With great deserts, mountains, forests and rivers, Africa has plenty of natural thrills for adrenalin junkies (not to mention that living in Africa can be a roller-coaster ride all of its own). That hasn?t stopped anyone from enjoying the artificial thrills of theme parks, however.
South Africa may not boast a Kingda Ka (the fastest and highest roller-coaster in the world, at Six Flags in New Jersey) or a Steel Dragon (the longest coaster, in Japan), but our theme parks do offer buckets of fun and rides that require nerves of steel.
For variety: Gold Reef City
Gold Reef City in Johannesburg is the only theme park in the world built on a gold mine ? and it makes the most of this, with underground tours, demonstrations of gold pours, museums and a Victorian theme echoing Joburg?s early mining-town days. It also has a dizzying array of rides.
Roller-coaster fans can brave the mighty Anaconda, a coaster that inverts six times, or the Golden Loop (0-86km/h in 4.5 seconds) with a reverse loop thrown in. The smaller Jozi Express is a family coaster that manages a respectable 68km/h, while the Runaway Train careens through an abandoned mine. The unique Tower of Terror plummets 45m from a platform into a dark mine shaft, before exiting at speed. Equally terrifying is the Miner?s Revenge, a revolving open gondola that does a 360-degree flip.
This park has the only Giant Wheel in the country (55m diameter), as well as a spinning UFO ride, the Tornado (like crazy teacups, only more extreme), the Waterswing (not for those prone to sea-sickness) and a log-flume water ride with a 22-metre drop. There are many more rides for kids and a Big Top tent with fun shows.
Don?t miss: Africa?s only 4D cinema, which brings films to life with 3D goggles, seats that move, smells, sounds, wind machines, water sprays and leg ticklers.
Tip: Stay at the Victorian-themed hotel ? it?s a good way to wind down.
For the theme: The Lost City
The Lost City at Sun City may not have traditional rides, but the park makes up for this in looks, with a theme based on the legend of an ancient African city destroyed by an earthquake. Expect mystical ?ruins? and a grumpy volcano that rumbles every hour on the hour.
The Lost City and Valley of Waves have all manner of water rides ? straight plunges, crazy curved ones, two in total darkness ? set amid pools, waterfalls, rocks and greenery. The most daunting is the Temple of Courage ? swimmers drop 17m down a chute, under a bridge and into a tiny pool.
For those who prefer to be stirred, not shaken, tubes on the Lazy River meander round an island home to Adventure Mountain (the kids? zone) and an African village of shops, games and food kiosks. There is also a path leading through four forests (baobab, jacaranda, tropical and rainforest) and over a scary(ish) swaying bridge.
Don?t miss the showpiece Roaring Lagoon, a monster-sized pool that produces a 1.8m-high wave every 90 seconds. It has a sandy beach with palm trees and overlooking it all is a fabulous deck with a cocktail bar and Royal Bath swimming pool.
Tip: Ask about the ?Keys to the City? for free entry during the week, half price on weekends.
For kicks: Ratanga Junction
All kinds of thrills collide at Cape Town?s Ratanga Junction. Experience the rush of a parachute jump on The Slingshot ? freefall at up to 130km/h from 10 storeys ? then bounce up and down a few times.
Water rides include Crocodile Gorge, a river-rapids adventure, and the Stargazer, a speedy slide through a curved tube on a lilo. Ratanga?s architects wanted to create a sense of entering an abandoned trading outpost in the jungle and it certainly feels like something out of an H. Rider Haggard adventure. There are more than 20 other rides, mostly for kids, including bumper cars and a swing boat. There is entertainment at Skeleton Bay and kids may meet mascot Murphy the Meerkat.
Don?t miss Monkey Falls, a log-flume ride that drops 19 metres over a cliff, and the gorgeous, old-style merry-go-round.
Tip: Save your feet and catch the train through the park ? it stops at Monkey Falls and the Diamond Devil.
For water babies: uShaka Marine World
Fancy flying down a six-storey waterslide? The Drop Zone is an almost-vertical 18-metre fall, the most extreme in Africa. It?s at Durban?s uShaka Marine World, in the Wet ?n Wild section with pools, water jets, fountains and slides.
Only a little less frightening are The Plunge, The Torpedo and the dark tunnel of The Mamba (not for claustrophobics), while the Zoom-Zoom is a fun five-lane racing slide. Large inflatables send happy families down the Jika-Jika slide, another one drops them into the Dizzy Duzi Adventure River that goes around the park, under waterfalls and past shark tanks.
The aquarium is an adventure in itself: sloping floors, drips, creaking sounds and quirkily decorated tanks contribute to an atmospheric ?undersea wreck? theme. Visitors can swim with the fish in the Snorkel Lagoon ? or with the sharks, in a Perspex glass cylinder that is dragged through their tank. uShaka also has dolphin and seal shows, a massive Phantom Ship with two smart restaurants, a beach area and a cute bunch of sea-creature mascots that join in the twice-daily uShaka Parade.
Don?t miss The Oceanwalker, a chance to walk through an aquarium tank wearing a glass helmet into which oxygen is pumped.
Tip: Regulars can skip queues with an Annual Pass for R385 (regular combo-ticket entry is R135).Article courtesy of Horizons, BA/Comair's in-flight magazine published by Touchline Media.