An African adventure

Horse-riding, surfing, or diving with sharks - the choice is yours, says Francisca Kellett
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The Independent Travel

HIKING

South Africa's Drakensberg range, a formidable spine of mountains stretching for 200km along Lesotho's border, offers South Africa's finest hiking. Its name recently reverted to the African term, uKhahlamba, which means "barrier of spears" - a good hint at the area's dramatic peaks. Its jagged rock formations, plunging cliffs and lush valleys offer excellent hiking territory, from well-signposted day walks to strenuous week-long trails. Of the former, some of the most popular hikes are in the Royal Natal National Park in the north, particularly around the Amphitheatre, a dramatic wall of grey-pink rock soaring up to 3,000m. The area is also riddled with caves filled with ancient rock art by the San people. For information on trails, contact KZNWildlife (00 27 33 845 1000; www.kznwildlife.com)

For tough desert hiking, head to Namibia, which offers the celebrated 85km-long Fish River Canyon trail, considered one of the most arduous - and most beautiful - in Southern Africa. Winding its way through the southern deserts, it is the second longest canyon in the world, with a surreal landscape of deep red rock walls and fierce sun. It is also home to wild horses, zebras and antelope. The trail winds along the (often dry) river in the base of the canyon, and takes about five days to complete. You have to carry everything you'll need and the inaccessibility of the area makes a guide essential. Open April to September only. Reservations: 00 264 6123 6975; www.met.gov.na/resorts.

WHITE WATER RAFTING

Zambia's Zambezi River offers one of the world's most extreme commercial white water rafting trips, plummeting through Batoka Gorge. Here, rubber rafts plunge over 23 rapids - some reaching grade five, the highest grade permitted for commercial rafting - through the steep, black-walled gorge, where small crocodiles bask on the banks. It's a terrifying but exhilarating experience, and although safety standards are very high, be prepared to be flipped from the raft during the trip. Water levels are at their lowest from August to January, when some rapids become too shallow to traverse. Shearwater Adventures (00 263 134 4471; www.shearwateradventures.com) runs day-long trips with certified guides, costing US$95 (£53).

More gentle rafting trips are offered year-round on the Great Usutu River in Swaziland. Rapids reach grade four and are tackled in two-man boats, shepherded by guides in kayaks. Day-long trips are organised by Swazi Trails (00 268 416 2180; www.swazitrails.co.sz), costing from R620 (£52).

SURFING

Jeffreys Bay - or J-Bay as it's affectionately known - is South Africa's surfing hub, an unassuming little holiday resort in Eastern Cape. Its consistent right-hand wave has given J-Bay legendary status among the international surfing fraternity, and important surfing competitions are now held here every winter. Although usually packed out with surfing pros, J-Bay is also an excellent place to learn thanks to the gentle, reliable waves found close to the shore on Main Beach. Jeffreys Bay Surf School (00 27 422 934 214; jbaysurfschool@ hotmail.com) runs hour- or day-long surfing lessons. A two-hour lesson costs R180 (£15), including all equipment. Other surfing hot-spots in South Africa include the beaches around Durban and Cape Town.

A relative newcomer on the surfing scene, Mozambique has a magnificent Indian Ocean coastline, pounded by a considerable swell. The industry is still in its infancy, although surfers from South Africa have made some inroads at the little seaside town of Tofu. Here, the long arc of golden sand is backed by dunes and washed by a consistent break. Although there are no surf schools as yet, Bamboozi Backpacker Lodge ( www.bamboozi.com) hires out surfboards for R35 (£3) per day. Around Tofu, many of the beaches of Inhambane province are good for surfing, although much of this stretch is undeveloped and visitors need to be self-sufficient.

HORSERIDING

Lesotho is famed for its tough ponies and the Basotho horsemen who ride them, and pony trekking is an idyllic way to explore the mountains. Treks can range from one-hour to week-long trips, with overnight stops in local villages and mountain lodges. Don't expect mad gallops across open spaces - most trails follow steep and rocky mountain passes, where the sure-footed ponies pick out the best route. Malealea (00 27 825 524 215; www.malealea.co.ls), a lodge in the western mountains, organises a range of pony treks led by Basotho guides; prices start at R100 (£8.50) per day.

SCUBA DIVING

The ultimate adrenaline dive - cage diving with great white sharks - is available around Gansbaai in South Africa. February to September is the high season for shark viewing, when operators trundle around Dyer Island (home to a seal colony) and divers take it in turns to watch the 3m- to 6m-long sharks from behind the bars of an underwater cage. White Shark Diving (00 27 283 841 380; www.whitesharkdiving.com) supports research into sharks and offers five-hour long trips for R1,000 (£84).

In Mozambique, the coastline around Tofu offers a wide range of reef dives, as well as encounters with whale sharks and manta rays from April to July. Diversity Scuba (00 258 232 9002; www.diversityscuba.com) offers open water and advanced courses. Away from the mainland, the best diving is undoubtedly found around the tropical islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago, a protected marine reserve. Made up of five islands, the archipelago is fringed with reefs, offering calm conditions and a wealth of marine life, including five types of turtle and four dolphin species. PADI schools are located in lodges: Benguerra Lodge (00 27 11 452 0641; www.benguerra.co.za), for example, offers a full range of courses and daily dives around Benguerra and other islands.

The tropical depths of Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, offer unique diving thanks to its endemic fresh water marine life. The cichlid fish are a highlight; over 400 species have evolved here and many boast spectacular colours. The disease bilharzia is common in the lake, although circulating water reduces the risks of infection. Nkhata Bay, a sleepy town on the east shore, is regarded as bilharzia-free. Aqua Africa (00 265 135 2284; www.aqua-africa.com) offers a range of Padi (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses.

BUNGEE JUMPING

At 216m, the Bloukrans River Bridge bungee, on South Africa's Garden Route, claims to be the highest commercial bungee in the world. The setting is impressive, with the Bloukrans River churning far below. The bungee jump is run by Face Adrenaline (00 27 42 281 1458; www.faceadrenalin.com) and costs R580 (£49).

Victoria Falls offers the continent's second-highest bungee jump, a 111-metre dive from the bridge linking Zambia to Zimbabwe, with views over the winding Zambezi River below. Access is from the Zambia side (passports are necessary to get across the bridge), and jumps are organised by Shearwater Adventures, costing US$85 (£47).

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