The majestic Drakensberg Mountain is one of the most impressive natural wonders that South Africa has to offer. Drakensberg translates into “Dragon Mountains”, while to the Zulu nation it is known as uKhahlamba, “the Barrier of Spears”. The mountains frame the western border of the province and stretch for some 200 km, covering more than seven per cent of the total area of the province. Some of the peaks tower more than 3 400 m into the sky and three of the province’s largest rivers originate in the depths of the mountains. It is home to black eagle, the extremely rare bearded vulture (lammergeyer), rare cranes and various grassland species.
The Central Berg (Mountain) stretches from the Cathedral Peak region in the north to the Champagne-Castle – Cathkin Peak region in the south. Giant’s Castle in the south-west is one of the best-known peaks of the Central Berg, which boasts some of the highest mountain peaks in Southern Africa. The excellent resort hotels and nature reserves in the area have made it into a very popular tourist destination.
The best-known cliff-face of the Northern Drakensberg is the Amphitheatre. This cliff-face with its intricate patterns has been carved over millions of years by the waters of rivers flowing into the valleys. Cliffs such as the Sentinel, Devil’s Tooth, the Amphitheatre and Mont-aux-Sources provide challenging climbs for the more courageous.
The Southern Drakensberg offers the opulence of many water sources, abundant wildlife and lush forest vegetation. This area has six nature reserves covering some 122 000 ha, making it the largest wilderness area in the country. At 3 482 metres, the peak Thabana Ntlenyana is the highest point in Southern Africa, and is reachable via Sani Pass.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Drakensberg experience is to follow one of the many hiking trails. The trails are major excursions that include nights spent in caves. The views from the slopes and the escarpment are among the most magnificent in South Africa. Well-equipped camp sites provide a comfortable base from which to enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful landscape.
An added attraction of the mountains is the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the ancient San people. Many of the caves are decorated with their paintings and are managed by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service. Some of the best rock art sites can be found at Main Caves, Battle Cave, Didima Gorge and Game Pass Shelter.
Main Caves in the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve constitute some of the most densely painted shelters in the Drakensberg. Snake Rock is covered in snake-like images with antelope heads. Long Panel is over five metres in length and the images of people are superimposed on images of eland. Tourists can stay at the nearest camp, but guided tours for day visitors are also conducted, every hour on the hour.
Battle Cave in the Giant’s Castle area is a 12-km walk from Injasuti Camp. The cave was named for the San rock paintings on its walls. The site contains some 750 paintings, depicting a battle scene between two rival clans, as well as numerous animals and elongated animal-headed figures. The camp has chalets and guided tours can be undertaken by prior arrangement.
The site at Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg Nature Reserve is one of the most famous rock art sites in the world. The images at this site have helped researchers to decipher much of the mystery of San rock art. The walk from the nearest camp is steep and difficult and takes approximately an hour and a half. The camp offers overnight accommodation and tours are conducted by trained community guides.
Didima Gorge in the Cathedral Peak Nature Reserve is home to several rock art sites. Junction Shelter is one of the best-known shelters in the area and features a painting that once caused much debate among researchers. At first glance, the painting seems to feature people crossing a hanging bridge, but research has shown that the San never built bridges of this type. After further extensive research had been done, the link between the art and the supernatural world, which characterises San religion, was figured out.
KwaZulu-Natal’s mountain-climbing routes have become more and more popular in recent years. Popular routes include the Shongweni Crags, the Wave Cave, Delville Wood, the Magnetic Wall and the Rasta Cave.
The towns in this region are all ideal bases for exploring the wonders of the mountains.