Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, the Vredefort Dome in the Free State and the Cradle of Humankind in Mpumalanga, make up our world’s heritage.
The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is one of seven World Heritage Sites in South Africa and lies in the west of KwaZulu-Natal on the Lesotho border. It is 243 000 hectares in size, stretching 150 kilometres from Royal Natal National Park in the north to Cobham Forest Station in the south. It has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. Rolling high-altitude grasslands, pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges also contribute to the beauty of this World Heritage Site. The diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants.
This spectacular natural site also contains many caves and rock shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa, south of the Sahara, made by the San people over a period of 4000 years. The rock paintings are outstanding in quality and diversity of subject and in their depiction of animals and human beings and they represent the spiritual life of the San people who no longer live in this region.
KwaZulu-Natal’s Drakensberg offers a multitude of spectacular destinations and visitors will be spoilt for choice. There are three distinct regions, Southern, Central and Northern Drakensberg, each one has its own dramatic scenery and mountain peaks, hiking trails, san paintings and adventure activities. Accommodation options vary from luxury hotels, guest houses and B&B’s to self catering chalets and caravan and camp sites, as well as hikers huts and caves tucked away high up in the mountains.
The Southern Drakensberg is home to the Sani Pass and at 2874 meters above sea level, it’s the highest road pass in South Africa and leads to the Lesotho Border. This area of the Drakensberg includes the towns of Underberg, Himeville, Bulwer, Nottingham Road, as well as the well-known areas of Loteni, Kamberg, Garden Castle, Bushmans Nek, Giants Cup, Highmoor, Sehlabathebe National Park and the Mzimkhulu Wilderness Area.
The Southern Drakensberg has numerous hiking trails, ranging from the leisurely 2km Jacobs Ladder hike up to a 5-day hike at Giants Cup which covers over 60 km’s of Southern Berg. Avid hikers can opt for overnight stays in the mountains and there are caves and hikers huts in which to camp out for the night as well as challenging climbs such as Hodgson’s Peak at Cobham, The Rhino at Garden Castle and Thabana Ntlenyana near Vergelegen, which is the highest point in Africa south of Kilimanjaro.
Berg enthusiasts will not be disappointed with the vast array of activities from hiking trails, fly-fishing spots and golf courses to paragliding opportunities, horse riding, mountain biking and quad bike trails. Annual events in the Southern Drakensberg include the Splashy Fen Music Festival, Underberg Winter Horse Trials, numerous canoeing events and an annual agricultural show held in Underberg.
Moving along to the Central Berg, home of the internationally acclaimed Drakensberg Boys Choir School, incorporates the towns of Winterton, Estcourt and Mooi River, as well as the areas of Cathedral Peak, Ndedema Gorge, Monks Cowl, Champagne Castle, Injasuti, Giants Castle and Organ Pipes. This area of the Drakensberg is spectacular in its dramatic mountains, wilderness areas, San rock art sites and some of the best hiking trails that the Drakensberg can offer.
The Central Berg will take you through most of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a wilderness area where an abundance of birds, fauna, flora, waterfalls, lakes and dams, streams, bushman paintings and natural scenery will keep visitors wanting more. During the winter months the mountains are covered in snow, transforming the area into a winter wonderland. During the spring months the snow is replaced with a carpet of wild flowers, covering the landscape in shades of pink and orange.
Adventure activities in the Central Drakensberg include bushveld and mountain horse rides, fly-fishing, falconry, river rafting, quad biking and golf courses. Hundreds of hiking trails and river walks lead to forests and waterfalls, caves, spectacular lookout points, unusual rock formations, bushman paintings and sheer rock cliffs. One of the most challenging hikes in this area is the Two Passes and Cleft Peak Escarpment, which starts near Cathedral Peak and is an extreme 3 day, 40km hike, and is definitely not for the unfit or inexperienced hiker.
The Northern Drakensberg with the splendour of the popular Amphitheatre is the highest of the Drakensberg range, rising over 3000 meters. This area of the Drakensberg includes the town of Bergville and the areas of Mont-aux-Sources, Royal Natal National Park, the Amphitheatre, Rugged Glen Nature Reserve, Singati Valley, Ifidi, Mweni & Ntonjelana Valleys and the Saddle.
Known to the Zulu’s as uKhahlamba, the Barrier of Spears, these mountains are the source of the Tugela River and the spectacular Tugela Falls, which plunge 947 meters and are the second highest falls in the world. Most of the Northern Berg forms part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, one of the seven World Heritage Sites in South Africa, and offers visitors a unique cultural experience with thousands of San rock art sites scattered throughout this region and many paintings are over 800 years old.
Adventure enthusiasts can choose from a variety of activities in the area, from horse riding, fly-fishing, boating, golf and mountain biking to rock climbing, abseiling, white water rafting and hiking trails. There are numerous short walks and day hikes in the area as well as more challenging hikes, like the 5-day, 62 km route from Amphitheatre to Cathedral, this route leaves from the Amphitheatre and passes Mbundini, Mweni, the Rockeries, the Saddle and finished at the Cathedral range.
All in all, this spectacular range of mountains, covered with snow in winter and a carpet of flowers in spring, offers something for everyone, from kids to serious hikers. And with a range of accommodation and activities to suit everyone’s needs, there is no excuse not to visit this ever-popular, scenic and certainly tranquil World Heritage site.
Compiled By Holley Bromhead - CaravanParks.com