Marvellous microadventures

British adventurer Alastair Humphreys coined the term ‘microadventures’ for “simple expeditions and challenges, which are close to home, affordable and easy to organise”. He designated 2011 his ‘Year of British Microadventures’ and every few weeks he has undertaken a self-designed challenge ranging from entering a race to sleeping sans tent on a hilltop and a source-to-sea adventure down a local river.

Humphreys is no stranger to mammoth expeditions. He is most recognised for his around-the-world cycle, which took him four years to complete (he wrote a book about this). He has also rowed to France, traversed Iceland by foot and packraft, raced a yacht across the Atlantic, paddled 800 kilometres down the Yukon River and he has walked the length of the holy Kaveri River in India – amongst other adventures.

All too often we just don’t have enough time for adventures. With 15 days of annual leave, 52 weekends (approx. 104 days) and nine weekday public holidays, excluding 25th and 26th December, that’s 128 days to play. For sure, this time is fragmented, which makes it unsuitable for trekking the length of the Himalayas, but it does open up opportunities – outside of household chores and spending time with friends and family – for a few microadventures every year.

Humphreys’ microadventure mission focuses on adventures in his native UK. He affirms that you do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to undertake an expedition and adds that you don’t need to be an elite athlete or rolling in money either.

Competent in many disciplines, Humphreys’ year of microadventures has included running, hiking, paddling, packrafting, swimming orienteering/navigating, camping and climbing; often only one discipline per microadventure (easy admin). “I believe that adventure is about stretching yourself: mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability,” he adds.

With this in mind, let’s plant the seed for your first microadventure.

  • How much time do you have available; one day, a night, a weekend, three or four days?
  • Discipline of choice – run, bike, paddle, surf, climb, surfski etc.
  • Budget (food, transport, accommodation)

The amount of time you have determines how much distance you can cover with your chosen discipline and where you can run and bike in pretty much any weather, most water disciplines go from unpleasant to downright dangerous in bad conditions. Remember too that transport to and from your adventure location impacts the amount of time you have available for the physical adventure. If this is the case, plan microadventures close to home to keep the budget low and allow maximum time for the adventure itself.

City slicker

Yes, you can have an adventure in the urban environment. Here are some basic ideas:

  • Plan a circular route linking at least five of the city’s parks or run a route between all trig beacons with a specified radius of the city centre. If you’re in a coastal area, run the stretch of coast between city limits or from the coast to the city’s highest point.
  • Look into the history of your city and plan a route that passes statues, monuments, historical buildings and other features of interest.
  • You love coffee? Run or bike between the coffee shops of your favourite franchise.
  • Something for city paddlers? Do 10 kilometres on each of your city’s accessible dams – this would work well in Joburg where Florida, Emmies, Germiston and Homestead are all easily accessible.

Just outside city limits

The possibilities really are endless for off-road adventures on foot or bike. Google Earth is your friend.

  • Take a few hours to run a two or three-day hiking trail in a nearby nature reserve.
  • Run or bike between towns outside of the city. I had fun running, with friends, from Springs to Heidelberg. We planned a route that was mostly on dirt roads and paths.

In the mountains

And if you like mountains and wilderness areas then the words Witteberg, Drakensberg and Cederberg roll off your tongue.

  • Plan an efficient route to collect an accumulative altitude total by bagging spot heights and trig beacons
  • Work alphabetically – from A to Z – through peaks (or climbing routes in an area)
  • Use a route over the mountains to get from one town to another

Lack of creativity is your only limitation.

On the water

Paddling disciplines cover flat water, white water, rivers and sea. Source-to-sea, source-to-dam, lighthouse-to-lighthouse and around-the-island themes are just for starters. If a water source is too small to paddle, hike the length or even go tubing on sections.

Special occasions

Music, sport and art festivals as well as nature’s annual displays are a great excuse for a microadventure. Run, walk or cycle from home or a nearby centre to the occasion. Think OppiKoppi and Splashy Fen, Hermanus’ Whale Festival, flowers of the Northern Cape around Springbok, the Knysna Oyster Festival, Ficksburg’s Cherry Festival… Pick your poison and look for a fun way to get there (and back).

More, I want more

If you’ve got more time than just a weekend you can plan longer challenges like riding the Garden Route’s back roads, paddling the Orange River, cycling the country’s coastline, hiking the length of the Drakensberg or along the Wild Coast. You may want to combine a vehicular road trip with your chosen discipline like stopping in at every surf spot up the East coast. Or, visit every town, over (or under) a certain size, in the country that begins with ‘A’ and run from the town’s post office to its highest point, for example.

Something old, something new

You may be an old hand at cycling, so learn a new discipline. Sign up for a surf school in Durban or a rock climbing workshop in Waterval Boven, Mpumalanga.

Microadventures offer unlimited potential for adventurous fun on your own or with friends. Keep it local, inexpensive and, most of all, simple.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Originally published in Go Multi Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012.


  1. started an annual hiking weekend in cape town with mates a few years back. get on a train,sleep over somewhere. walk home. simple.

    don’t know why we stopped doing it, was great fun!

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