Not-so-soft adventure travel

Not-so-soft adventure travel
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What’s soft: Tubing in Brunei 

What’s the edge: Mini-rapids 

I’ll admit it – I didn’t know what tubing was when I agreed to do it. I have to say that the name is somewhat misleading. To me, it suggests confined spaces, going underwater and wearing lifejackets. It is an activity often mentioned in the same breath as canyoning and bungee jumping. I had psyched myself up for a tubing adventure, so imagine my surprise to find my vessel to be a rubber ring and my purpose to make like a certain yellow bath time toy down river. 

That’s not to say I am not relieved. Floating down the river alongside the Ulu Ulu Resort is slow enough to closely observe overhanging tree branches and meditative enough to banish all thought of the ridiculously proportioned black python I had earlier seen wriggling into the very waterway I float upon.  

It does get a little wild in places – the Temburong River has patches of shallow water with rocks that deceitfully look like water bubbles. Let’s call them mini-rapids. Several times I had to raise my bottom from its comfortable position in order to not bash my coccyx. Then there’s the steering component to avoid islands made of stone rubble. Side-specific paddling is also needed to navigate my vessel, if only to avoid the bank where I saw the python. Now, who ever said that tubing was soft? 

What’s soft: Horseback safari in South Africa 

What’s the edge: The Big five up-close 

This is no gentle trot in the paddock. There are predators about and you have to rely on and trust your own horsemanship skills. You’re in the bush and if something startles your steed you will have to muster all your saddle and rein skill to control the situation. 

Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill are award-winning game lodges that have 70 horses trained for riding safaris. Located three hours drive north of Johannesburg it is one of the best places to experience a horseback safari – namely because out of the Big Five, only three are found here; the leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros. Which means you won’t have to contend with an elephant stampede or a lion frenzy if your horse bolts and you are thrown off. The lurk of a leopard, however, is just enough of a threat to put your nerves on edge and subsequently make you all the more keen to stay in the saddle. 

This alternative safari experience is a selling point for travellers who want to add an unconventional experience to their holiday, material that is ripe both for the bucket list and post event bragging rights. The key point of difference between Land Rover and horse is the silence. With no engine, your senses will be heightened and attuned to any calls of the wild that sound threatening. This makes the bush experience all the more vivid.  

What’s soft: Kayaking in Vanuatu 

What’s the edge: Leaping fish  

Lets be frank. Kayaking is not usually a nerve jangling pursuit. But along the river’s edge it does give us a chance to practice our limbo skills as we duck and weave between the low hanging mangrove branches. As the group becomes more confident we follow the lead of our guide from Vanuatu Ecotours, dodging rocks that only he can see hiding beneath the surface of the Rentabao River that runs through Vanuatu’s Efate Island.  

Slicing through such stunning water, you can’t help but want to be in it. You can disembark the kayak not just to swim but to wade to bubbling water on the sand, hot like a natural spa underfoot. The minerals and natural heat in this spring do wonders for the complexion.  

The locals swing on ropes, Tarzan-like, above the river. Suddenly, a thud. A large silver fish flies through the air and straight into the side of our kayak. And it doesn’t stop at one, Soon, jumping fish are all around us. But are they jumping to avoid something bigger? Our guide is reassuring. Sharks are uncommon around Efate. The fish jump simply because they can. 

What’s soft: Island-hopping in Sabah 

What’s the edge: Turtle drama 

This adventure starts in Sandakan, where we leave the bustle of stalls spilling onto streets for the port. One leap from pier to boat later and we are cruising to Turtle Island, a journey of 45 minutes. Mid-way we encounter what appears to be an art installation. Brown nets and bamboo stick out of the water in a trampoline-style design that stretches for miles. Despite the aesthetic, they serve a practical purpose as local fishing traps. 

Turtle Island is as paradisiacal as any archipelago – all azure water lapping cream sand. But every night this island becomes a story of life and death. Green sea turtles travel the seven seas in a narrative worthy of an epic documentary. You see, the turtles always return to the place they were born to lay their eggs in the same chambers of sand they flippered out from as hatchlings.  

Overnight visitors will watch this process happen. Every night of the year turtles arrive on this island and in a hypnotic state they deliver the eggs, oblivious to sound and movement. A salty mucus weeps from their eyes, making it look as though they are crying. The rangers say that some nights there are thirty nests taking shape, which becomes a problem when other turtles dig up already-laid nests. This is why the island has a hatchery, which greatly increases the turtle’s chance of survival. Guests can assist the rangers in relocating the eggs to the turtle nursery, which makes the experience as rewarding as it is exciting. 

What’s soft: Watersliding in Samoa 

The edge: Down a rock 

Waterslides. Any kid can tackle them and want for a second round. But what about a waterslide made of rock? That’s an unpredictable adventure that could end in tears. In Samoa, however, the rock has been so smoothed by water as to enable bodies to glide down, but not always with grace.  

The Papase’ea Sliding Rocks have two options – one for kids and one for adults. One of the rock slides reaches the height of five metres. Before you push off, be sure to assess the slickest section of stone to avoid grazes. For the best guidance, watch how the locals tackle the rockslide first. 

But it’s probably best not to follow their lead when they surf barefoot down the rockface, an extreme sport for adventurous types. The best time to go is a few days after heavy rain, as there will be plenty of water to cushion your descent. And if it is too hair-raising an activity, you can simply soak in the fresh water pools at the bottom. 

What’s soft: Horse riding in Vanuatu 

What’s the edge: An equine swim  

The horses walk in a neat and orderly single file procession, following our guide from Hippo Campus Sea Horse Ranch. Perfect for novice riders, these horses seem to know this path well and scarcely need steering. We take a dirt track to a hilltop lookout over the ocean and forest below. This is a great photo opportunity so bring a camera if you can muster up your inner cowboy with reins in one hand and camera in the other.  

We clamber back down the hill for a ride along Mele beach, the longest black sand stretch on Efate. This seems more of a local’s hangout where children splash at us from the waters edge and boys kick a soccer ball. Despite this, the horses remain unfazed. 

At the end of our ride we have the option for a bareback bathing session in the ocean. You have to remove the saddle and get into your swimwear. Sitting on the back of a sweaty horse with nothing but a bikini on isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and some opt out but this is an interesting way to add some kick to your horseriding adventure. I have to say, the horse took some coaxing at first but it was worth it. Once in the salty water we both relished the cool down.


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