Jamaica adventure holidays: Top action-packed things to do

It's Monday, mid-afternoon. The merciless sun is beating down as a large group of semi-naked people gather in one of the shaded pools that delays the Dunn's River as it drops dramatically into the Caribbean Sea near the vibrant town of Ocho Rios.

As one, the crowd, which comes in all ages, sizes and shapes, turns and gazes up through the lush canopy of ferns, orchids, bamboos and ginger lilies to their leader, who stands silhouetted against the sun on a large rock.

It could be the scene of a revivalist church meeting, a mass baptism, as he yells, instructs, cajoles and leads his people in can-do chants, one of which sounds disconcertingly like the familiar, sporting favourite "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!"

In fact, he's winding up his "team" to tackle one of Jamaica's top traveller attractions: climbing the Dunn's River Falls, which come clattering down a multi-tiered, 300-metre mountainside – here in roaring torrents, there in cool, gentle, refreshing streams.

As Michelle Sawyer, of the Dunn's River Falls and Park management team explains, climbers must wear rubber shoes. They cannot carry cameras or other electronic equipment, and must not stop to carve their names or those of others in the rocks.

Dare-devils are advised to start climbing from the very bottom, on the nearby beach where the falls finally come crashing down in an area of fast-moving water called the Tornado.

Climbers must stand more than one metre tall, but there is no upper, nor lower, age limit. Dare-devils are advised to start climbing from the very bottom, on the nearby beach where the falls finally come crashing down in an area of fast-moving water called the Tornado.

Others are content to start a little further up at the Whirlpool, some walking and climbing alone, others in families or, in trickier places, in a human chain, led by their guru/guide. Whichever way, it's an exhilarating, challenging and memorable experience.

The falls park, which is believed to be close to the site of a famous battle in 1657 between Spain and England over ownership of Jamaica (England eventually prevailed), is just one of a wide range of   physical activities available on the island.

As national tourism director Paul Pennicook proudly points out, the sports-crazy country has not only produced a string of world-beating athletes – including boxers, coach-loads of great cricketers and the "fastest man of earth", sprinter Usain Bolt. It has also created what he calls "an ideal playground for travellers", with facilities for a wide range of sports, for visitors to relax, keep fit, burn off a few calories, or simply just have some fun.

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There is no better place, perhaps, to start enjoying some of these than on the picturesque first tee of Tryall Golf Club, which is one of several top-class courses within easy reach of the beautiful, albeit hustling, bustling, resort town of Montego Bay.

As Ewan Peebles, the club's Scottish-born director of golf explains, the par-71 course is a thing of beauty, but a beast of a challenge, offering tricky winds, unique natural hazards, challenging greens, stunning views and a diverse topography which climbs 300 metres from sea-level.

"Just look at this," he says, climbing down from his cart on the fourth tee. "OK, the hole is short [a mere 170 or so metres], but it's narrow. On one side there's a thick row of trees, on the other the sea. Then, a short distance from the green, is the Flint River." All to be cleared in one shot. Ideally.

Equally memorable is the seventh hole. It starts with a tee shot through the stone pillars of an historic aqueduct that feeds an adjacent waterwheel. Like several other Jamaican courses,  this one stands on the site of what was once a sugar and banana plantation, tended until the 1830s by slaves.

The course, which is open to visitors by prior arrangement and surrounds some 75 fully-staffed luxury villas, is maintained by an Australian, Michael Pascoe, who came from the Gold Coast to work at Tryall.

It does not come cheap (about $260 a round, including cost of compulsory caddy and cart). And to the average player it looks an intimidating prospect. But Peebles says its traps do not deter newcomers or those, he admits with a smile, of "weekend hacker" status. "All are welcome."

For a change of pace and scenery, keen golfers should also consider the equally demanding White Witch course, which is carved into the rolling countryside of Jamaica's historic Rose Hall Plantation, within driving distance (car, not ball) of Montego Bay.

In a quick drive around the course, up-and-coming club assistant Shyan Wallace admits that he once hit about half a dozen balls in a row into the big lake guarding the green on the three-par second hole. "It was awful."

