Principal among the activities on offer within the game reserves are game drives; these safaris typically last 3 to 4 hours and take place in the early morning and evening. If you are staying at a private safari lodge, game drives and bush walks are included in the price; fishing may also be on offer. A few lodges also offer such activities as hot-air ballooning and even helicopter rides, but always at an extra cost.
Most of the activities listed below are offered outside the game reserves themselves. If you're looking for a one-stop advice and booking shop, contact Big 5 Country (tel. 013/737-8191; www.big5country.com), an agent for the largest selection of adventure operators in the Sabie, Graskop, and Hazyview areas, as well as a booking and information agent. Another high-energy outfit offering a range of adventure activities (including mountain biking, river rafting, quad biking, kloofing, and abseiling) is Induna Adventures (tel. 013/737-8308; www.indunaadventures.com).
Abseiling, Swinging & Sliding
Choose between an abseil (rappel) down the Sabie waterfall (R150) or zipline off a granite outcrop (R140) before heading into Kruger; bookings are through Golden Monkey (tel. 013/737-8191; www.big5country.com). Big Swing (tel. 013/767-1621; www.bigswing.co.za) offers the world's highest free-falling swing, as well as a slide across a canyon for R300.
Take off at sunrise and float over the foothills of the Escarpment, possibly sighting some game, then alight for a glass of bubbly and breakfast at a nearby lodge. Based 10km (6 1/4 miles) from Hazyview, Balloons Over Africa (tel. 013/737-6950; www.balloonsoverafrica.co.za; R2,400) prides itself on its expertise -- the company's chief pilot, Kevin Roberson, is a multiple winner of the South Africa Hot Air Balloon Championships.
Along with KwaZulu-Natal, this is the prime bird-watching destination in South Africa, providing enormously varied habitats. For expert advice and tailor-made tours to these areas, as well as to other top birding destinations in southern Africa, contact Lawson's Birding and Wildlife Tours (tel. 013/741-2458; www.lawsons.co.za).
Kapama (tel. 012/368-0600; www.kapama.co.za) offers elephant-back safaris in its Big 5 reserve located near Hoedspruit; either overnight at its luxury tented flagship, Camp Jabulani (www.campjabulani.com), or come for a day trip and book a 90-minute ride for R1,350.
Trout fishing on the highland Escarpment is well established, with an infrastructure of self-catering cottages, guesthouses, and lodges situated on well-stocked lakes and streams. Dullstroom is the unofficial capital of the trout-fishing areas, and rod rental, fees, and accommodations can be arranged through the helpful Dullstroom Reservations (tel. 013/254-0254; www.dullstroom.biz). For information on trout fishing in the Letaba area, contact Magoebaskloof-Byadladi Tourist Association (tel. 015/276-4972 or 015/276-5047; www.magoebaskloof.com).
This region is famous for combining golf with wildlife. The 9-hole course at Skukuza (tel. 013/735-5543; www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/activities/golf_course.php; R160, add R40 for club hire) is quite possibly the most dangerous course in the world -- it is unfenced, and wild animals wander the greens at will. More wild golfing experiences await at the exclusive 18-hole course at Leopard Creek Country Club (tel. 013/791-2000; www.leopardcreek.co.za), co-owned by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Besides the resident leopard, crocs and hippos lurk in the aptly named water hazards, and the clubhouse is considered the best on the continent. To play here, you'll have to book into the nearby Buhala Game Lodge (tel. 013/792-4372; www.buhala.co.za). Private game lodges that can also arrange access are Jock Safari Lodge, Lukimbi, Singita, Sabi Sabi, MalaMala, Lion Sands, Leopard Hills, Ngala, and Londolozi. A good (and far less pricey) alternative is the 18-hole Hans Merensky (tel. 015/781-3931), which borders Kruger and is often visited by its wildlife. You can either book into the Hans Merensky Hotel & Estate (www.hansmerensky.com) or combine with a safari and book into luxurious Makalali (also reviewed later in this chapter), a private game lodge that lies just under an hour away.
Golfing in the Wild -- Golfing in big-game country is not to be taken lightly -- a golfer at Hans Merensky was trampled to death by an elephant that had broken through the fence from neighboring Kruger because she tried to confront it. Golfers at the clubs that are also home to wild animals should heed the warning signs posted at water hazards and elsewhere. Should you encounter a large mammal or predator, remain still, then back away quietly -- under no circumstances should you run. If the thought of meeting a large pachyderm or leopard in the rough puts you right off course, you can choose a safer scenic route: The 9-hole Pilgrim's Rest course (tel. 013/764-1177; www.pilgrims-rest.co.za) and the more challenging 18-hole championship course at White River Country Club (tel. 013/751-3781; www.whiterivercountryclub.co.za) are both popular.
