Natal Drakensburg Attractions
The name Drakensberg was originally applied only to the 100km/60mi long range of mountains extending between the Mont-aux-Sources and the Underberg in KwaZulu/Natal and Lesotho.
This range, one of South Africa's most popular holiday regions, is now known as the Natal Drakensberg. The Boer settlers called the range the Drakensberg, seeing the form of the hills as resembling a recumbent dragon. In the Zulu language the mountains, with their jagged crest, are called Qathlamba, the "Rampart of Raised Spears".The Natal Drakensberg reaches heights of 3,377m/11,080ft in Champagne Castle and 3,482m/11,424ft in Mt Thabana Ntlenyana (in Lesotho). To the east the mountains fall almost vertically down to 1,000m/3,300ft. Below this steep escarpment is the Little Berg, a range of hills, some of them bizarrely shaped, ranging in height between 1,800 and 2,000m (5,900 and 6,600ft).During the winter (April-September) there are frequently falls of snow (there are no ski-lifts). The driest months are June and July. In winter, though the nights are cold, there is plenty of sunshine during the day, and in sheltered valleys it can be quite mild, with temperatures of just under 20°C/68°F. In summer it is usually warm, with temperatures between 15 and 30°C (59 and 86°F), but almost every day there are violent thunder showers (frequently with hail). Most of the annual rainfall of between 1000 and 1700mm (40 and 67in.) occurs between January and March. After cloudbursts the rivers and streams are swollen and the roads may sometimes become impassable at short notice.The slopes of the Drakensberg are covered with grass, interspersed below 2000m/6600ft with tufted grass, sclerophyllous (hard-leaved) plants and proteas, and above 2800m/9200ft with low-growing plants like Erica and strawflowers. In sheltered valleys and gorges there are dense forests of mountain cypresses, tree ferns and yellowwood trees. Altogether there are more than 800 different species of flowering plants, including 63 orchids.In numerous caves and rock overhangs in the area, particularly in the Giant's Castle Game Reserve, more than 20,000 rock paintings have been preserved, depicting wild animals and scenes of hunting and fighting. The oldest of these date back some 2000 years; the last Bushmen lived in the Drakensberg in the early 20th C.The Natal Drakensberg is a popular holiday region throughout the year and has excellent facilities for visitors. There are three tourist areas: the Royal Natal National Park in the north; the central highlands round Cathedral Peak, Champagne Castle and the Giant's Castle Game Reserve; and the southern highlands, with the Loteni, Kamberg and Mzimkulwana Nature Reserves. The central and southern regions are due to be combined to form the Natal Drakensberg Park.The main access route to the Natal Drakensberg is N 3, which runs from Johannesburg (400km/250mis away) via Pietermaritzburg to Durban (150km/95mis away) on the Indian Ocean. From this road various side roads run west to the different holiday areas in the Drakensberg.Good centers from which to visit the northern highlands are Harrismith and Bergville; the central area can be reached from Bergville, Winterton, Estcourt or Mooi River; and the best route to the southern highlands is by way of Pietermaritzburg, Underberg and Himeville.Accommodation for visitors is available in the towns mentioned and - much to be preferred - in holiday centers in the Drakensberg itself. There are numbers of holiday camps in which huts can be rented, and comfortable hotels like the Karos Mont-aux-Sources Hotel, the Sani Pass Hotel and the Drakensberg Sun Hotel. Most of the hotels and holiday camps offer a range of sports facilities.The best way to explore this mountain country is on foot. There are hiking trails in all grades of difficulty, most of which do not call for mountaineering skills. Before undertaking a hike of some length visitors should enter their names in the camp register. The best months for long trips in the mountains are April and May: in summer many streams turn into raging torrents which are impossible to cross. In many areas it is possible to join organized hill walks or to explore the region on horseback.
The fabulous mountain scenery of Royal Natal National Park can be appreciated from a number of lookouts or hiking trails. The rock face known as the Amphitheater, drops over 500 m.
The Giant's Castle Game Reserve was originally established in 1903 to protect the dwindling herds of elands. Today the park is popular with tourists both for the animals and the Bushman rock drawings.
