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During working hours, they wear high heels, lipstick and linen suits… but, for leisure, they don hiking boots, wetsuits and safety harnesses. They don’t care if their hair gets wet, their mascara smudges or their acrylic nails break. On weekdays they rule the boardroom, on weekends they tame the boondocks. Zip-lining, skydiving, rock-climbing, white-water rafting, abseiling, bungee-jumping: it’s a case of ‘have the gear, do the jump’.

“Women, especially black women, are feeling more empowered,” believes psychologist Sharon Munyaka. “Women have a world of possibility through their access to education, their participation in the economy and the fact that adventure excursions have become more accessible. We no longer feel that we need to ask permission. If we want to do something, we go ahead and do it.”

Debra Robins, director of the Southern Explorer, the KZN South Coast Route that is home to the Lake Eland zipline, which is the longest and highest in southern Africa, agrees. This famed adventure experience is welcoming more and more women and has made Oribi Gorge an aspirational destination. It’s a case of sisters are doing it for themselves, she says.

The Midlands Meander’s Julia Amaral concurs. In addition to hiking, even the most glam visitors are on the lookout for adventures rather than relaxation with hiking, ziplining and carting – which includes an outdoor track that she describes as “Formula 1 in the Midlands”- proving most popular.

Action for adrenaline junkies

“Whenever I can, I go into nature,” admits businesswoman Thobeka Dlamini. “I love adventure sports and activities. I am an adrenaline junkie. Other women see me, and they say: “How do you do that?” They are fascinated by my lifestyle, and they want to try it. I have found more and more women want to experience nature, want adventure.”

Journalist Cebo Bhengu is another adventure addict. “I love new spaces, new experiences, new conversations,” she says, conceding that her profession makes her naturally curious and adventurous. “I love exploring, being in beautiful settings, swimming under waterfalls. I love the beach and the ocean.”

“Since COVID, we have seen an exponential growth in this market,” says Siphelele Luthuli, marketing head at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and influencer (#CertifiedEcoTourismDoyenne). “But there is an additional component. Women want adventure, yes, but they also want luxury. So, they will book a glamping experience where they can stay in a luxury tent and enjoy gourmet dinners while spending their days hiking and exploring.

“A while ago, we ran a campaign called ‘Girls Gone Wild’,” she continues, “We promoted the idea of travel, luxury, wildlife adventure, gourmet food and enjoyment of nature – dining under the stars after a gruelling day of activity. We also threw in the idea of wellness and beauty. These things all complement each other.”

Feeling the freedom

, ever the psychologist, feels that many women are looking for more meaning in life. “Perhaps people feel that their lives are a little humdrum, maybe a little bit empty. Women are not waiting for their men, they are talking to each other more easily, they post their adventures on social media, they encourage each other to try new things. They go on these adventures with their friends – and it is a great way to bond with your kids,” she points out.

“It is so liberating,” adds Thobeka. “It gives you a feeling of absolute freedom. At work we are expected to look a certain way, behave a certain way. I love to bring other people in. They see another black person doing this and they realise they can do this too. When I take my friends hiking, they see the backpack and they say: ‘I can’t do this’. Adventure is life-affirming. This is true whether you are combatting the elements or admiring natural beauty.”

KwaZulu-Natal has the most diverse adventure offerings. The Drakensberg is the premier destination for hiking, with 1 700 kms of trails. The Tugela and Umkomaas rivers offer unrivalled white-water rafting. Along the coast, one can do scuba diving, shark-cage diving, snorkelling, surfing, kayaking and windsurfing. The Big Five game reserves feature guided walking safaris.

“You just have to do it,” Cebo says. “You only live once. You must immerse yourself in new spaces, get new experiences, get the flavours of life, the colours of life. If you are new to this, start small, slowly. Maybe try something local. There are many options. Adventure tourism is safe, you will be in good hands.”

“It is not only the activity,” Sharon says, “it is also the research and the planning and the anticipation. Talk to your friends, build up your risk appetite. Try a few different things, look for groups to join. Just to give you an idea…. I went bungee jumping on my honeymoon and my in-laws have still not got over that!”
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