A visit to the Dragon Mountains – SA’s breathtaking Drakensberg

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Running for a thousand kilometres along the eastern side of South Africa, the Drakensberg mountain range is a sweeping escarpment of unspoiled beauty that is the highest in the southern half of the African continent; the tallest peak near being Thabana Ntlenyana or “beautiful little mountain” in local language Sesotho is 3 482 meters (or 11 424 feet) above sea level.

The Drakensberg is a treasure waiting to be discovered by international tourists. It is well worth taking a detour off the usual Cape-Town-Garden-Route-Johannesburg beaten track for, and escaping to one of the many charming B&Bs and hiking trails. From great budget stays, to family friendly accommodation, to a five-star luxury city break – the Drakensberg has something for every kind of traveller.

 

Named by the “Dragon Mountains” by the Dutch Voortrekkers, or also popularly known as the Maluti Mountains in Sesotho, one of the most well-known landmarks of the Drakensberg is Sani Pass, where you absolutely must stop for a drink at the highest pub in Africa at the Sani Top Chalet.

The central Drakensberg region, which includes Cathedral Peak, Winterton, Cathkin Peak, Monk’s Cowl, Champagne Castle and more, is also often capped in snow in the winter months, although not much skiing is done here. What the region does have in abundance is Bushman rock art sites which are also one highlight of any Drakensberg trip. Once thought to be depictions of daily tribal life, we now know that the San paintings found in almost 500 caves in the area were drawn by shamans during trance ceremonies. The Kamberg Rock Art Centre is the best place to view these mysterious wonders that date back thousands of years ago.

The Drakensberg is a nature-lover’s delight, with a huge range of activities that include:

Walking and hiking trails – your hotel, guest lodge or B&B host will surely recommend a number of trails in the areas where you are staying. The most popular are the World’s View 14km hike at the Giants Castle Nature Reserve and the long walk up to the Tugela waterfall which tumbles down some 950m. Both offer breath-taking views, so be sure to take your camera.

Fishing – some of the best fly fishing and freshwater fishing in Africa, with beautiful rivers and trout dams throughout the region. Some great places to fish are at the Giant’s Cup Wilderness Reserve, the Royal National Park just west of Bergville, also the Mlambonjwa and the Sterkspruit rivers in the Cathedral Peak area, at Injasuti and Giants Castle, and at one of the many lodges with their own dams.

Horse trails – while the Drakensberg is very mountainous, there are also surrounding grasslands and valleys that are perfect for negotiating on horseback, even if you are a beginner. You may even spot some game like impala, the elusive white rhino and even giraffes while you are out, or go on a battlefields outride and explore famous battle sites.

Birding – there are more than 400 species of birds in the Drakensberg region. Popular areas to go bird-watching are the two bird sanctuaries in Ladysmith, the Colenso Bird Park, Greytown and Kranskop. Remember to take a copy of the Amajuba Birding Meander guide, published by Birdlife Northern Natal.

No introduction to the Drakensberg is complete without visiting the talented Drakensberg Boys Choir School, which has an almost 50-year tradition of charming audiences across the world with the angelic voices of its students. The school often hosts a special concert on Wednesday afternoons which is open to the public.

 

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