Drakensberg travel guide
It’s easy to see why the mythical beauty of the Drakensberg Mountain Range has inspired many legends in the Zulu, Afrikaans and English cultures. Scraping the sky at over 3400 meters, the jutting peaks of the Drakensberg are known as uKhahlamba (Barrier of Spears) in Zulu and Dragon Mountain in Afrikaans.
Never mind how fit you are, just pack your hiking boots because there will be a walk that’s perfect for you. The Drakensberg escarpment is an eco-tourist destination that stretches through quite a few provinces. It also forms part of the border between South Africa and Lesotho. Outstanding sights include the impressive Tugela Falls, the Amphitheatre, Cathedral Peak and the Sani Pass. The most visited section is the ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park. Come here to be rewarded by a magnificent World Heritage Site, grazing herds of oribi, eland and reedbuck and a wealth of ancient San rock art sheltering in its caves.
As well as hiking there is plenty for the active soul: fly-fishing, horse-riding, mountain biking, bird watching and safaris. Think fresh clean air, green hills, snow in winter, flowers in spring, wooden chalets and chilled rock pools.
- Amphitheatre: one of the most enormous cliff faces on earth is part of the Royal Natal National Park. There are some incredible hikes here to suit all walking levels.
- Mont-Aux-Sources – Above the Amphitheatre is one of the highest peaks of the Drakensberg, where several rivers originate. From the Sentinel car park above Witsieshoek you can do a one-day hike with chain ladders at the end taking you to the summit of Mont-Aux-Sources with its magic views.
- Tugela Falls – At the top of the Amphitheatre, the second highest waterfall in the world tumbles over the cliffs in five drops. You can hike to the foot of the falls up the stunning Tugela Gorge or continue from the summit of Mont-Aux-Sources.
- Bergville – This mountain town is the main entry to the Northern Drakensberg. Visit the nearby Zulu handicraft centre, Thandanani to purchase traditional beadwork, woodwork and baskets.
- Kamberg Valley – in the foothills of the ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park, great opportunities for walking and birdwatching but take the chance to visit The Kamberg San Rock Art Trail and Interpretive Centre. The centre tells visitors all about the world of the San. To top it off you can take a walk with a community guide to see superb examples of rock art.
- Cathedral Peak – hiking trails range from hours to days. This area encompasses the Didima Valley with a rock art centre and, if you’re not feeling like walking, an easy drive over Mike’s Pass to the top of beautiful Didima Gorge.
- Champagne Castle – this area attracts loads of hikers and is a popular wedding destination with its waterfalls, trout streams and forests. It is overlooked by Cathkin Peak.
- Giant’s Castle – a game reserve in the ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park where you can spot the bearded vulture, eland and magnificent rock art.
- Monks Cowl Nature Reserve – this area is ideal for day visitors and offers hikes from easy to more challenging, such as the contour path. A walk to Nandi Falls is an easy yet scenic choice.
- Sani Pass – a spectacular and nerve-racking mountain pass which climbs in tight curves up through the cliffs. The route rises steeply to the highest point in Southern Africa that you can reach by vehicle.
- Underberg – this small town is an excellent base from which to explore this section of the ukuhlamba-Drakensberg National Park. Filled with rivers, pools and ferns, the Southern Berg is less crowded than some other parts of the Drakensberg.
- Himeville: a pretty and quaint town. Together with Underberg, Himeville is big on fly-fishing and there are many kilometres of river for you to choose your spot.
Around and about:
- Spioenkop – One of the most violent battles of the Anglo-Boer War took place here. Today the Spioenkop Dam is an excellent location for watersports, fishing, walking and driving safaris (look out for the once almost extinct white rhino).
- Battlefields – These sites are packed with reminders of Boer, British and Zulu skirmishes. Visit the mGungundlovu, where the Zulu chief, Dingaan wiped out Piet Retief and his fellow Voortrekker followers. Other historically interesting sites include the Ultimatum Tree, Bloukrans, Blood River, Rorke's Drift and the renowned Isandlwana where the British were defeated. Don’t miss out on Ladysmith, and the Talana Museum at Dundee.