2020 has been a wild ride indeed! The Covid crisis has turned us all upside down and given us a good shake. It’s forced us to reconsider so much about how we live our lives and how our attitudes, opinions and behaviour impact on others in the global community. And now, as we all start to think about how and where we will travel in future, our decisions and priorities will probably be different to what they were before. Above all, we all now know that whatever we do, we have to make it count!
Nature has always been waiting for us – the rivers, mountains, plains and oceans have been doing their thing while us humans have been otherwise occupied but they are ready and waiting for us to come home. Most people yearned for the great outdoors during lockdown and, as it turns out, this may just be the best thing to do in our new normal. Read on to find out why…
The benefits of immersion in nature are proven. There are countless studies showing the positive effect of natural experiences on human wellbeing. Two of the most important are the effect on our physical and emotional health and, by extension, on our immune systems. Even a short walk in a forest has been shown to reduce anger, fear and stress. It also contributes to physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones, according to public health researchers. Being close to water, in particular, is incredibly calming and relaxing – and the view from the water offers a fresh perspective on your destination.
Experiences in the outdoors are also a great way to reconnect, not only with friends and family, but also with yourself. The last few months have been incredibly stressful, partly because of information overload and the confusing and conflicting messages we’ve been receiving. Somehow, when you are out in nature, life becomes simplified, and our brains can calm down and focus on what’s important – taking that next step on the hiking trail, watching ‘bush TV’ around a crackling campfire, appreciating the swirling trail of your paddle stroke through the water or feeling your muscles burn as you paddle hard for that next wave. This allows us to reconnect with our true selves and also to relax and make new connections with those around us – our families and friends. South Africa is blessed with an abundance of accommodation and activity options in remote and rural locations. For those who want a real escape, a multi-day wilderness trip, sleeping under our incredible starscapes, can be a life changing experience.
Leave the screens behind – we are all zoomed out and heartily sick of the latest breaking news/miracle cure/conspiracy theory being enthusiastically circulated on social media. Leave your phone at home and escape to the real world – it may even lengthen your life, research shows. Whether it’s a two-hour long sea kayak trip, a few hours zipping between the trees on a canopy tour, meeting the seals in their natural environment or a classic safari, taking a break from tech is essential.
Safety procedures are an intrinsic part of the experience – outdoor and adventure activities always involve an element of risk and this makes the guides and companies who run these trips very experienced in risk management procedures. Safety has always come first and Covid protocols are simple to implement. It may seem obvious, but since adventure activities take place outdoors, the risk of infection is vastly reduced – this is because the virus is easily dispersed in the air, rather than being concentrated as it is in indoor environments. It also seems likely that water, salt and sunshine also play an important role in minimizing transmission. Finally, physical distancing is not only easy but often inevitable!
During this global reset, most of us have gained a far deeper understanding of just what is important in life. Hopefully, we’ve also understood that we, as people who are able to travel, are more privileged than most. As they say in the comics, “with great power comes great responsibility” and many people are embracing this by choosing authentic travel experiences that add value to the communities where they take place. Outdoor and adventure experiences often tick all the boxes in this regard as well. They often take place in rural, less developed areas and provide livelihoods for local people. Human powered adventures are, by their nature, less polluting and small groups mean less overall impact. Many outdoor and adventure activity operators have a deep connection with nature and make a great effort to conserve and protect the resources that they (and all of us, ultimately) depend on.
Travel is a human instinct and we’ll keep exploring our world, albeit in a different and hopefully more conscious, constructive and thoughtful way. Nature based experiences are an intrinsic part of that and South Africa is ready to welcome you.
Some ideas to get you started
There are Canopy Tours in various incredible locations across the country – this is an exciting and very beautiful experience that requires very little skill and is extremely safe – perfect for the whole family. The Cape Canopy Tour in the Hottentots Holland nature Reserve is 40 minutes from Cape Town near Elgin and perfect for a weekend country getaway. While you’re there, take a drive to the Kogelberg Nature Reserve for some world class white water rafting with Gravity Adventures.
South Africa is also blessed with many opportunities for Paddling Trips, mostly along our coastline. You can hire a canoe or kayak for a self-guided paddle or you can opt for a guided trip where you’ll learn about the environment, culture and history of the area. Trips range from a couple of hours to multi-day wilderness experiences. Always ask for proof of the guide’s APA qualification and check that the boats have been surveyed by SAMSA. Near Cape Town, Cape Town Bucket List runs great trips from Hout Bay, Kaskazi is based in Moullie point, home of the classic Table Bay route with the resident dolphins and Gravity Adventures has a mobile set up that paddles a variety of routes around the peninsular. Gravity also offer a 2 day expedition style camping and paddling trip on the West Coast from Jacob’s Baai to Paternoster. For a complete escape to wilderness, nothing beats an Orange River rafting trip. Gravity Adventures runs trip on two beautiful section of the Orange in the Northern Cape. No border crossings are needed and you can choose from the standard trip or opt for an exclusive glamping trip for your own small group.
Hiking is the perfect activity for our new normal and we have an incredible array of short walks, day hikes and multi day epics on both private land and in our National Parks and Provincial reserves. Guided hikes are perfect for novices and for those wanting to get the most from the experience. Do your research, make sure you are properly prepared and equipped and check your guide is properly qualified by the MDT or holds a GASG. In Cape Town, Ridgway Ramblers is the Table Mountain specialist and YogaHike do awesome walks which include some yoga and meditation practice in nature.
Cycling trips are another very accessible way to experience the outdoors – whether you hire a bike on the Sea Point or Durban Promenade or whether you opt for guided or self guided mountain bike experience. !Kwa Ttu, just outside cape Town, on the way to the West Coast, offers two trails on their reserve and you can hire a bike or bring your own. RentaBicycle has bike hire as well as guided trips in various locations. Check that your guide holds the appropriate GASG qualification.
For something very unique, what about trying Coasteering – currently only available in Simons Town with Gravity Adventures, this activity will remind you of your childhood days of adventure and exploration – snorkeling, swimming in the kelp forest and doing some exciting rock jumps into the ocean – this is the most fun you can have in 2 hours in Cape Town.
The list of adventures and outdoor experiences in South Africa is almost endless. The best way to see the full range of what is on offer is to visit www.dirtyboots.co.za.