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Drakensberg (Barrier of Spears) Kwazulu-Natal

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The Drakensberg mountains, beaches, scuba diving, surfing, game reserves and historic Anglo-Zulu-Boer Battlefields.

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The Drakensberg at a Glance

Dragon Mountain - Translated from Afrikaans the name Drakensberg means Dragon Mountain but is affectionately called The ‘Berg by locals. A large section of the range is found in Kwazulu-Natal. It is also known as uKhahlamba meaning Barrier of Spears. The mountain range extends for 1 000 km (621 miles) from the North eastern regions of South Africa down to the Eastern Cape, forming a mountain border between South Africa and Lesotho, a small country inside the borders of South Africa. It has the highest peak in Southern Africa - Thabana Ntlenyana (meaning Beautiful little mountain in Sesotho) at 3482m (11,427 feet). Thabana Ntlenyana lies in Lesotho, accessed only from the KwaZulu-Natal side of the Drakensberg via Sani Pass.

Hiking and walking trails - These can be found all over the uKLhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Park.  They range from hikes for the more experienced hiker to leisurely walks. Request more specific information from the Kwazulu Natal Wildlife Organization before heading off on a hike to determine the level of fitness needed for each trail. Examples of trails include the Cascades, Gorge walk, Thukela Falls, Dorian Falls, Mike’s pass and Rainbow Gorge.

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Explore wave swept shores, stunning scenic drives, secluded beaches - and the dramatic views from Cape Point.
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shores provide a region of unrivalled scenic beauty, relaxation and adventure.

Route 62 West

  Acknowledgements (2 photos above) - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

 

 

   

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Food and wine
Hiking
Spas and mineral hot springs
Fishing
Nature Trails
Birding

Other Special Interest Activities

Highlights of the Drakensberg

Arts and Crafts - A fun day of unusual shopping can take you from antique stores and hand made candles to hand woven rugs and recycled glass art. After a waffle lunch at a local café, continue on to organic herb gardens or a ceramic art studio. For centuries the local women have plaited and weaved dry grasses in intricate detail to create baskets, mats and bowls. Today more modern beads are used but some seeds are still collected and dyed to make beautiful natural jewelry. Some of the men produce clay animals, sculptured in methods passed down through the generations.

Birding – The birdlife is wonderful in the Drakensberg, including raptors such as the black and Long crested Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Lammergeier, and the Cape Vulture. In the Summer months, migrant birds visiting the region include the Klaas Cuckoo, Paradise Flycatcher, and Lessor Striped Swallow. Some Drakensberg areas don’t keep records of bird species found in their area but there are at the very least between 180 and 200 species in any given area. Falcon Ridge in the Champagne Valley provides daily Birds of Prey demonstrations. Shows start at 10:30am except on Fridays.

San rock paintings – The early inhabitants of the Drakensberg (the San, or Bushmen) left a gallery of paintings on many rocky overhangs and in caves. Many of the rock faces display rock art depicting images of daily life of these early inhabitants. Over 20,000 individual painted figures have been recorded at some 500 caves and rocky overhangs. The Drakensberg has the highest concentration of rock art in Africa south of the Sahara.  A Rock Art slide show at the Didima San Art Center displays many examples of San Rock Art and speaks to their culture, lifestyle and belief system.

Photographic vistas – There are many landscapes and skylines in ‘The Berg’ with breathtaking panoramas and vistas just begging to be photographed. Hiking is the best way to experience and photograph the waterfalls, flora and fauna. Back at the resort or camp site, take time to relax and enjoy the daily show of the setting sun as it sinks behind the mountains with ever-changing hues of red, orange then violet.

Activities on land, on water or in the air - Activities available at many resorts include canoeing, river rafting, abseiling, quad biking, mountain biking and off road go-karting. A few resorts offer helicopter and micro light flights for an aerial view of the mountains and valleys. Horse riding is very popular in the Drakensberg with trails available from resorts, lodges and camping grounds that follow mountain streams and across a variety of mountain terrain and flora, invariably providing great scenic vistas.

