The Drakensburg Mountains are found in the Kwa Zulu Natal province in South Africa. They are recognized as the highest mountain range in southern Africa. To the Zulu people, it is called Ukhahlamba meaning the Barrier of Spears and to the Afrikaans, it is called The Dragon Mountain. The Drakensberg mountain range stretches the entire length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western boundary into Lesotho for hundreds of miles of high towering cliffs.
The basalt sheer cliffs are snow capped in the winter showing off the scenic peaks that stand at 3,482m above sea level. Several millions of years ago, a volcanic mountain erupted pouring significant lava over a large area of southern African. The highest peak on the mountain is called Thabana Ntlenyana at 3,482m and other notable parks being Mafadi, Mokoaneng, Njesuthi and Champagne Castle to mention but a few. Cathedral peak is popular with hikers on the Drakensburg
The mountain ranges are a spectacular with unique plant species, 119 of them listed as endangered and the others endemic to the mountains’ slopes and the park on the foot hills. The mountain is covered in high alti-montane grasslands, conifers on the lower slopes and riverine bush among other unique flora species.
Wildlife in Drakensburg
The Drakensburg mountain ranges are home to several species of birds and animals living in both the high altitude zones and in the lower mountain foot hills. Some of the wildlife in the mountain includes Klipspringer, eland, mountain reedbuck, white rhino, black wildebeest, grey rhebok, oribi and many other animals that live in the park on the foot hills.
Several birds are endemic to the mountain with endangered species such as mountain pipit, bush blackcap, buff-streaked chat, rudd’s lark, orange breasted rock jumper, yellow breasted pipit and the Drakensburg Siskin. Cape Vulture and Lesser kestrel are the prey birds in the park.
Amphibians are also part of the sight along the river with different frog species within the park.
The spectacular Drakensberg trails need to be treated with caution. The weather can change dramatically from one moment to the next and especially if you are at high altitudes the strong winds, mist, snow and extreme cold can arrive unexpectedly. It is of utmost importance that you complete the rescue register in full at any entrance to a Drakensberg area, even if you are only planning on going for a short stroll.
Attractions in the park
There are several rock paintings by the bush men and Khoi people that lived in the lower mountains several years ago. More than 35,000 paintings are found on rocks and in 500 different caves in the Royal National Park. Some of the caves with incredible paintings include Sebaayeni with 1146 paintings and Ndedema Gorge with more than 3,900 painting in its different caves. The paintings have been flagged as UNESCO World heritage site, the second in Kwa Zulu Natal
Royal Natal National Park is found north of Drakensburg Mountains spreading over peaks such as the Amphitheatre, Mont-aux-Sources, the Sentinel, Inner Tower, eastern Buttress and Devil’s Tooth. The dome of Mont-aux-Sources, which is 3282 metres high, is the source of five major rivers, including the Tugela which plunges 600 metres over the escarpment in a magnificent waterfall. Ukhahlamba Drakensburg Park was listed as a UNESCO world Heritage site covering over 243sq km and is an important ramsar site in the mountains.
Hiking in the Drakensburg Mountains
Although much of the mountains are weathered due to erosion, this has not deterred tourism in the mountains. Drakensberg is however a hikers paradise! Hiking trails go through shaded valleys, lush forests, under shimmering waterfalls and over looming mountains. Some of the interesting places to see and hikes include Devil’s Hoek Valley, Amphitheatre to Cathedral; Mckinley’s Pool, Gudu Falls; The Grotto Mont-Aux-Sources via Basutho Gate and The Chain Ladder, Otto’s Walk & Bushman Paintings, Tugela Gorge and the river plus waterfalls.
The central Drakensberg trails goes over the Blue Pool and Nyosi Grotto, The Cathedral Peak Hike, Ganabu Ridge and Baboon Rock Mlambonja Pass to Twins Cave. All differ in days and scenery. The Southern Drakensberg offers hikes such as Mkomazi Wilderness Area, Kamberg Vergelegen & Sani Pass and Cobham & Garden Castle.
It is an incredible opportunity to hike up a mountain, breathe the crisp clean air, sleep over in the most in a cave or camp out under the star filled sky.
Other activities in the mountain include fishing on the river, walking trails on the lower slopes of the Drakensburg, rock/ice climbing, abseiling, white water rafting and also exploring the mountains on a helicopter ride.
You can as well takes some time off to experience the Zulu People, their cultures and way of life by visiting towns and cities on the slopes of the mountain such as Ulundi the former Zulu capital, Kwa Zulu Natal, coal mining towns of Dundee and Ixop and probably proceed on to neighboring Lesotho capital Maseru
The only road that reaches into the montains is via Sani Pass in South Africa. While there, you don’t have to worry about where you are going to spend the night or have an overnight meal. The are several Drakensburg hotels, guest houses, camping sites, self catering facilities and also safari lodges.
Central Drakensberg is a centre for tourism with resorts, b&bs, hotels, guest houses, self catering establishments, golfing, horse back trails, hiking trails, 4×4 trails and much more. Options include Cathedral peak hotel, Tugela river lodge, Robin’s guest house, Valemount Country Lodge, Acorn Cottages, Umsuluzi Riverside Luxury lodge, Champagne Castle Hotel, Sani Pass Hotel…the list goes on and on.