut known as a Gaggenau to conquer the African wilderness.


Modern adventurers who dream of driving from the Cape to Cairo have a jaw-dropping range of technologically advanced vehicles to choose from. Although the Great North Road remains a rather unimposing cut-and-paste affair of potholed tarmac stretches, countless unremarkable cars (including Wolseleys, Volkswagen Beetles and Leyland Minis) have clocked the journey.

If you'd like to stick to less-travelled tracks, you'd be better off in a vehicle boasting a 100 per cent off-road pedigree. Four-wheel-drive is a prerequisite, while a high ground clearance, heavy-duty suspension system, fuel-efficient and low-maintenance engine, and a rear differential all go without saying.

On an epic such as this, an off-road trailer will simplify setting up camp, while additional equipment such as a GPS unit, a compass (in case the former fails), topo-graphical maps, malaria prophylactics, a water filter, emergency fuel, spare parts and a first-aid kit should be on your shopping ist. Finally, a generously proportioned sense of humour will undoubtedly stand you in good stead.


Choosing the right line (the track or path of maximum ease) helps to smooth out the journey on those rough overland roads, but this is a skill a driver can only acquire through experience. Important tips to remember include always keeping all your vehicle's wheels in contact with the terrain to gain and maintain maximum traction. Never attempt to barge through natural obstacles without first assessing them, even if it means stopping and inspecting the line on foot.

Packing road-building equipment will be key to your success, and you can expect to spend days working on the route, especially during the rainy season. Many countries in equatorial Africa experience two rainy seasons, so make it part of your mission to fami iarise yourself with the climate along your proposed route. Politically, things could change in 24 hours, so be sure to speak to the relevant embassies or trade missions to get situational updates in potential hot spots along the way.

Africa's Best Off-road adventurers with the necessary chutzpah will think nothing of taking on a Cape to Cairo crossing, but blazing your own trail across the continent comes with more than its fair share of dangers. Many organised options exist, both as off-road racing events and overland expeditions, and how you tackle the trip is really up to you.

18A: Mabula Game Reserve

(Limpopo Province, South Africa) You cannot shake the feeling that you've reached nirvana once you set foot in Mabula. This private game reserve nestles against a lush backdrop of densely vegetated mountain slopes, encompassing varied vegetation zones within a 12000 ha protected area. Although the Big Five is the premier drawcard for most visitors to Mabula, the personnel pride themselves on also exposing guests to an abundance of smaller mammals, birds and reptiles.

Mabula achieves this through the numerous outdoor activities offered to their guests, allowing visitors to get as close to nature as they can without ending up on some big cat's menu. Horse trails through woodland savannah are especially rewarding, as is the Mabula Eco Ad venture Trail mentioned earlier. Guided bush walks, day or night game-viewing safaris and star gazing are but a few of the options that offer you a personalised view into this unspoiled world.

Facilities are world class, with luxurious accommodation in a natural scenic setting and a focus on creating a family-friendly environment. Visitors are spoilt for choice - everything from helicopter transfers, quality cuisine and shops to a hippo-viewing deck and reptile centre. Summer temperatures may red-line well into the forties but winters swing right to the opposite end of the temperature scale, so pack cold-weather gear.

18B: Crossing the Continent (Africa)

The Dakar Rally arguably rates as the definitive organised off-road event on African soil. When competitors braved a gruelling route between Dakar and Cape Town, it came close to navigating the continent from north to south.The course has recently returned to its roots, though, following a more manageable, but no less tough, route between Europe and Senegal.

I would argue that there's only a small percentage of readers with the necessary technical skills, driving ability and financial resources to take on this daunting off-road race. But there are more than enough other ways of exploring Africa, and it makes good sense to opt rather for a trip with an established adventure operator before you tackle a solo journey into the unknown.

If you still feel more comfortable doing your own thing, start off on a scale smaller than a transcontinental expedition. This will allow you to work on your bundu-bashing and camping skills, and pick up on gear defects before you get stuck on some godforsaken road between Moer-and-Gone and Timbuktu. Even shorter expeditions deliver big on experience, and a two-week trip into one of South Africa's neighbouring countries can make you feel like you're part of a Discovery Channel documentary.

Primeval peaks, agoraphobia-inducing plains, contorted camel-thorns, savannah shimmering in the heat... the charms of this continent are many, and the best way to explore them is via her back roads. There are dozens of adventure regions to choose from when heading into Africa's uncharted territory, and you'll be spoiled for choice once you start planning your route along the thousands of gravel roads and off-road tracks spider-webbing across the continent.

18C: From Kunene to the Congo (Angola)

Up to a few years ago, Angola was strictly off-limits if you didn't list being a black market diamond dealer or soldier of fortune on your curriculum vitae. But now that this country on the west coast of Africa is on the up again, the tourism trickle is fast turning into a flood, with numerous pioneer operators busting open a bunch of brand-new adventure routes.

Uncountable land mines make it a dangerously sketchy trip if you don't know the route like the back of your hand, so lay fresh tracks at your own peril. The flip side is that this makes Angola an untouched haven for those prepared to brave the vagaries of tripping into third-world territory. A journey north from the Kunene takes you through a landscape that morphs from mountain desert to the vast rainforests bordering on the Congo River. Those in the know label Angola as one of Africa's most exciting destinations, so don't miss out on the experience.