Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Ain’t no mountain high enough!

‘Drakensberg’ means ‘Dragon’s Mountains’ in Afrikaans, and the Zulu name is uKhahlamba, the ‘barrier of spears’. Both monikers help convey these peaks’ spiky, jagged contours, which form part of a large escarpment leading to a vast interior plateau. For many hikers, a multi-day hiking trail in this wild and remote area is a definite bucket list item. And why wouldn’t it be? We put our top five trails in this beautiful area together.

Tugela Gorge Trail

Widely acclaimed as the most picturesque of all the Drakensberg hiking trails, the Tugela Gorge Trail leads hikers to South Africa’s highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls. In fact, the falls – located near the source of the Tugela River – rank among the world’s tallest, with an interrupted leap of 411m and a total drop of 947m (the Angel Falls in Venezuela, with a height of 979m, is regarded as the tallest in the world). Generally considered a challenging route, it is equally popular amongst hikers and trail runners. Apart from the waterfall, it also takes you to another great wonder of the Drakensberg, the Amphitheatre. One does need to be reasonably fit to complete this hike comfortably, but the incredible views more than make up for the sometimes strenuous effort. There are loads of freshwater streams along the way to cool your feet and body, and the gorge is simply majestic. The full trail will take you anything from around seven to ten hours, depending on your fitness levels and how often you stop – as such, it is essential to take sufficient water and food supply with you! Additionally, the weather can change quickly – so it’s best to layer up!

LENGTH: 14.8km

ELEVATION GAIN: 759m

ROUTE TYPE: Out & back

Cathedral Peak

Isolation, altitude, views, verdant mountainside, rocky peaks, and unique topography – Cathedral Peak certainly has everything for the ultimate hike. Generally considered a challenging route, this popular 17.7km out-and-back trail is suitable for hiking, running, and walking and can take anything from four to seven hours, depending on your pace and fitness levels. Be prepared for a very steep ascent and remember that guides do not summit during late autumn and winter due to adverse weather conditions. While it can get busy at times, it allows for enough time to enjoy solitude in the beautiful surroundings. Navigation along the route can be challenging towards the end as the trails are not well-signed, so having the map downloaded ahead of time will help keep you on track.

LENGTH: 17.7km

ELEVATION GAIN: 1 535m

ROUTE TYPE: Out & back

Monk’s Cowl – Nandi Falls

Seen as one of the less challenging trails on Monk’s Cowl in the Drakensberg, this 6.3km out-and-back route will take an average of two hours to complete and is suitable for kids older than six. Hikers will be treated to beautiful views up to Cathkin Peak the entire way and excellent views of the Drakensberg range, coupled with a few rock pools along the route to cool down. Although not as impressive as some of the others in the mountain range, the waterfall is a favourite amongst the kids and an excellent spot for a picnic lunch. While this is technically the end of the route, you can take various other marked trails to extend your journey.

LENGTH: 6.3km

ELEVATION GAIN: 253m

ROUTE TYPE: Out & back

Mushroom Rock and Doreen Fall

With absolutely stunning scenery and a somewhat strenuous walk to get the heart pounding, this trail is well laid out and clearly marked. The highlight is the waterfall, pouring picturesquely over a rock into a small basin (great for a swim in summertime). There are also ancient San rock carvings nearby. If you walk a little further through the hole in the path and up to the ridge above Mushroom Rock, you get a completely different view of this well-loved spot. Spectacular!

LENGTH: 6.9km

ELEVATION GAIN: 406m

ROUTE TYPE: Out & back

Mafadi Summit Hike

Widely regarded as the most difficult hike in the Drakensberg, the 28.3km out-and-back trail near Injasuthi can take up to 12 hours to complete (if you are fit). It is a gruelling, tough hike and should only be attempted if you have done multiday hikes before. Having said that, this is also one of the best and certainly most beautiful trails in the area (if not the whole of South Africa!). The views are unbelievable, and the intense climbing on the second day rewards you with a view over the whole of KwaZulu-Natal. Sitting on the plateau at the end of Corner’s Pass is probably one of the most satisfying experiences in the Drakensberg. The following day, in Upper Injisuthi Cave (at 3 300m, the highest cave in the Drakensberg), you are greeted with the same views straight from your sleeping bag. Simply out of this world. An important consideration is to plan the hike around the seasons to avoid the rain – not only is it more enjoyable, but also safer as the third day (which will see you descending Mafadi) has a lot of river crossings.

LENGTH: 28.3km

ELEVATION GAIN: 1 846m

ROUTE TYPE: Out & back

Check out www.alltrails.com before heading out on any trail in South Africa. It offers excellent insights for planning, coupled with peer reviews.

WHERE TO STAY

Hugging the border between South Africa and Lesotho and a two-hour drive from Durban and four hours from Gauteng, the spectacular uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a 2 428km² protected area. This destination received World Heritage Site status on two counts – firstly, due to the Drakensberg’s unique flora and fauna, boasting some 2 500 plant species (350 are endemic and over 500 near-endemic), as well as ten unique vertebrate species that only exist here. Secondly, it received this accolade due to the more than 30 000 examples of San rock art found in this area.

Besides hiking and trail running, visitors to uKhahlamba can enjoy fishing and swimming in crystal clear rivers, river rafting on the Tugela River, rock climbing and magnificent mountain biking routes. For history buffs, ancient San rock art can be seen in around 500 sites in the Drakensberg, with Rock Art Interpretive Centres located at Kamberg and Cathedral Peak. Didima Camp has an interactive show in a huge rock overhang that is quite thrilling. The bird life in the area is also exquisite, with some sought-after species including the Drakensberg Siskin, Drakensberg (Orange-breasted) Rockjumper, Mountain Pipit and Bearded Vultures.

For diverse facilities to suit all budgets, uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park offers scenic rest camps and fully equipped Drakensberg accommodation, including luxury lodges, fully equipped cottages and chalets, and overnight caves. Rates vary according to the time of year you visit and the type of accommodation you opt for.

Camp overview of uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park:

Didima Resort

• 28 x 2-bed chalets (no kitchenette)

• 32 x 2-bed (with kitchenette)

• 2 x 4-bed (with kitchenette)

• 1 x 6-bed bungalows (with kitchenette)

• 1 x luxury honeymoon suite

Giant’s Castle

• 1 x 6-bed lodge

• 16 x 2 Garden view chalets

• 20 x 2-bed Mountain view chalets

• 3 x 4-bed Mountain view chalets

• 1 x 4-bed Garden view chalet

• 3 x 6-bed mountain view chalets

• 1 x 8-bed mountain hut (Bannerman Hut)

Royal Natal Park:

Thendele Resort

• 1 x 6-bed lodge

• 2 x 6-bed cottages

Lower Resort

• 8 x 2-bed chalets

• 5 x 4-bed chalets

Upper Resort

• 6 x 2-bed chalets

• 7 x 4-bed chalets

CONTACT: +27 21 424 1037 | www.nature-reserve.co.za

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