Fishing - This is practically a national pastime wherever there is water. Royal Natal National Park, Rugged Glen, Sterkfonteing Dam, Bell Park Dam and Woodstock Dam are all very popular destinations for the avid fisherman.

Game watching - Although the Drakensberg is not 'Big 5' wildlife country, there are several game reserves in the region. Giraffe, zebra, rhino and a variety of antelope can be seen at Spioenkop and Weenan Game Reserves. White Rhino found a safe haven here when nearing extinction throughout Africa. With careful nurturing, numbers have been increasing in the wild. Black Wildebeest have enjoyed the same hospitality in the wildlife conservation areas of the ‘Berg.

Frogs, reptiles and insects – Visitors interested in African reptiles, snakes and insects will love visiting the Drakensberg. 26 of the 124 species of frogs living in South Africa are found in the Drakensberg and in its rivers and streams, including the rare longtoed tree frog and Hewitt's ghost frog. We have 23 lizard species, 25 snake species, 44 species of dragon fly and 74 butterfly species.

About the geology of the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal

The Drakensberg mountain range in Kwazulu-Natal is capped by a layer of basalt approximately 1 400 m (4,600 feet) thick, overlaying sandstone. This results in a combination of steep-sided blocks and pinnacles.

South Africa's Drakensberg is home to the world's second-highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls (Thukela Falls), with a total drop of 947 metres (3,100 feet).

See KwaZulu-Natal for location of the Drakensberg in South Africa.

Read more: Northern Drakensberg | Central Drakensberg |Southern Drakensberg

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Northern Drakensberg

The northern region of the Drakensberg is the highest at over 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level. Many bushmen paintings can be found in the area telling the story of life hundreds of years ago. The oldest paintings in this region are around 800 years old.

The largest river in Kwazulu Natal, the Tugela, has its source in Northern Drakensberg and plunges 950 meters (3117 feet) off the Mont-aux-Sources plateau. This waterfall, The Tugela Falls, is the second highest waterfall in the world.

A popular activity is multi day hiking with overnights in caves. South Africa is not known for its snow but the Northern Drakensberg area is often covered in snow in the winter. Hikers should be aware that this is still a wilderness area and there are 24 species of snake in the area.

This northern region includes the Natal Drakensberg Park, great for soft wildlife sightings during hikes. Many antelope to be seen include the large Eland and smaller antelope such as mountain reedbuck, duiker, bushbuck and Oribi. In the spring months (April and May), wildflowers adorn the mountain with a colorful carpet of watsonia, gladiola and waist high cosmos in the lower regions. Other plants include protea, trees and cycads.

Northern Drakensberg attractions include:
Royal Natal National Park, The Amphitheatre, Mont-aux-Sources, Rugged Glen Nature Reserve, Mnweni and Ntonjelana Valleys, Singati Valley, Ifidi, The Mnweni Cutback, Mponjwane and The Saddle.

The Royal Natal National Park

It is 8,000 ha (27 square miles) of pure natural beauty. The Park is also home to the amazing basalt rock face called the Amphitheatre and the high peaks of Mont-aux-Sources.

Royal Natal National Park, Drakensberg

Acknowledgements (above right) - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife - Thendele Camp

Visitors come to the Royal Natal National Park for the scenic beauty and to enjoy the outdoor recreation and activities available in the area. Bass and fly fisherman will delight in the trout in the rivers and well stocked dams. Horse riding for the novice or experienced rider is offered at almost all the resorts in the area and for the avid rider there are overnight adventure rides and a trail that leads all the way to the summit of Mont-aux-Sources.

