The Drakensberg mountains offer a wide range of walking and hiking trails – from the easy strolls around the many resorts, to strenuous hikes to the summit. Waterfalls, rivers, magnificent vistas and places of beauty and solitude are all there, just waiting for you to don your walking shoes (or hiking boots!) and explore.
Most resorts offer advice on the local walks and many offer organised walks with a guide. There are local guides available and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife produces an excellent series of maps – these are essential to anyone planning extended hikes or summiting.
When setting off on a walk please remember that the weather can be very changeable – the mountains are unforgiving to those who take the dangers lightly. Wear the correct footwear and clothing - don’t forget a hat and sunscreen. Even in winter, the sun burns at high altitude. Carry water and a jacket. To those setting off on longer hikes, especially to the summit, remember to complete the mountain register and to plan adequately.
The following selection of hikes is by no means comprehensive, either in directions or variety, but is intended to highlight the range of hiking experiences available.
ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK
A wide range of easy to moderate walks are offered by the local resorts, including Sigubudu Ridge, Surprise Ridge and Cannibal Cavern, Gudu Bush and Falls, Plowman’s Kop and the Grotto.
The main feature of the area is the Amphitheatre, flanked by the Sentinel (3165m) and Beacon Buttress on the one side and the Devils Tooth and Eastern Buttress (3047m) on the other. The mighty Tugela river rises on the summit, just in from the edge of the escarpment, at Mont-aux-Sources, and then plunges 948 meters over the escarpment in a series of cascades. The base of the falls can be reached by a 7km walk up the spectacular Tugela Gorge. The summit of the Amphitheatre and Mont-aux-Sources can be reached via the chain ladder, which is a two-hour hike from the Sentinel Car Park. Heading South along the summit are the Ifidi Pinnacles and cave, the Icidi Buttress, Stimela Ridge Mbundini Abbey, Madonna and her worshipers and Fangs Cave. Passes at Ifidi, Icidi, Mbundini and Fangs give access to the summit, but are severe and should only be attempted by experienced hikers accompanied by a guide, with correct equipment and planning.
Heading south from the Amphitheatre you come to the Mweni with its distinctive Mweni Pinnacles. Here the local community has established a cultural village (which can be reached from Bergville on the Rookdale Road) where you can either stay and take day walks in the area or set off (guides are available) on longer walks. The passes mentioned above are accessed from this area, as are the Mweni and Rockeries pass. The Mweni baths and Maquela’s Kraal offer shorter outings.
MWENI TOURISM CENTRE email@example.com
South of the Mweni lies the Cathedral Range - the distinctive features are Cathedral Peak (3004m), Bell (2930m) Inner and Outer Horn (3005m) and (Cleft Peak 3281m). This area offers a wealth of walks ranging from the easy to extreme. Doreen Falls and Mushroom Rock lie near the Hotel. Rainbow Gorge and Tryme offer two different experiences. You can visit the trout hatchery near the hotel and continue to Neptune’s pools and Xeni Cave. Guided hikes to Bushmen paintings in the Ndedema Gorge are on offer from the Didima Visitors Centre. For the more adventurous the Mlambonja, Tseketseke and Organ Pipes passes provide a route to the summit ranging from severe to extreme!
MONKS COWL, CATHKIN PEAK & CHAMPAGNE CASTLE
Cathkin Peak (3149m) and Champagne Castle (3377m), with Sterkhorn, Tower and Amphlet in the foreground and the Dragon’s Back in the background dominate the Champagne Valley. Monks Cowl lies between Cathkin and Champagne peaks and within the area is only seen from Barry’s grave. Easy walks in this area include Barry’s grave, the Fern Forrest and Grotto which are reached from the Drakensberg Sun Hotel; The bushmen paintings and saw pits – from the Champagne Valley School (a guide is required): The Sterkspruit Gorge, Sterkspruit falls and the Sphinx are in the Monks Cowl Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife area. You can continue with the Sphinx path, past Breakfast Stream to the contour path at Blind Mans Corner and walk the contour path in either direction right at the base of the mighty peaks! An alternative route back from Blind Mans is via Keartlands – this is more severe than past the Sphinx. The summit is reached via Gray’s Pass (severe) or Ships Prow Pass (extreme). The contour path offers connecting routes to the Cathedral area (Zulu Cave and Eland Cave) as well as to Wonder Valley and the Injasuti in the south.
Injasuti is part of the Giants Castle area, but is accessed from Loskop (Note: the road is poor). The Old Woman Grinding Corn, the spectacular Trojan Wall, the Red Wall and the free standing Injasuti Triplets are the features of this secluded valley. The contour path linking to Cathkin can be accessed via Van Heyningen’s Pass or up Cataract Valley. A guided hike to Battle Cave, which features the paintings of a battle between feuding clans of bushmen, can be booked. Beyond Battle cave is Lower Injasuti Cave – a good overnight stop. Marble baths and Grindstone Caves provide moderate half day walks.
The Massive form of the Giant, which is formed of a ridge and peak, marks the end of the Central berg – from here the range swings southward. Giants Castle is home to Main Caves, which are a short 2km or 40min walk from the Camp. Here a Bushman tableaux and paintings are on view (The tour must be booked at the camp). Short forest, river and bush walks start at the camp. Langalibalele, Bannerman and Giants Castle Passes form access routes to the Summit, ranging from severe to extreme.
The Mkhomazi Wilderness Area reaches south from Giants Castle to Sani Pass and includes the Loteni, Vergelegen and Mzimkhulwana Nature Reserves. In this area the escarpment or high Berg is not near the rest camps and access points, however if you are staying at one of the camps there are good short walks in the Little Berg and the fishing is excellent. The Bushmen Rock Art Interpretive Centre at Kamberg features walking tours to Game Pass Shelter – one of the important rock art sites in South Africa.
The Giant’s Cup and Hodgson Peak are the distinctive features of the Southern Berg. Well known is the Giant’s Cup Trail that takes 5 days to cover a distance of 60,3km. Accommodation is in huts at the overnight stops and bookings can be made at the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife on 033 845 1000. Walks in the foothills are available from the hotels in the area.
Climbing and abseiling
Mountain climbing and abseiling are popular berg adventure activities. However it is important that you do so in the presence of an experienced climber who knows the area.
The Mountain Club of South Africa (KZN Section)
Tel 084 240 7277 firstname.lastname@example.org
Summit the ‘Roof of Africa’ & Tugela Falls on your 3 day Amphitheatre slackpacking trail. We are the hiking, biking and adventure specialists.
Tel 082 679 4244 email@example.com
Situated in Estcourt. Specialising in Drakensberg hiking trips ranging from one day to multiday trips. All trips lead by registered guides.
Tel 072 032 1557 firstname.lastname@example.org
Paddle white water, climb rock and walk mountains! We operate in the Central Drakensberg and areas around the town of Harrismith. Professional guiding. No experience required.
Tel 076 459 9127 email@example.com
Specialists in guided hiking in the Drakensberg. We can organize hiking experiences in any region of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site