Travel guide to visiting the Drakensberg in South Africa

The Dragons Mountain with steep edges


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South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland

GPS: -29.464530819582, 29.267048696542

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Look no further for a travel guide to visiting the Drakensberg in South Africa. With nearly 30 summits, Drakensberg is a spectacular mountain range located in a cross-border region between South Africa and the landlocked kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. It has several peaks part of the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment including the highest mountains in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province. The Drakensberg’s group of craggy cliffs formed about 182 million years ago during the early Jurassic period. The mountain range is home to the Igula Nature Reserve, a protected wetland and habitat for a variety of flora, fauna and birds.

The Drakensberg is often referred to as “dragon mountains” or “the mountains of dragons” because of the shape of some peaks that are an average height of 2 900 metres. With its steep buttresses, peaks and narrow collars, its rocky territory and deep grassy valleys, this immense basalt barrier extends for more than a 1,000km. The Zulu nation name for the Drakensburg is “the barrier of spears” because it was the site of British, Zulu and Boer clashes on the battlefield. The Zulus were a warrior nation renowned for its powerful army under the reign of King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu empire. Despite a distinguished victory at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, the Zulus lost the war and were finally annexed by the United Kingdom in 1897.

Drakensberg is full of imposing landscapes and archaeological remains. It has one of the largest concentrations of prehistorical cave art on Earth. Originally inhabited by the San people, this underground heritage contains nearly 700 caves embellished with thousands of cave paintings (the oldest of which are dated 4,000 years) as well as stone engravings and sculptures. It is also in the Drakensberg mountain range that the third largest gorge in the world is found (the Blyde River Canyon) and the second tallest waterfall on the planet, the Tugela Falls. The combined total drop of the five distinct falls is 948m. The Thabana Ntlenyana, at 3,482m, is the highest point in Lesotho and the highest mountain in southern Africa and is lovingly referred to as “beautiful little mountain. The Drakensberg escarpment also contains major palaeontological sites including the oldest fossilized dinosaur eggs in the world.