Horseback riding in the Drakensberg

Acknowledgements (above left) - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Birding enthusiasts can delight in 250 bird species found here. Included are the rare Wattled Crane, Breasted Rockjumpers, swifts, sunbirds and birds of prey including the Cape Vulture, Black Eagle and Jackal Buzzard. The raptors are found mostly in the higher regions of the mountain and large birds such as the Bearded Vulture can be seen soaring high in the air and dropping bones on to the rocks. They love the marrow in bones and live mostly off carrion. The large Cape Vulture with a wing span of 3m (almost 10 feet) is seen diving and flying at great heights and swooping past cliffs and rocky outcrops. Hides are provided for bird lovers to watch these magnificent arial maneuvers.

Vegetation varies depending on elevation and on how much sun and water a slope receives. Wildlife will vary depending on available grazing. Wildlife to be seen within the Royal Natal National Park include blesbok, black wildebeest, eland, zebra, red hartebeest, mountain reedbuck, duiker, grey rhebuck and jackal.

The Amphitheatre and Mont-aux Sources

The Amphitheatre is probably one of the most famous landmarks in the Drakensberg and stretches for 5km (3 miles) and rises to a height of 914 m (3,000 feet). The climb up to the top of the Amphitheatre starts at the Sentinel car park and leads to the chain ladders that take you to the top where the view is spectacular. Views of Mont-aux-Sources and the Tugela Falls plummeting in a series of falls are among the amazing sights seen from the top of the Amphitheatre.

Mont-aux-sources, Drakensberg

Mont-aux-Sources is found in the Royal Natal National Park and is the source of three major rivers which is how it got its name. Included is the Sentinel which is a rock wall dropping 305 meters (1,000 feet). Mont-aux-Sources is also one of the highest mountain peaks in the Drakensberg range. As part of the Royal Natal National Park it has become a popular destination for hikers as there are well managed and marked trails with a number of challenging freestanding rocks for rock climbers to try out.

Rugged Glen Nature Reserve

This relatively small reserve lies only 4km (2.5 miles) from the gate of the Royal Natal National Park and is perfect for anyone looking to hike, mountain climb, fish for trout or picnic. Wildlife sightings may include antelope and birding is especially good here.

Two of the more popular day hikes are Forest walk and Camel’s hump.  

Forest Walk starts at the visitor’s car park, winding up the valley to the Mont-aux-Sources Hotel and back via the road to the car park

Camel’s Hump trail also begins at the visitor’s car park and runs along the path to a rock formation of the same name, with fantastic views of the reserve and the Drakensberg escarpment.

Mnweni

A number of family fun activities attract visitors to Mnweni, with swimming in the local rivers and pools, horse riding, mountain biking and bird watching. Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Center provides visitors the opportunity to visit a local homestead and experience Zulu traditions, crafts, traditional meals and dancing. Visits to rock art sites and the ever popular hikes are available. It is highly recommended to hire one of the local guides if you decide on a more strenuous hike or challenging climb since the rugged terrain of the Drakensberg can be taxing.

Mnewi Cultual and Hiking Center, Drakensberg

Acknowledgements - Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Center

Lost Valley

In a remote area of Northern Drakensberg lies the Lost Valley with similar geographical formations as that of  a valley near Oudsthoorn in the Western Cape called Die Hel (The Hell). Descendents of Piet Retief’s Voortrekkers made their home here arriving via Piet Retief’s Pass into Kwazulu Natal. A still-functional suspension bridge can be found at the bottom of a 4x4 trail that leads into the Lost Valley. Bird lovers will enjoy this area which is unspoiled and pristine.

Near Piet Retief’s Pass, Voortrekker Pass and Bergville is the statue of Kaalvoet Vrou (Barefoot Woman) walking away from KwaZulu-Natal. The statue is in memory of Susanna Smit who vowed that she would rather walk barefoot over the Berg than live in Natal under British Rule. 

Bergville

The town of Bergville lies 40 km (25 miles) from The Amphitheatre of the Royal Natal National Park. Two years after it was established in 1897 the British military built a blockhouse to be used as a base during the Anglo-Boer War. The blockhouse is now a monument and museum.