Helicopter Trips & Scenic Flights
If you fancy flying through cavernous gorges and across verdant valleys, consider getting a bird's-eye view of the region with Mpumalanga Helicopter Co. (tel. 084/505-2052; www.mhelicopter.co.za). Rates for two passengers start at R5,775 for the 45-minute scenic Cascades trip; golf packages and fly-in safaris are also available. If you prefer small, single-propeller planes, Dave Gunn of Airventures (tel. 082/600-5388) offers flights out of Dullstroom.
Hiking/Safaris On Foot
The region's myriad hiking trails offer excellent scenic opportunities. Lodges and camps in and around Kruger all offer bush walks, but dedicated hikers should look no further than Plains Camp at Rhino Walking Safari (Southern Kruger). Sharing a border with MalaMala Game Reserve, this massive 12,000-hectare (29,640-acre) "restricted wilderness" concession allows no off-road game drives. The focus at the four-unit tented Plains Camp is then firmly on walking, and guests are also given the opportunity to overnight at the camp's "sleep-out digs," deep in the bush (70 min. on foot from Plains Camp), where tents have been erected on decks high up on stilts at a watering hole (www.isibindi.co.za; R4,730-5,440 double/day). Kruger National Park has excellent-value 3-day walking trails (R2,710 per person for the duration) in various locations throughout the reserve, as well as a backpack hike, while Ngala, a tented camp in the Timbavati reserve, offers walking safaris for the well-heeled. If you're traveling here via the Panorama Route, note that the region has a number of excellent day trails, most of which are near the Escarpment towns of Sabie and Graskop, and either are free or charge a nominal fee -- the 14km (8.75-mile) Loerie Trail takes you through some of the region's most attractive surrounds. If you're not that active, stroll the pretty 3km (1.75-mile) Forest Falls Walk. If you're traveling through the Letaba area, the 11km (6.75-mile) circular Rooikat Trail (tel. 015/307-4310), which follows a stream through the forests of Agatha, is highly recommended.
The top overnight hike on the Escarpment is the 3-day Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail (R30 per person per night), a 33km (20-mile) walk that follows the Blyde River Canyon from the panoramic heights of God's Window to the lower-lying Bourke's Luck Potholes. Hikers' huts are basic: Bunk beds, flush toilets, braai (barbecue) sites, pots, and firewood are provided; all else must be carried in (don't forget toilet paper!). The views and vegetation make this one of the most popular trails in South Africa, so book in advance (tel. 013/759-5432).
South African Forestry (SAFCOL, marketed as Komatiland Ecotourism) has created hiking trails with overnight facilities through some incredibly scenic areas in the Limpopo Province, including the relatively tough 2-, 3-, and 5-day Magoebaskloof Trails (highly recommended), and the 2-, 3-, and 5-day Fanie Botha Trails (both R75 per person per night). For details and bookings, contact tel. 013/754-2724 or go to www.komatiecotourism.co.za.
A selection of horseback and pony trails for beginner, intermediate, and experienced riders can be booked through Big 5 Country, ranging from 15 minutes to 3 hours in duration, and including night rides in the African bush. Pony rides start at R55 per person for 15 minutes, while bush trails are in the range of R365 to R750.
Hunting season usually runs from April to September, though some farms enjoy year-round concessions. For more information on procedures and bookings, contact the Mpumalanga Parks Board (tel. 013/759-5300; www.mpumalangaparksboard.com); for information on professional hunters and outfitters, contact the Lowveld Hunting Association (www.lowveldhunters.co.za).
Within Kruger Park, Olifants rest camp (discussed later in this chapter) offers 3- to 4-hour mountain biking trails, with the added excitement of spotting wildlife en route. Sabie is a fabulous area to explore by bike; ask about the Ceylon Trails. If you're traveling in the Letaba area, the exhilarating 19km (12-mile) Debengeni Downhill, a forestry road that starts at the top of the Magoebaskloof Pass and plummets down to the Debengeni Falls, is highly recommended for adrenaline junkies.
BacTrac Adventure Trails (tel. 082/808-0866) offers excursions on "quad bikes" (four-wheel motorcycles) through the Magoebaskloof forests; unless you really want the T-shirt and a visit to a crocodile farm, the best-value option is the half-day trip.
Sabie River Adventures (tel. 013/737-8266; www.sabieriveradventures.co.za) offers a white-water-tubing excursion on the scenic upper reaches of the Sabie river. The excursion includes a bit of canyoning (leaping into pools, that is), so wear a bathing suit (you can hire a wet suit for R38 during the winter months). If this sounds too adventurous, the company also offers more sedate rafting excursions on the lower Sabie section. Both trips cost R290 and last about 3 to 4 hours. When water levels are high (in summer, usually Sept-May), rafting trips take place on the more exhilarating Blyde River, which covers a few Grade IV rapids.