Shark diving!? How was that?
It was spectacular! They do the chumming [on the boat] to attract them and then suddenly these fins come in to view. At the time, all I was thinking was, ‘we’re gonna need a bigger boat!’ Then you basically climb into what can only be described as a large shopping trolley among these great white sharks – they were between five and seven metres long. Just before you get in the [instructors] say, ‘Oh, don’t forget to keep your fingers inside the cage!’ Once you get in [the water] though the sharks’ beauty takes over; they’re quite majestic. They cruise along quite slowly – opportunists rather than predators.
How did you film for the show? Was there a big crew following you around?
It’s always very small; we have myself, my producer, two cameramen and a couple of guys driving a support vehicle.
How does making a TV show affect your experience exploring a country?
I think it’s a bit 50/50. Sometimes it’s a pain and sometimes it’s an advantage, because people want to talk to you. On the whole, it’s probably a bonus; you can convince people to spend more time with you and you can get into places that you potentially wouldn’t be able to. Our main problem was time. If you speak to anyone who travels they could always do with more time in a place. We’re always up against it and eventually you have to go back to reality.
How does South African Adventure differ from your other TV shows?
In the other shows, like The Long Way Round and Race to Dakar, we were travelling through countries quite quickly. Staying in one country was great – it’s always about getting to know the people; that’s the fun thing. Riding the motorcycle from place to place meant we could easily meet people. We met these diamond miners, who vacuum diamonds off the seabed on the west coast. We got to know them, and know about stuff that goes on in the world that no-one thinks about.
Where was the best riding?
The whole place is a treasure trove. One of the most fun and craziest rides was when we went up the Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains. The last few kilometres of this dirt road made up a huge switchback, hairpin corner to get to the top. Although I knew we would be there in winter, I didn’t realise that there would be so much snow. I had no idea, I just expected to see elephants, but it was minus seven with snow-drifts everywhere. Halfway up it became sheet ice; I couldn’t get the bike any further! I had to abandon that and managed to convince this guy in a jeep to take us up. We had the most hair-raising journey – on this one bit of road we started slipping backwards at quite an alarming rate and only just missed falling of this cliff. We were all bailing out of the car with our hands on the wheels. Dodgy, but brilliant.
Did you get chance to do any riding off camera?
Yes we did lots of long journeys without the camera. From Cape Town to Durban is beautiful, if you keep off the motorways every single bit of road is just stunning.
What bits of kit are most essential for a trip like this?
The motorcycle: a BMW 1200 GS. A pack of baby wipes. And the best tent and sleeping bag you can afford, it’s so important to get a decent night’s sleep.
What was your favourite activity while you were over there?
I think probably going gold mining in a huge working mine east of Johannesburg. We went deep into the mountain and set charges off to blow things up – that was great fun.
What was the craziest thing you tried?
Para-motoring! You get a parachute and they put an engine with a propeller on your back, you don’t even need a mountain to jump off – you just run and take off from a flat surface. On my second flight I flew over a game reserve, I saw elephants, lions and a lot of these dodgy-looking trees with inch-long thorns – I was thinking, ‘Christ, if I mess up it’s going to really hurt!’ You’ll have to watch the show to find out what happens.
What will you take away from this experience?
I think Africa gets an unfair rub. The one thing that you come across with Africa and South Africa is that 90 percent of the people are fantastic, they want to help and it’s just not as bad as people think. You can have a great experience.
What are you up to now?
Well I’ve been travelling a lot this year, and I’ve just enjoyed Christmas with the family in Marrakesh. I take motorcycle tours in January every year from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, and onto Malawi and Mozambique, so that’s next, and in February, we’re doing another tour in Australia. There’s also the possibility of doing another Extreme Frontiers, maybe in America or South America.
Charley Boorman’s South African Adventure, Wednesday 9 January, on Channel 5 at 8pm. Viewers can ask Charley questions live throughout the first two episodes to his twitter account @charleyboorman with the hashtag #extremefrontier