Near Bergville lies the Rangeworthy Military Cemetery where British soldiers, killed at Spioenkop and Bastion Hill battles, are buried. The cemetery is on private land though and permission to enter is required.

Also near Bergville is Cannibal Cavern. Small Zulu clans in the early 1800’s were no match for the powerful King Shaka and his impis (warriors) and many fled into the Northern Drakensberg to live in caves and overhangs. Unfortunately they had few supplies and turned to cannibalism to survive.

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Central Drakensberg

The Central Drakensberg is similar in its appearance to the Northern Drakensberg. There are many trails to hike with shelter overnight in the sandstone caves. Flora includes watsonia and gladiola and the soft pinks and whites of tall cosmos flowers. Wildlife in the area will also be similar - expect to see a variety of antelope including Eland and tiny duiker as well as larger birds of prey.

Along with Monk’s Cowl, Cathkin Peak and Champagne Castle are the highest peaks in the Central Drakensberg with Monk’s Cowl reaching 3,234 m (10,610 feet), Cathkin at 3,149m (10,331 feet) and Champagne Castle at 3,248m (10,656 feet).

The Drakensberg Boy Choir school, which claims to be the only choir school in Africa, is open to boys aged 9 – 15. The school is open to visitors on Wednesdays when the school puts on a show for the public. The school has toured the world and produced a number of CDs.

Much of the Central Drakensberg is found in the Kwazulu Natal Province. Areas included in this section of the ‘Berg are:

Mlambonja Wilderness Area, Cathedral Peak, Ndumeni, Organ Pipes, Ndedema Gorge, Mdedelelo Wilderness Area, Cathkin Peak, Monk’s Cowl, Champagne Castle, Injasuti, Giant’s Castle Game Reserve.

Cathedral Peak

The Peak is a free standing mountain peak and is also known as Mponjwana (Little Horn) by the local Amangwane people. The area around Cathedral Peak lies in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg and extends for 32,000 hectares (79,073 acres). There are excellent hiking trails here, really wonderful examples of San Rock Art and this is where you will find the Didima Valley. For those not so inclined to hiking, Mike’s Pass allows the visitor to drive to the top of the Little Berg near the top of Didima Gorge for incredible views.

Didima Camp, Cathedral Peak, DrakensbergThe luxury Didima Camp was opened in 2002 with a theme that follows the lives and lifestyle of the original Drakensberg residents, the San people. It has a San Art Interpretive Center that includes static displays and audio-visual shows that recreate life of a San family in a mountain cave.

Guided walks are available to Rainbow Gorge, Baboon Rock and a number of mountain streams with rock pools are found close to camp.

                                                                Acknowledgements - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Champagne Castle

Champagne Castle was named in 1860 by David Gray, one of the first climbers to climb the mountain. He was accompanied by Captain Grantham, a Royal Engineer and a guide. They took along a bottle of champagne to celebrate the climb but it was dropped. It is not clear exactly who dropped the bottle or if they ever reached the summit and so the mountain was christened. The most striking feature of Champagne Castle is Cathkin Peak which is named after an area near Glasgow in Scotland by the first Scottish settlers in the Drakensberg. Champagne Castle is made up of a number of secondary peaks. Along with Cathkin Peak there is Sterkhorn, Mount Memory, Monk’s Cowl and Dragon’s Back.

There are hikes from 30 minutes to a grueling 19 hours, all with breathtaking views. Sights and sounds and imaginatively named rock features, ridges and valleys are to be explored such as the Sphinx, Breakfast Stream and Dragon’s Back. Terrain differs from leisurely walks along a stream, picnics at little waterfalls to boulder hopping and river crossings. There are more resorts here than elsewhere in the Drakensberg.

Monk’s Cowl

The section of the Drakensberg called Monk’s Cowl lies between Champagne Castle and Cathedral Peak and provides the access point for Mlambonja and Mdedelo Wilderness areas.