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  • The impressive basalt fortress forming the Drakensberg site; The Amphitheatre is a geographical feature stretching 5km long and 1,200m high; the mountain ranges of Kerkenberg, Cathedral Peak, Giants Castle, Mont-Aux-Sources, Champagne Castle and Mafadi in South Africa; the Thabana Ntlenyana, Makheka, Sanqebethu and Makoaneng mountains in Lesotho; the Sheba’s Breast mountain peak in Swaziland
  • The many points of interest around the Drakensberg mountain range: the Blyde River Canyon, the Valley of Desolation, the Sani Pass, the Injisuthi Valley, the Kaalvoet Vrou Monument, the Karoo desert, highland meadows, rocky hills, huge basalt rocks, thorny bush, the expanses of forest in Natal…
  • The Kamberg Nature Reserve rock art interpretation centre in South Africa and the Dinosaur Footprints in Quthing, Lesotho
  • The innumerable hiking trails, such as the 12km Sentinel Peak Trail loop (or Chain Ladder Hike), the 23km Sani Stagger Trail loop, the 10km Cathedral Peak Hike and the Drakensberg Grand Traverse Hike, a route of more than 200km which can be completed in 15 days ; Horseback riding and cycling; the multitude of activities on site such as helicopter, Ultralight aviation or hot-air balloon flights, rafting on the Tugela River, fly-fishing, climbing, mountaineering; the hundreds of climbing routes in Waterval Boven, a climber’s paradise
  • The diversity of wild animals (rhino, giraffe, zebra, kudu, ostrich, Chacma baboon, elk, antelope, Blesbok, black-backed jackal, lizards…), ornithological observation of varieties of crane, raptor, vulture, buzzard, white-necked raven… and the rich vegetation, more than 2,000 species of plants, a third of which are endemic and vary varying according to the altitude
  • The fantastic panorama since the rock formation of the Amphitheatre within the Royal Natal Park; the breathtaking views from the heights of Zuluhoek and Generaalskop; striking views of the Blyde River Canyon from the Three Rondavels and God’s Window sites
  • The historic hill of Spion Kop, former battlefield between the Boers, the first settlers and British troops in 1900; the culture of Zulu village life
  • Howick and Tugela Falls in South Africa; the Lepaqoa waterfall and the Maletsunyane Falls in Lesotho
  • The South African choir Drakensberg Boys Choir School based near the small town of Winterton; the multi-day adventure race known as The X-Berg Challenge between paragliders, mountain bikers and long distance runners (late March); the Ultra-Trail Drakensberg in April, a mountain running event of 160, 100, 62, 30 and 21 kilometres); the Sani Stagger marathon and semi-marathon (in November)
  • Drakensberg is a fascinating place that largely inspired the English writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (J. R. R. Tolkien) to write his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, published in the mid-1950s.
  • This natural site brings together the highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro, exceeding 3,000 meters above sea level. Isolated and sheltered from human influence, it constitutes one of the last virgin territories of South Africa.
  • The Dragon Mountains gained its nickname from the large number of lizards among its rocky outcrops. The slopes of the Drakensberg are a sanctuary for the country’s national flower, the protea.
  • Since 2001, Drakensberg Park (uKhahlamba) has merged with the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the Qwaqwa National Park, the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve and Royal Natal National Park, all located in South Africa, as well as the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho to form the cross-border site of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park. The latter covers a large rainwater catchment area. A number of rivers in Southern Africa, including the Orange, the Tugela, the Caledon, the Vaal and the Elands River have their source in this vast mountain range.
  • The leopard is an extremely agile feline with black spotted fur. This super predator is revered by the Zulus who consider his skin a sign of all power (only the Zulu king had the right to wear the skin of this feline). To preserve this endangered species, the Zulus wear synthetic skins to perpetuate their ancestral rites. This animal is difficult to observe because it is one of the best climbers in the savannah. The leopard likes to position itself on the branches of a tree which allows him to better view his prey. After the kill, the leopard carries its prey into the tree-top branches, sheltered from other predators or scavengers. He is more comfortable hunting at night, his piercing sight being six times that of man. If he hunts during the day, the leopard hides in the tall grass so as not to arouse the attention of his prey. He reaches a peak speed of 60 km/h but lacks endurance over long distances. When hunting, he is often spotted by monkeys and baboons whose loud chattering warn other animals that danger is imminent. Males leopards are solitary in adulthood. They engage in sometimes fatal fights to mate with a female or secure the supremacy of a territory. Any intruder is considered a rival in his kingdom. After giving birth, the females raise their young alone. They often have to leave the cubs unattended when they go hunting. That is why the fatality rate among leopard cubs is so high, with only one or two of the litter surviving beyond the age of one year.
  • The Drakensberg is best visited in spring or autumn because it is very cold in winter and subject to heavy rainfall in summer.
  • To explore this vast mountainous region with its many hiking trails, you are advised to spend several days.
  • The Sani Pass and its twisting road leads you to the heart of the Drakensberg. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is necessary.
  • Waterval Boven is a small, picturesque town based in Mpumalanga province. This is one of the best climbing spots in the world. The town’s beautiful waterfall and breathtaking natural scenery forms the backdrop of magnificent climbing opportunities.

Where to eat

  • Terbodore Coffee Roasters
    (for coffee lovers)
  • Linga Lapa
    (the meat is delicious)
  • Hartford House
    (culinary journey)

Where to go

  • Golden Gate Highlands National...
    (mountainous landscapes)
  • Isandlwana battlefield
    (historic and emotional site)
  • Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre
    (public show)

Where to stay

  • Thendele Hutted camp
    (breathtaking landscape)
  • Inkosana Lodge
    (in the middle of nature)
  • Maliba Lodge
    (enchanting place)