Through the Mzimkulwana Nature Reserve runs the road to the Sani Pass. The only way through the Natal Drakensberg between the Royal Natal National Park to the north and Bushman's Nek to the south is over this spectacular pass (2,895m/9,498ft), which lies on the frontier between South Africa and Lesotho. (Only vehicles with four-wheel drive are allowed on the 8km/5mi of road between the two frontier posts; on foot it takes between 2 and 3 hours.) To the north of the pass is Mt Thabana Ntlenyana (3,482m/11,424ft), the highest peak in southern Africa. The pass takes its name from the San (Bushmen), who fled over this pass to escape from their white and black persecutors.At the foot of the pass on the South African side is the comfortable Sani Pass Hotel. Near the hotel is the starting-point of the Giant's Cup Hiking Trail (60km/37mi), which ends at Bushman's Nek; it should present no difficulties to experienced walkers.
40km/25mi west of Winterton is Cathedral Peak Hotel, in a beautiful setting in the Mlambonja valley, on the edge of Cathedral Peak State Forest, which offers a wide range of attractive walks and climbs. Above the hotel complex rear Cathedral Peak (3,004m/9,856ft), Mt Bell (2,930m/9613ft), the Outer Horn (3,006m/9,863ft) and the Inner Horn (3,005m/9,859ft). From the hotel a gravel track runs up Cathedral Peak - a relatively easy climb. From the summit there are overwhelming views.Another attractive trip is a drive to Mike's Pass, which also affords magnificent views. From the hotel take the Winterton road and in 3km/2mi turn into a road on the right.
Cathkin Peak & Champagne Castle
South of Cathedral Peak are Cathkin Peak (3,181m/10,437ft), somewhat apart from the main mountain chain, and Champagne Castle (3,377m/11,080ft), one of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg. There are many good walks and climbs in this area (Monk's Cowl State Forest). The hotels (Cathkin Park Hotel, Champagne Castle Hotel, the Nest, El Mirador, Drakensberg Sun Hotel, etc.) and the Dragon Peaks Park (a caravan park with some chalets for hire) offer other sports and entertainment facilities.
From Mike's Pass walkers (and riders) can find their way down into the 5.5km/3.5mi long Ndedema Gorge, in which is the Sebayeni Cave, with around 4,000 Bushman rock drawings. The oldest date from between 970 and 1230, the latest from between 1720 and 1820. Further information about visiting them can be obtained in the hotels.
Mont-aux-Sources is the name both of a mountain (3,282m/10,768ft) and of a popular holiday center near it (Karos Hotel Mont-aux-Sources) in the northern Natal Drakensberg. The name was originated by two French missionaries who discovered that several tributaries of the Orange and Tugela rivers rose on the mountain.
Kamberg Nature Reserve
The Kamberg Nature Reserve (area 2,230ha/5,510ac) lies southeast of Giant's Castle, at the foot of the Drakensberg (access on N 3, exit via Mooi River or near Nottingham Road, going west). The Mooi River, a good fishing stream, flows through a region of varied scenic beauty in which several species of antelope live. More than 30 species of orchid (flowering between December and March) are found in the reserve. There is accommodation for visitors in a self-catering hutted camp (suitable for disabled people).
Loteni Nature Reserve
On the southwest side of the Kamberg Nature Reserve is the Mkhomazi State Forest, and beyond this again is the Loteni Nature Reserve (area 3,984ha/9,840 ac; accommodation in self-catering huts). The Loteni River is an excellent trout stream which draws many anglers. The reserve is also home to many different species of birds, reedbucks, elands and bushbucks. The Settlers' Museum has a collection of agricultural implements, furniture and domestic equipment used by the early settlers.
Vergelegen Nature Reserve
The Vergelegen Nature Reserve (area 1,150ha/2,840 ac), lying at an altitude of 1,500m/5,000ft in the source area of the Umkomaas River (accommodation available in huts).
Mzimkulwana Nature Reserve
The Mzimkulwana Nature Reserve (area 22,751ha/56,195ac) is most easily reached by way of Himeville, 14km/9mi southeast. It contains many endangered species of plants and animals (Verreaux's eagle, martial eagle, Cape vulture, striped jackal, etc.).
Underberg, South Africa
A good center from which to explore the southern Natal Drakensberg is the little town of Underberg (pop. 1,000). The Himeville Nature Reserve, 6km/4mi north, lies in a good trout-fishing area.
Coleford Nature Reserve
20km/12.5mi south of Underberg is Coleford Nature Reserve, which has an area of 1,272ha/3,142 ac, mostly hilly grass steppe and swamp. The fauna includes black wildebeests, blesboks, oribis, reedbucks and other species of antelope.
Map of Natal Drakensburg Attractions