Hiking is definitely one of the top activities here with hikes ranging from a few hours to a few days for any fitness level. Advanced bookings are essential for overnight hiking. There are no resorts here, only camping accommodation.

A word of caution to all hikers: the weather has a mind of its own and can change in the wink of an eye. Hikers must be prepared for abrupt changes from warm to icy conditions and it is imperative that they provide all required information in the Mountain Rescue Register before setting off. There is a small shop where limited supplies and curios can be purchased. Hikers are advised to stock up before entering the area especially if staying overnight. Some campsites will have hot and cold running water and some will have no facilities at all. The nearest town is Estcourt, 70km (43 miles) away. 

Giant’s Castle

Giant’s Castle is a mountain Peak found in the southern end of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park in Central Drakensberg. It derived its name from the outline of peaks and valleys that when looked at from afar resemble a sleeping giant.

Giant's Castle, Central Drakensberg - Kwazulu Natal

Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve is home to excellent examples of rock art. There is an enormous cave here that contains prehistoric San Rock Art. It is the largest and reportedly the best preserved in Southern Africa. You can reach the cave in a 30 minute walk from the camp office. There are also guided tours from 9am to 3pm to view the rock art. The Giant’s Castle Main Caves Museum provides a chance to see how the San People lived.  In the winter months the vulture restaurant opens where visitors can go to watch bearded vultures (Lammergeyer) and other raptors feed.

Giant's Castle Camp, Drakensberg

Acknowledgements - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife - Giant's Castle Chalets

Apart from hiking, trout fishing is also popular here. Visitors planning to sleep over in one of the camp sites need to come well prepared with sleeping bag, basics such as toilet paper and food, good walking shoes and socks and a small first aid kit. The local store will sell staples such as tin food, bread and milk. Fishermen should also bring their own rods and will need a license to fish, available from the store.

Injasuti

Injasuti is a fertile valley in the Central Drakensberg, the name means ‘the place of the satisfied dog’, and visitors can find this valley in the northern regions of Giant’s Castle.

Back to Highlights

Southern Drakensberg

If you're looking for an off the beaten track Drakensberg vacation then the Southern Drakensberg is definitely a good choice. It is easily accessed from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Country Routes. The R103 via Nottingham Road is a scenic route to this region - or alternatively via Bulwer (a less scenic route). There are a number of little lakes and rivers that draw trout anglers and there a several small nature reserves including Loteni and Kamberg. The region is home to antelope and nature trails and offers wonderful picnic spots.

Sani Pass

Sani Pass, the only mountina pass to Lesotho from KwaZulu NatalThis is the highest mountain pass in South Africa, running alongside the upper Mkomazana River to the border of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. This is the gateway to the scenic 'Roof of Africa' route linking the Drakensberg with the mountains of northern Lesotho. A 4x4 vehicle is absolutely essential for this mountain crossing. The road is not tarred in sections, especially approaching the border.

Visitors need always to be prepared for changeable weather conditions en-route and within Lesotho. Always check weather conditions before attempting this route.

The Lesotho border post is open daily from 8am to 4pm and a visit is really worth the trip. A restaurant and Besotho Village is on the Lesotho side of the border. In Lesotho, it is not uncommon to see local people travelling to their destination wrapped in a colorful blanket and riding on the back of a donkey.

The towns found in the Southern Drakensberg are Underberg, Himeville and Bulwer.

Underberg

The town is named for its location at the foot of the Drakensberg ("under mountain"). It is popular with fly fishermen with over 160km (99 miles) of well stocked river and 60 dams to choose from. Also popular here is swimming in the rivers, golf, rafting, canoeing and tubing.

Himeville

There is a very good museum in Himeville detailing life of the first white settlers to the region in the 1890’s. It houses African traditional artifacts, trout fishing memorabilia, and an exhibition showcasing the settler’s agricultural history as well as military memorabilia. It also hosts a number of San (Bushman) artifacts and an interpretation of how these people lived. The San are believed to have populated the Drakensberg region as far back as the Stone Age.

