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HHaven't we all at some point watched in envy as raptors soared overhead in flight?
The closest most of us will get to emulating their actions is by paragliding, or 'stepping into the sky', one of the most rewarding aerial sports for travellers.
In South Africa, paragliding is a perfect match for the geography. Here are high plateaux dropping off steeply into the lowlands, and mountains with predictable thermal uprushes. Many paragliders swear by the Karoo flatlands, where there are high cloud bases and steady thermals to carry you for hours.
South Africa's many ridges and mountain lines run like great arteries throughout the country, making paragliding in South Africa both a delight and, at times, a daunting challenge.
PParagliding is described as the skill of flying an inflatable wing craft. A basic four-day course teamed with the right mental attitude and basic physical requirements will prepare you for the thrill of your first paragliding session.
Foreign pilots keen to taste South Africa's paragliding opportunities may obtain a temporary licence (valid for three months) and limited medical and CASEVAC insurance through the South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
Although most of the country's nine provinces offer the sport, the relatively flat Karoo heartland is one of the best areas for long-distance paragliding.
The towns of De Aar and Kuruman in Northern Cape province are the centres of Karoo paragliding. South African paragliding has generated more than 50% of world records in this sport, most of them established in the Karoo.
Pilots are launched from the De Aar Aerodrome with a 'payout' winch fixed on the back of a vehicle, although even here a mountain launch is possible.
Western Cape has more than 60 official paragliding launch-and-flight sites.
Towards the north of KwaZulu-Natal along the Drakensberg Mountains you'll come across dauntless 'one-wings' riding thermals or taking the 'ridge lift', a wave of wind that blows up the escarpment. The rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are also a favoured spot for this rewarding leisure activity.
BBut you don't have to be a fully fledged paragliding pilot to experience this thrill. You could also book a tandem flight with an experienced pilot. The most popular spots for tandem flights are Lion’s Head and Signal Hill in Cape Town and at Wilderness, further along the southern coast of Western Cape. Tandem flights are always weather-dependent and so cannot be guaranteed.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (SAHPA)
Tel: +27 (0)74 152 2505
Best time to visit
Paragliding is very weather-dependent, so even if you've booked a tandem flight it might not necessarily materialise. The windy, rainy season in Western Cape lasts from April to September, but those are also the months when the interior and eastern parts of the country experience warm, dry days and steady, but not generally excessive winds.
What will it cost?
Tandem glides usually start from around R900 per person.
What to pack
Paragliding head offices under the auspices of the South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association will advise on equipment hire and the correct gear. Paragliders fold up neatly into a back pack.
- South African Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association (SAHPA)
- Paragliding South Africa
- Paragliding Adventures