Travel guide to visiting the Drakensberg South Africa (in 2022)

The Dragons Mountain with steep edges


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South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland

GPS: -29.465231505504, 29.266584401541

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Look no further for a travel guide to visiting the Drakensberg in South Africa. Composed of nearly thirty 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 major peaks part of the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment including the highest South African mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. This crown of rugged ridges formed in the space of twenty million years. The Drakensberg protected natural area is provided with large altitude wetlands serving as habitat for a wide variety of flora, fauna and birds.

The Drakensberg escarpment is nicknamed “Dragons Mountain” by the Afrikaners (mostly Dutch-born settlers) and “Barrier of spears” by the Zulu people. With its steep buttresses, its cut peaks, its narrow collars, its rocky territory and its deep grassy valleys, this immense basalt barrier extends over more than a thousand km long. In the 19th century, it served as a place for several battles between the British forces, the Boers (white pioneers of South Africa) and the Kingdom of Zulu. At its peak in pre-colonial Africa, the Zulu kingdom spans much of Southern Africa in the Natal region (renamed KwaZulu-Natal). It was renowned for his powerful impi army formed a few decades earlier by the great king Shaka, founder of the Zulu nation. Despite a distinguished victory at the Battle of Isandhlwana in 1879, the Zulus lost the war and were finally annexed by the United Kingdom in 1897.

Drakensberg is full of grandiose landscapes and unknown archaeological remains. It has one of the largest concentrations of parietal art on Earth. Inherited from 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 nicknamed the largest green canyon) and the second largest waterfall on the planet (the Tugela Falls throwing from the majestic cliff of the Amphitheatre at 948 meters in height). The Thabana Ntlenyana (3,482 meters) and Makheka (3,461 meters) mountains, on the Lesotho side, constitute the most eminent peaks in all of Southern Africa. To top it off, the Drakensberg escarpment 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 masterful cliff of the Amphitheatre (the cirque is 5 kilometres long and 1,200 meters 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 (or Motlatse Canyon), the Valley of Desolation, the Sani Pass, the Injisuthi Valley, the Kaalvoet Vrou Monument (statue), 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 possibilities of hiking, such as the 12 kilometres Sentinel Peak Trail loop (or Chain Ladder Hike), the Sani Stagger Trail loop (23 kilometres), the Cathedral Peak Hike (10 kilometres) or the Drakensberg Grand Traverse Hike (a route of more than 200 kilometres which can be completed in 15 days) ; Horseback riding and cycling; the multitude of activities on site (helicopter, Ultralight aviation or hot-air balloon flights, rafting on the Tugela River, fly-fishing, climbing, mountaineering…); the hundreds of itineraries and 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 (several 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) 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 from the current Netherlands, and British troops in 1900); the culture of the Zulus (former semi-nomadic pastors having settled in small villages)
  • 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 The X-Berg Challenge between paragliders, mountain bikers and long distance runners (late March); the Ultra-Trail Drakensberg in April (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) in writing his three-volume novel “The Lord of the Rings”, 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 Dragons Mountain has gained its nickname due to the large number of lizards evolving among its rocky outcrops. The slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains are a sanctuary for the country’s emblematic plant species, the protea (this floral variety appears on the jersey of the South African rugby team).
  • 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 (located in South Africa) as well as the Sehlabathebe National Park (based in Lesotho) to form the cross-border site of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park. The latter covers a large rainwater catchment area. Thus, a certain number of rivers in Southern Africa (including the Orange River, the Tugela, the Caledon, the Vaal or even 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 as a sign of all power (only the Zulu king had the right to use the skin of this feline). From now on, to preserve this endangered species, the Zulus agree to 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. Indeed, the leopard likes to position itself on the branches of a tree because it allows him to better locate its prey, to attack them more easily and to taste them sheltered from other predators or scavengers. He is more comfortable hunting at night, his piercing sight being six times that of man. 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 to prolong his efforts. When hunting, he is often spotted by lookouts (monkeys, baboons, etc.), responsible for warning other animals that danger is imminent. Males are solitary animals 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 for a dominant male in his kingdom). After giving birth, the females raise their young alone. They often have to leave them unattended or protected when they go hunting to feed them (therefore, only one in two leopard babies is over the age of the first year).
  • Particularly stormy in summer and cold in winter, Drakensberg offers better visiting conditions in spring or autumn.
  • A stay of several days can be judicious to explore this vast mountainous region which lends itself to all forms of hiking.
  • The Sani Pass and its remarkable twisting road will allow you to enter the heart of the Drakensberg Mountains knowing that an all-terrain vehicle is mandatory.
  • The Waterval Boven site, a small town based in the province of Mpumalanga, is one of the best climbing spots in the world. With a waterfall, it enjoys a breathtaking natural setting to improve his climbing technique on high cliffs with orange tones.
  • A cable car project is currently being studied by the South African authorities who wish to develop tourism activity in the region. The objective is to make the steep peaks of Drakensberg accessible to the greatest number despite the harmful consequences that this could have on the environment.

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)

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