Bulwer

Bulwer is part of the new tourist initiative by KZN Tourism Bureau known as the Boston Bulwer Beat and is probably best known for paragliding and hang gliding. It is found at the foot of the Amahwaqa Mountain (the 'Misty One').

Kamberg Nature Reserve

Kamberg Nature Reserve in the Kamberg valley is located at the foothills of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park and is considered to be part of the Natal Midlands. This is a farming community but there is much to occupy the visitor.

The Reserve has three beautiful picnic areas, with well developed walking trails and a trail developed for the physically challenged. The trails follow the Little and Big Mooi Rivers, starting at the picnic areas. Antelope sightings may include mountain reedbuck, blesbok, black wildebeest, grey rhebuck, eland, duiker, red hartebeest and Oribi.

For fishermen, trout dams are open year round. Some of the more popular dams such as Highmoor require advance bookings from the Reserve’s camp office. The Kamberg Trout Hatchery is open to the public daily. Bass fishing is available on private sections of the river and prior booking is essential. The annual Kamberg Trout Festival is hosted by the local farmers.

There is tubing on the river for the more adventurous and horseback riding on Appaloosa horses through the valley and into the Little Berg. Hot air ballooning, abseiling and mountain biking add to the adventure activity options. The annual Glengerry Mountain Bike Classic is held here as well as the Kamberg Outdoor Challenge and Kamberg Country Day.

Kamberg is very close to Karkloof Canopy Tours, the longest canopy tour in South Africa. Over the Top Adventures offers abseiling off the Howick Falls.

Excellent examples of Bushmen Rock Art is found at Game Pass and a guided walk is available daily.

Loteni Nature Reserve

If you are looking to disappear for a few days away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, then this remote ravine in the southern Drakensberg is the place to go. The name means ‘in the ashes’ which describes the burnt look of the shales found in the river valley of the Southern Drakensberg.

There are 12 self contained huts with basic facilities such as refrigerator, gas stove, toilet and some utensils. Guests need to come well prepared and stocked because the nearest town Loteni is 14km (8.5 miles) away.

There are a number of wonderful walking trails and picnic sites in the Loteni Nature Reserve. However, barbecues and fires are prohibited. For best views of the area, the 11.8 km (7 mile) Emadundwini circular trail is recommended. It crosses a number of small steams and follows a steep incline.

Swimming in the Lotheni River is permitted and safe and there is a lovely swimming area about 1km (0.6 mile) from the camp. The water is cold so be warned! When the river is in flood swimming is not recommended.  Fly fishermen have been allocated 16 km (10 miles) of the river which is well stocked with brown trout. Mountain biking and birding also draw visitors to Loteni.

Southern Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal

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10 More Things
to do in the Drakensberg

 1 Visit the home of the world-famous Drakensberg Boys Choir and attend one of their performances.
 2 Drop in at the Central Drakensberg Info Center, pick up the Drakensberg Tourist Map and explore the fascinating shops of Thokozisa.
 3 Visit Kamberg Rock Art Center to understand and interpret the San Bushman paintings found throughout the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park
 4 See Thukela Falls (2nd highest waterfall in the world) during peak flow in Summer.
 5 Fly over the stunning scenery of the Drakensberg in a helicopter.
 6 Take the kids swimming at the Cascades natural pools and rock slides, Royal Natal National Park.
 7 Enjoy a break at one of the golf and spa resorts in the Berg.
 8 Learn to abseil, or experience the exhiliaration of Kloofing or Canyoning.
 9

Learn white water kayaking and the Eskimo roll - white water kayaking for beginners and experts.

10 Cross the rugged Sani Pass by 4x4 to the Kingdom of Lesotho and visit the highest pub in Africa. Tours available.


Accommodation
Northern Drakensberg

 

 
 
 
 


Accommodation
Central Drakensberg

 

 
 
 
 


Accommodation
Southern Drakensberg

 

 
 
 
 


Activities

 

 
 
 
 

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