The keys to action city

From zooming on airboats to blasting with a jetpack or diving on wrecks — there's nothing dull about Florida, writes David Whitley.

When thinking of adventure destinations, Florida isn't exactly the first place to come to mind. The typical combination of families with children, sunseekers and retirees hardly screams adrenalin, while the Sunshine State's devotion to the needlessly large car doesn't encourage exercise in the great outdoors. But hunt beyond the headline attractions and Florida has a surprising amount to offer for active types.

Canoeing and kayaking

For many, the Florida Everglades are an excuse to get on an airboat - one of those ridiculous-looking craft powered by an industrial-size fan at the back. But airboat excursions tend to be mass-market affairs, whizzing you around the edge of the Everglades National Park for a cursory 30 minutes or so.

The Everglades - the soggy, swampy, slow-moving river that takes up much of the southern portion of the state - is much better explored by canoe. Providing you don't turn the thing over (unwise given the number of alligators hanging around), canoes are a much better option.

They allow you to take things at the requisite slow pace, discover the nooks and crannies that are too small for bigger craft, spot birdlife in silence and paddle under natural mangrove arches.

North American Canoe Tours offers both day-long and overnight Everglades canoeing adventures.

The Florida Keys archipelago is another obvious spot for canoes and kayaks. There's even a Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail, which stretches 176 kilometres from Key West to Key Largo, if you've nine or 10 days to spare and arms of steel. Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo can kit you out for the island-hopping stretch, or take you out on three-hour and day-long tours for a taster run.

Other good spots for a paddle include the Wekiwa Springs State Park near Orlando and the waterways around Cocoa Beach.

North American Canoe Tours, +1 239 695 3299,; Florida Bay Outfitters, + 1 305 451 3018,


Diving and snorkelling

The Florida Keys is the best part of the state (and arguably the US) for getting under the water. A barrier reef - the largest in the US, and one of the most impressive in the world - runs parallel to the islands.

Added to this is the large number of shipwrecks - wreck salvage was once Key West's main industry and made it the richest city per head in the US - that life has now grown around. The reef isn't accessible from the shore, so divers will need an open-water certificate. Most dive shops in the area run four-day courses that will get you up to speed or snorkelling is an option for anyone who's happy to stay near the surface. Good diving and snorkelling spots are dotted along the Keys, but if you can pick only one, then it should probably be the John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park. It's packed with nearly 600 species of fish and 40 species of coral, while the headline act is the Christ of the Deep - a huge bronze sunken statue of Jesus with his arms reaching up to the skies.


It's not quite getting back to nature, but balancing on wobbly wooden bridges then whizzing from tree to tree in a flying fox is hardly sedentary. Zipwiring seems to have become the standard adventure activity across the world for people who don't usually do adventure - soon every cruise-ship port will have a zipwiring course nearby - but it's undoubtedly good fun.

The Central Florida Zoo is a good place to clip on, tread gingerly across swaying walkways and fly across the woods.

There are two fairly substantial and testing courses that take about three hours to get around. Some of the wooden planks are brutes to get across, but there's a sense of achievement in doing so.

Flying with jetpacks

The man-made excitement continues in Key West, where space-age dreams of getting around by jetpack have become a reality.

Well, sort of, anyway. With JetPack Adventures, you can strap yourself into a harness that is attached by a tube to a floating superpump in the water.

Press the triggers and the water is expelled from your "jetpack" with such force that you're launched forwards and upwards. Getting the hang of it is rather tricky, but get it right and you can fly above the sea sci-fi style.

JetPack Adventures, +1 305 294 2000,


To really feel like you've developed superhuman powers, however, you can always set yourself the task of taming the Florida National Scenic Trail. As hiking routes go, it's a giant, stretching from the seashore at the end of the Florida Panhandle to the Everglades.

If you want to take on the 2240-kilometre trail, some careful planning and some awfully good boots will be required.

However, there are plenty of less severe day or weekend hike options that are within easy reaching distance of the big cities.

The bottom stretches through the Big Cypress National Preserve are about 45 minutes' drive west of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. More importantly, these chunks are among the best on the whole trail for wildlife spotting and variety of scenery - think swamp, prairie and forest.

The Florida National Scenic Trail,


California is usually seen as the US surfing capital, but the most famous surfer of them all comes from Cocoa Beach on Florida's east coast. The island town - connected to the mainland by bridge - hogs the waves on which 11-time world champion Kelly Slater learnt his trade.

Cocoa Beach has now morphed into something of a well-to-do surf town - as you can immediately tell from its gigantic surf shops. The Ron Jon Surf Shop sprawls over almost two complete blocks and it also runs a surf school. A variety of lesson programs are available, while they've also started branching out into stand-up paddle-boarding for novices who want to discover another way of tumbling into the water.

Ron Jon Surf School, 4151 North Atlantic Avenue, Cocoa Beach. +1 321 868 1980,

Trip notes

Getting there

Orlando and Miami are the main entry points to Florida. United and Qantas are among the airlines that can get you to both from Sydney, transiting in Los Angeles. Return ticket prices cost from about $2000.

More information