Alive with Adrenaline: Backpacking in Cape Town, South Africa

A trembling and slightly irrational sense of positivity hits you when you arrive at Cape Town International Airport. Why? Because you know it’s one of those places that won’t let you down…. And it’s true; South Africa’s hippest and arguably most popular city is a richly rewarding destination for the wannabie Springbok.

To start with, it’s a wild place – not remote in the traditional sense – but the landscape really jumps out at you. Table Mountain is unmissable, rising up behind the city and enthroning it in ancient sandstone. There is one the of the world’s largest commercial ports here, as well as a thriving  multicultural CBD, genuine markets flogging African wares, magnificent sunshine, and a great beach side BBQ scene (a funky daytime option for many Cape Town restaurants). It’s also the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment (on Robben Island). It’s where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic (Cape Point) and just if it couldn’t be more interesting, Great White sharks appear from time-to-time to add that essential streak of danger to the surf perfect waters.

You can quite easily spend a whole day or two cruising down the Cape Peninsula, soaking up the beach bar culture, catching a bit of surf down on the postcard perfect Camps Bay, and ogling at the of the lush exclusivity of the Cape Town hotels. More affordable Cape Town accommodation is found on the outskirts of the city centre. Don’t be put off by numerous signs advertising ‘Guest Houses’ – they are often very well run and can offer a safe and economical alternative to a hostel or hotel.

Cage diving with Great White sharks

Talk about jumping in at the deep end…. The morning after picking up a brochure in a bar I was on a boat, jetting out of Gansbaai Bay (about 2 ½ hour drive from central Cape Town) and out into the Atlantic with a bunch of people I’d never met before – about to come face to face with something I’d never really thought I’d come face to face with, ever…. a Great White Shark.

I was lucky on the day I went, the weather was perfect, not over cast or stormy, but a clear blue sky. Fantastic. The underwater visibility was excellent; we could see a good distance below us and around. There was someone keeping a watch for approaching sharks, and giving us direction such as ‘ down and to your left’ – at this point everyone in the cage would take a deep breath, go underwater and look to our left, just in time to see the stealthy predator making its way to the bait set out for it. Wild.

Sky diving in Cape Town

Alive with adrenaline, I signed on for another sort of equally terrifying diving…. The local airstrip is about an hours taxi drive outside of Cape Town and after a few short hours of induction, I was in a small light aircraft rising to 9000ft. Then you connect yourself to your tandem professional and jump. Easy as that. I’m not sure exactly how long we freefell, but it felt around 45 seconds. The parachute deploys and you calmly enjoy the rest of the way down, either with chatter as you can now hear one another, or in silence – best to absorb the view and feeling – and to catch your breath – it all happened so fast. On a clear day you can see the whole of Cape Town; Table Mountain and the mountain range and Robben Island. Spectacular.

5 things not to miss in Cape Town:

  • Diving with great white sharks
  • Taking a cable car up Table Mountain
  • Visiting Nelson Mandela’s cell at Robben Island
  • Crawling the beach bars and surfing the white foam waves in Camp’s Bay
  • Drive down to Cape Point to see the line where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet