Make this your best wild year yet with our selection of unforgettable experiences. From river rafting on the Orange River to exploring nature on horseback and sleeping in a cave, these destinations deserve a spot on your itinerary for 2016. By Arnold Ras

Start the year with a Wild Card in hand to enjoy unlimited access to most of Southern Africa’s premier conservation areas including SANParks, CapeNature, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Msinsi Resorts & Game Reserves and Big Game Parks of Swaziland. We’ve chosen 10 wild places and experiences that will blow your mind!

Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve

This Msinsi reserve has been described as “a slice of Africa on Durban’s doorstep”, with buffalo, giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope calling it home. For a fresh perspective on the birds and animals, take to the dam’s 51 hectares of water, the perfect playground for canoeing enthusiasts. And don’t stress about transporting your own canoe – a canoe, two life jackets and two paddles can be rented at the reserve’s reception for R175 per day. Picture courtesy of Msinsi Resorts & Game Reserves

Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve: This Msinsi reserve has been described as “a slice of Africa on Durban’s doorstep”, with buffalo, giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope calling it home. For a fresh perspective on the birds and animals, take to the dam’s 51 hectares of water, the perfect playground for canoeing enthusiasts. And don’t stress about transporting your own canoe – a canoe, two life jackets and two paddles can be rented at the reserve's reception for R175 per day. Picture courtesy of Msinsi Resorts & Game Reserves

Bird Island Nature Reserve

This three-hectare bird paradise lies just off the shore of Lambert’s Bay on the Cape’s West Coast. It is home to thousands of blue-eyed Cape gannets, and is one of only six sites worldwide where they breed; other species include cormorants and Cape fur seals. From the specially constructed hide visitors enjoy an unrivalled opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the sea’s most beautiful birds. Make sure your camera is charged! Check Bird Island’s visiting times and directions. Picture courtesy of Kim Stevens, CapeNature

Bird Island Nature Reserve This three-hectare bird paradise lies just off the shore of Lambert’s Bay on the Cape’s West Coast. It is home to thousands of blue-eyed Cape gannets, and is one of only six sites worldwide where they breed; other species include cormorants and Cape fur seals. From the specially constructed hide visitors enjoy an unrivalled opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the sea’s most beautiful birds. Make sure your camera is charged! Check Bird Island’s visiting times and directions. Picture courtesy of Kim Stevens, CapeNature

De Hoop Nature Reserve’s Whale Trail

Only three hours’ drive from Cape Town awaits an unforgettable five-night hiking experience. Stretching over 55 kilometres from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, the trail promises ample panoramic views, a wide variety of fynbos, protea species that grow nowhere else in the world, and the opportunity to spot the critically endangered Cape vulture. For many the highlight is day three’s coastal stretch of 7.8km, which offers the chance to scan the waters for those magical whales. Find out more about the Whale Trail’s accommodation, rules and regulations. Click here for a detailed map. Picture courtesy of Gilly Louw

De Hoop Nature Reserve’s Whale Trail Only three hours’ drive from Cape Town awaits an unforgettable five-night hiking experience. Stretching over 55 kilometres from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, the trail promises ample panoramic views, a wide variety of fynbos, protea species that grow nowhere else in the world, and the opportunity to spot the critically endangered Cape vulture. For many the highlight is day three’s coastal stretch of 7.8km, which offers the chance to scan the waters for those magical whales. Find out more about the Whale Trail’s accommodation, rules and regulations. Click here for a detailed map. Picture by Gilly Louw

iMfolozi MTB Challenge 2016

One of the most sought-after MTB events in South Africa, this gruelling 55km race takes place in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. The race aids in the conservation of the endangered African wild dog. Grab your mountain bike and do your bit for conservation while becoming one with the Zulu kingdom. Caution: Not for the faint-hearted. Visit the WildSeries website for more information. Picture courtesy of WildSeries

iMfolozi MTB Challenge One of the most sought-after MTB events in South Africa, this gruelling 55km race takes place in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. The race aids in the conservation of the endangered African wild dog. Grab your mountain bike and do your bit for conservation while becoming one with the Zulu kingdom. Caution: Not for the faint-hearted. Picture courtesy of WildSeries

Nossob 4×4 Eco Trail

For the more adventurous nature lover, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park’s four-day off-road excursion is sure to get the blood pumping. Explore the park’s dunes between Nossob and Twee Rivieren rest camps and fall in love with the unique vegetation, fleet-footed cheetahs, black-maned Kalahari lions and feisty pygmy falcons. SANParks’ expert guides will unlock the secrets of the wilderness and explain how plants and animals thrive in this harsh environment. Visit the SANParks website for rates and useful information. Picture by Kate Collins

Nossob 4x4 Eco Trail For the more adventurous nature lover, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park’s four-day off-road excursion is sure to get the blood pumping. Explore the park’s dunes between Nossob and Twee Rivieren rest camps and fall in love with the unique vegetation, fleet-footed cheetahs, black-maned Kalahari lions and feisty pygmy falcons. SANParks’ expert guides will unlock the secrets of the wilderness and explain how plants and animals thrive in this harsh environment. Visit the SANParks website for rates and useful information. Image by Kate Collins

Chubeka Overnight Cave Trail

Swaziland, and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, is one of Southern Africa’s must-see destinations. Here plains game graze placidly and lush grasslands stretch into the distance. There’s no better way to explore and get close to Mlilwane’s wildlife than on horseback. Try to beat this: a fully-catered tour of Nyonyane Mountain and Mantenga Valley, spending the night in a cave that overlooks the impressive Valley of Heaven known as Ezulwini. The trail is open to riders of all levels – what are you waiting for? Send an email to [email protected] for any enquiries or to make a booking. Picture courtesy of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks

Chubeka Overnight Cave Trail Swaziland, and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, is one of Southern Africa’s must-see destinations. Here plains game graze placidly and lush grasslands stretch into the distance. There’s no better way to explore and get close to Mlilwane’s wildlife than on horseback. Try to beat this: a fully-catered tour of Nyonyane Mountain and Mantenga Valley, spending the night in a cave that overlooks the impressive Valley of Heaven known as Ezulwini. The trail is open to riders of all levels – what are you waiting for? Send an email to reservations@biggameparks.org for any enquiries or to make a booking. Picture courtesy of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours

Fancy gliding 30 metres high between centuries-old trees in an indigenous rainforest? Then sign up for an exhilarating treetop tour in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Get strapped in and fly like a Knysna turaco between the trees. Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours is situated 45 minutes from Plettenberg Bay and bookings are essential. Visit the Canopy Tours website for a video preview and more information, or send an email to [email protected]. Picture courtesy of Canopy Tours South Africa

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours Fancy gliding 30 metres high between centuries-old trees in an indigenous rainforest? Then sign up for an exhilarating treetop tour in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Get strapped in and fly like a Knysna turaco between the trees. Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours is situated 45 minutes from Plettenberg Bay and bookings are essential. Visit the Canopy Tours website for a video preview and more information, or send an email to adventure@gardenroute.co.za. Picture courtesy of Canopy Tours South Africa

Spekboom Tented Camp

A night spent in this camp in the game viewing area of Addo Elephant National Park is one you’ll never forget. Think wild animals drinking at the waterhole, starry skies and the peace and seclusion of a small camp with just five tents. The mazes of spekboom trees offer guests true privacy, while the chance of seeing spotted hyenas, lions and black-backed jackals makes for an exciting stay. Here the day’s first cup of coffee gets new meaning thanks to the scents and sounds of the African bush, not to mention what this national park is famous for – its glorious grey giants. Picture by Rory Alexander

Spekboom Tented Camp A night spent in this camp in the game viewing area of Addo Elephant National Park is one you’ll never forget. Think wild animals drinking at the waterhole, starry skies and the peace and seclusion of a small camp with just five tents. The mazes of spekboom trees offer guests true privacy, while the chance of seeing spotted hyenas, lions and black-backed jackals makes for an exciting stay. Here the day’s first cup of coffee gets new meaning thanks to the scents and sounds of the African bush, not to mention what this national park is famous for – its glorious grey giants. Picture by Rory Alexander

Rafting on the Orange River

Few things in life promise an adrenalin rush like river rafting on South Africa’s mighty Orange River. The Orange boasts a variety of rafting conditions from laid-back meandering channels to wild and daunting rapids. In 2016, Desert Kayak Trails will be offering rafting trips in the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Community guides will highlight interesting facts about the landscape and wildlife while a support crew will set up temporary camps on the riverbank. But it does not have to end here… Expand your adventure and visit the Fish River Canyon on the Namibian side of the park. For more information contact [email protected]. Picture courtesy of Gravity Adventures

Rafting on the Orange River Few things in life promise an adrenalin rush like river rafting on South Africa’s mighty Orange River. The Orange boasts a variety of rafting conditions from laid-back meandering channels to wild and daunting rapids. In 2016, Desert Kayak Trails will be offering rafting trips in the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Community guides will highlight interesting facts about the landscape and wildlife while a support crew will set up temporary camps on the riverbank. But it does not have to end here… Expand your adventure and visit the Fish River Canyon on the Namibian side of the park. For more information contact hendrik.prins@sanparks.org. Image courtesy of Gravity Adventures

Cathedral Cave

Many visitors to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park call this destination with the Maluti Mountains as backdrop a landscape lover’s dream come true. There are plenty of incredible sandstone formations to take your breath away, but it’s the guided walk to Cathedral Cave that will keep you coming back for more. This ancient circular cave is the product of sandstone weathering and was formed over millions of years by water, wind and changes in temperature. Wild Card programme manager Hein Grobler calls it “a sacred place”. Make sure to contact the park prior to your visit to arrange for a guide. Picture by Hein Grobler

Cathedral Cave Many visitors to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park call this destination with the Maluti Mountains as backdrop a landscape lover’s dream come true. There are plenty of incredible sandstone formations to take your breath away, but it’s the guided walk to Cathedral Cave that will keep you coming back for more. This ancient circular cave is the product of sandstone weathering and was formed over millions of years by water, wind and changes in temperature. Wild Card programme manager Hein Grobler calls it “a sacred place”. Make sure to contact the park prior to your visit to arrange for a guide. Picture by Hein Grobler