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The Drakensberg, South Africa

The Drakensberg, or ‘uKhahlamba’ in Zulu (meaning ‘Barrier of Spears’), is the tallest mountain range in the whole of southern Africa, reaching heights of around 3,500 metres. Its geological history gives it a characteristic charm amongst the world’s mountain ranges. Geologically, the range bears a similar resemblance to Ethiopia’s beautiful Simien Mountains. The Drakensberg Mountains stretch across the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mpumalanga and trail off in Tzaneen, located in the Limpopo Province.

The history of the Drakensberg Mountains

The Drakensberg Mountains, with their breathtaking basalt cliffs that become snow-capped in winter, tower over riverine vegetation, dense yellowwood forests and gushing waterfalls, create a huge border that separates KwaZulu-Natal from the Kingdom of Lesotho. The only road entry to the Drakensberg is through Sani Pass, at which the summit boasts the highest pub in the continent, 3,000 metres above sea level.

Throughout the Precambrian ages, volcanic eruptions in the region resulted in lava that spread over the Southern African sub-continent. In the Palaeozoic times, wind and water deposited thick layers of shale, mudstone and sandstone, now referred to as the Karoo Supergroup, over the ancient primary rock. The mountains are capped by a coating of basalt about 1,400 metres thick, with sandstone further down, causing a mixture of steep-sided blocks and peaks.

The tallest mountain peaks of the Drakensberg

The tallest peak is Thabana Ntlenyana at 3,482 metres. Other mentionable mountains include Mafadi, Makoaneng, Njesuthi, Champagne Castle, Giant’s Castle, Ben Macdhui, and Popple Peak – each of which lie in the region that borders on Lesotho. Another well-known area for hikers is Cathedral Peak. North of Lesotho, the range lowers and becomes less rough until entering Mpumalanga, where the quartzite mountains of the Transvaal Drakensberg are more majestic and broken. These mountains form the eastern edge of the Transvaal Basin, the Blyde River Canyon situated within its range.

Combining pure natural splendour with a wealth of biological variety, this 243,000 hectare mountainous area has been preserved for ages, since the San/Bushmen wandered through the region. Tens of thousands of paintings portraying their daily lives can be seen on the rock faces, and in the year 2000 the park was granted international recognition and was declared the second World Heritage Site of KwaZulu-Natal.

Hike Drakensberg South Africa

Hiking and climbing in the Drakensberg

There are many easy hiking trails on both lower and upper escarpments of the Drakensberg. During these hikes, be sure to keep an eye out to spot some of the 290 bird species, 48 mammal species, or the rare varieties of vegetation found in the area. The plant life is incredibly rich, and the fauna are both intriguing and varied. The soul of the Zulu Kingdom, the Drakensberg is a fantastic place to visit whilst travelling through the region.

There are however also various challenging mountains for hikers to conquer, and the brave can even try out rock or ice climbing. For adrenaline seekers, there is abseiling, white water rafting and helicopter riding available. The helicopter rides are incredible, giving you a unique aerial perspective of the beautifully lush Drakensberg mountains.


Here are some of the best hiking trails in the Drakensberg:

  1. Amphitheatre Trail: This iconic trail leads to the base of the Tugela Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the world. Hikers can enjoy stunning views of the Amphitheatre, a massive rock wall that spans approximately 5 kilometres.
  2. Sentinel Peak Hike: A challenging but rewarding hike that ascends to the summit of Sentinel Peak, offering panoramic vistas of the surrounding valleys and peaks. The hike is known for its steep ascent and rugged terrain.
  3. Chain Ladder Trail: Located in the Royal Natal National Park, this trail includes a series of chain ladders that lead hikers up the cliffs to the summit of the Amphitheatre. It’s a thrilling and adventurous hike, providing breathtaking views along the way.
  4. Giant’s Castle Trail: Situated in the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve, this trail offers opportunities to view San rock art and explore the stunning landscape of grassy plains and rocky outcrops. Hikers may also encounter wildlife such as eland, baboons, and bearded vultures.
  5. Cathedral Peak Trail: Leading to the summit of Cathedral Peak, this trail offers magnificent views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. Hikers can explore the Cathedral Peak Wilderness Area, known for its rugged beauty and diverse flora and fauna.
  6. Champagne Castle Trail: This trail leads to the summit of Champagne Castle, the third-highest peak in South Africa. Hikers can enjoy breathtaking views of the Champagne Valley and surrounding Drakensberg peaks.
  7. Drakensberg Grand Traverse: For experienced hikers seeking an epic adventure, the Drakensberg Grand Traverse is a multi-day trek that traverses the entire length of the Drakensberg range. The route covers approximately 220 kilometers and passes through some of the most remote and pristine wilderness areas in the region.


View Tours that highlight the Drakensberg:



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Article by: admin
on October 11, 2013
Filed under  Destinations • South Africa 
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