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 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 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.
There are 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.
If you are more inclined to participate in more leisurely activities, 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 in order 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.