From shark diving to rock climbing: Here’s how to have an adventure at a five-star resort

Once known for kicked-back holidays, top resorts are now luring thrill-seekers with adventurous activities

There is a growing club of travellers: those who have been to plenty of five-star resorts and consider them conquered territory. What does luxury mean anyway? Is it just beach cabanas and free flowing champagne? More and more, tony travellers are saying “No.” More and more, resorts are finding ways to bring them back by selling them something new. Namely: excitement.

It’s all about creating that “wow-factor experience” for guests, says Glenn Slattery, director of adventures for Castle Hot Springs in Arizona. With appetites for adventure travel growing, he said, many are using their resort excursions to begin training for more extreme trips ahead.

They aren’t alone. Suddenly resorts that were once synonymous with a chilled out holidays are offering the rush factor. They’re partnering with world-class outdoor instructors to coach guests through these daredevil experiences. Rock climbing? Check. Cage diving with great white sharks? Check. Waterfall rappelling? Check.

Of course, it’s not all about the rush. Guides say it’s about finding a deeper connection with the environment, seeing things you might not be able to see from a deck chair, and using outdoor challenges to foster personal growth.

Here’s a look at five heart-pumping add ons from five otherwise laidback resorts.

Free Diving
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Kailua-Kona

Photo by Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

Just how long do you think you could hold your breath underwater? Guests will find out and expand their diving abilities with the new Kimi Werner Ocean Experience, a two-and-a-half day training exclusively for guests of the Four Seasons. Led by a previous U.S. national spearfishing champion who can hold her breath underwater for almost five minutes, the intensive explores how to push past fear and master your thoughts to increase your breath hold underwater. The training is as beautiful as it is challenging, starting in the resort’s 6.8-million-litres carved lava rock pool with a sand bottom that is home to more than 1,000 tropical fish. On day two, Werner and her photographer husband take guests out on a boat along the Kona coast to dive and practise the skills they have learnt as they get up close and personal with local wildlife. The experience ends with a celebratory four-course dinner and wine tasting using locally sourced ingredients.

Cost: US$18,000

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

Gondola Bungy Jumping
The Bergwelt Grindelwald, Switzerland

Photo by Bergwelt Grindelwald

High-altitude adventure is what draws many guests to the Bergwelt, a luxury design hotel nestled in the Swiss Alps. Its partnership with Outdoor Switzerland includes such exhilarating seasonal adventures as ice climbing, paragliding, and perhaps the most scenic bungy jump in the world over Lake Stockensee. Guests and their guide ascend 440 feet in a mountain gondola located about 30 minutes from Interlaken before stepping into the open doorway and taking the big leap. You’ll hang in mid-air for an instant before freefalling and rebounding over the lake as a photographer hanging outside the gondola snaps your photo. A drink to reward your bravery caps the outing.

Cost: US$260 per person.

Bergwelt Grindelwald

Via Ferrata Aerial Adventure Course
Castle Hot Springs, Arizona

Sure its about the rush, but experts say that adventure holidays contect us with nature. Photo by Castle Hot Springs

You don’t have to travel halfway around the globe to find world-class adventure. Castle Hot Springs, a 445-hectare all-inclusive Sonoran paradise known for its mineral-rich springs, just launched a new Via Ferrata cable climbing course in the Bradshaw mountains. Via Ferrata, which comes from the Italian for “Iron Way” courses were originally designed during World War One to transport soldiers and equipment across the rugged terrain of the Swiss Alps. This new vertical course, engineered and built by the same team behind Utah’s Amangiri, starts with practise climbing using the metal rings bolted into the rock, clipping into steel cables from your lanyard and harness along the way. Once guests are ready to tackle more advanced climbing at jaw-dropping heights, they cross the narrow Sonoran Aerial Walkway, a bridge that spans two mountain peaks more than 200 feet up from the canyon below. (The walkway can also be booked separately for guests who want the thrill and views, but not the climbing.) On the other side, the West Wall course is the go-to for experienced climbers, ascending steep exposed stretches of the mountain up to Castle Peak, 500 feet above the valley floor. It’s not for the faint of heart, but guests feel empowered by the challenge, and inspired by the views.

Cost: US$225

Castle Hot Springs

Cage-Diving with Great White Sharks
One&Only Cape Town, South Africa

Taking a bite out of your vacay doesn’t mean what it used to. Photo by One&Only Cape Town

There’s arguably no greater rush than coming face-to-face with a great white shark. Preferably this meet-up doesn’t happen straight out of the movie Jaws, but rather with a steel cage separating you from the massive jaws of these circling predators. At One&Only’s Cape Town resort you’ll be submerged in a diving cage in full scuba gear while these 12-16-foot marine mammals circle you. While the submerged cage does provide protection from these dangerous creatures, the experience is no less heart-pounding as you come nose-to-nose with them as they circle you in the cage. There are an estimated 5,000 great whites in the wild, and an estimated 2,000 of them swim in the waters of South Africa, making it the premier place to see these magnificent creatures up close.

Cost: From roughly US$2,623

One&Only Cape Town

Waterfall Rappelling
Naia Resort & Spa, Belize

Here’s a way to make a splash. Just don’t look down. Photo by Youtube

Sure, you could hike to a gushing waterfall, but wouldn’t it be that much better to rappel through one? Naia Resort & Spa, a 809,000 square metres private reserve on the Placencia Peninsula in southern Belize 15 minutes away from the Placencia airstrip, can arrange for guests to trek through a coastal jungle teeming with wildlife to the top of Antelope Falls in Bocawina National Park. Once at the top, guests rappel down a 76 metres rock face through the rushing water before landing in the crystal-clear pool perfect for swimming just below. After the adventure, guests enjoy lunch at a jungle lodge and can then opt to zipline back on an eight-cable zipline course that soars above the rainforest.

Cost: US$165 per person.

Naia Resort & Spa

This story was first published on Robb Report USA