Nearby, nothing to do with golf but not to be missed, is neighbouring Rose Hall, home of the so-called "white witch" after which the course is named.

Local legend has it that the "witch" Annie Palmer, a feisty English woman who co-owned the mansion in the 19th century, "bedazzled then did away with three husbands and countless slave lovers". Quick with a whip, "she was notorious for torturing slaves for her own entertainment".

The mansion and the white witch's last resting place are best visited on one of the candle-lit evening tours, during which guests are invited to spot her ghostly figure drifting through upstairs rooms and corridors.

The tour is described as "interactive", so be prepared for sudden apparitions and screaming slaves. Be warned. While some visitors find the presentation laughable, others find it downright spooky and scary, irrespective of whether they believe in ghosts – locally called "duppies"– or not.

For those needing a strong drink to settle their nerves, there's a bar in the mansion. Significantly, perhaps, it serves spirits!

But don't drink too much of the local Appleton's rum or Red Stripe beer, for there is more, much more, to see and do in Jamaica, the self-styled "Land of the All Right!" (That is, all right not in the sense of, "Ho, hum, I suppose it's all right", but, "All right! Bring it on!")

There's rafting along the "lazy" Martha Brae River on 10-metre bamboo rafts, or along the Rio Grande River, down to Rafter's Rest at St Margaret's Bay. It's a pastime believed to have been popularised in the 1930s by Tasmanian-born movie star and paradise playboy Errol Flynn, who partied hard here.

There's walking in the beautiful Blue Mountains, home of one of the world's truly great coffees, above Kingston; suitable, perhaps, for those who believe golf is just a bad way of spoiling a good walk.

There's camel-riding and, more controversially, swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove; fishing almost everywhere along a coastline seemingly painted 50 shades of blue; and bob-sledding down Mystic Mountain, near Ocho Rios.

This amusement was inspired by the appearance of a Jamaican national bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, and every subsequent Olympics – a "tropical country first", which inspired the movie Cool Runnings.

Surf at Jamnesia

And there's surfing, at several hot-spots around the island, most famously at Jamnesia, the surf camp created at Bull Bay, not far from capital Kingston, by surfing guru, TV soapie star and reggae music-maker "Billy Mystic", aka Anthony Billy Wilmot and his family.

There are laid-back bars, nightclubs, villas and guesthouses, including Jake's, owned by Jason Henzell, son of Perry Henzell, who directed the Jamaican crime movie The Harder They Come, starring musician Jimmy Cliff, which is claimed to have "brought reggae to the world".

Treasure Beach thinks big. It hosts the annual Calabash International Literary Festival, which attracts big-name authors such as British-Indian Salman Rushdie. There are plans to invite Australian writers soon.

And, most surprising of all for the first-time visitor, it boasts the Treasure Island Sports Park and Academy, featuring a soccer field, tennis courts and, the centrepiece, a Test-sized cricket oval.

The project, which has received worldwide support from organisations such as UNICEF, is linked to a foundation dedicated to the fostering of heritage pride, and supporting sports, health and education within the community. Its spokesman, the energetic, visionary Henzell, thinks big.

After staging the recent schools cricket final, Henzell confidently predicted that the captain of the winning side, 18-year-old Ramaal Lewis, would soon play for the West Indies and that Treasure Beach would one-day host a Test match.

Meanwhile, as celebrity guests, such as tennis-player Serena Williams, have already discovered, it's a great place to keep fit, stay active and, well, hang out.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitjamaica.com

sooncomejamaicatours.com

GETTING THERE

American Airlines, with code-share partner Qantas, fly to Kingston via Los Angeles and Miami.

STAYING THERE

The Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay (see rosehall.zilara.hyatt.com) and the Grand Palladium in Lucea (see palladiumhotelgroup.com) are all-inclusive resorts starting at around $500 a night. Entry to the Dunn's River Falls & Park is $25 for adults and $15 for children, see dunnsriverfallsja.com.

The writer travelled as a guest of the Jamaica Tourist Board on an itinerary devised by Sydney-based Soon Come Jamaica Tours.

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