The majesty of the Drakensberg Mountains is known worldwide, and hosts some of the best hiking in the world. The Drakensberg range lies in the eastern part on the Republic of South Africa. It is the country’s highest and longest range of peaks. It also forms a natural boundary between South Africa and the small landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho.
The highest point of the range (and also in the RSA) is Mafadi peak in the central region of the range. This fairly insignificant, flat topped peak rises to 3450 meters. Over the border, inside Lesotho near Sani Pass, lies Thaba Ntlenyana which is the highest peak south of Kilimanjaro at 3482 meters.
The range consists of a high escarpment with large rounded mountains to the west which form the Lesotho highlands. To the east the escarpment drops precipitously into the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Just east of the escarpment stand numerous peaks and pinnacles intersected by deep gorges.
This mountain wilderness can be accessed from numerous Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife stations at the foothills, or sometimes through private land like the hotels and farms in the areas. Park fees are payable which go towards the running of the parks, uplifting surrounding communities as well as towards the Emergency Services Fund which covers the cost of rescue, and in which the Mountain Club of South Africa’s rescue team is a major role player.
These mountains are home to innumerable caves for shelter and also for appreciation of the Bushman Paintings. While these paintings are protected and in some instances have restricted access, they are one of the elements which led to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park being inscribed as a world heritage site.
The mountain wildlife is prolific as well. Macro and micro fauna abound and can be seen anywhere at any time, which makes hiking this region so interesting. Most notable are the eland- huge beasts which roam in herds of sometimes more than 50, mountain reed buck, vaal rhebok and duiker are just some of the antelope you might see. Predators include jackal, caracal, genet and even leopard! Raptors are many and it is common to see the vultures circling in the azure skies above you while you hike. The cape vulture and lammergeier are common, as are eagles. Don’t underestimate the cheekiness, size and cunning of the baboons in the Drakensberg. Even the crows will have a look around your belongings if left unattended!
As for the plant-life, encyclopaedias could be written on the topic in the berg. In fact the Berg is an ongoing project to scientists in this regard. Bring a good macro camera and you won’t be disappointed. Endemic to the area are the protea trees and bushes. But the more subtle flowers like the Erica’s, Orchids make each hike unique. The orange watsonias in February/March make for a fine spectacle.
The changeable weather in the Berg is most noteworthy from a safety point of view. Even a sunny day-trip can turn into a snowy escapade in a matter of hours, or even a few hundred metres ascent. Always travel prepared for cold and rain at the very least. It has snowed in the Berg in every month of the year!
While GPS has its uses for navigation, we highly recommend that you also purchase a copy of the area map in which you are hiking. Should your technology fail, and you find yourself out there alone, a map will provide an invaluable aid. The path-splits can be confusing and are often unmarked.
Most of the Drakensberg hiking is self-guided, but there is the option to hire a professional guide. A number of private operators can be found on the web.
Also, there are no facilities in the high mountains once you leave the road head. You are wholly responsible for all your needs of food, first aid, sleeping equipment, clothing, cooking equipment etc.
There are also no medical facilities in the mountains. Evacuation in case of emergency will be done on foot (using a stretcher), on horse-back, or where possible, by helicopter. Snake bites can happen (usually the puffadder), and we suggest you seek advice from the local ranger as to where best to get treated as sometimes the help closer to the Berg can be more expert than in the city where this is not such a common occurrence. While mobile phones can be useful you cannot rely on coverage everywhere.
Safety should be considered no matter where you travel in South Africa. We suggest you move in small to large groups (4-10) and avoid known troubled areas and smuggling routes. We recommend you never hike alone, as in the case of emergency, this could spell disaster. At each official entry point into the Drakensberg, or even the “Lower Berg”, you are required to complete the Mountain Register. This is a pivotal safety measure, and should you not return on your said date, the search and rescue will be based on the information you provide about your route and other details. Please also sign out so that we know you are safely back again!
The Drakensberg is a valuable part of our heritage. We know you will have a new and different experience every time you visit. Please leave only your footprints, take only your photos and help preserve our mountain legacy.
SEARCH & RESCUE
0800 005 133
Keep this number in case of an emergency.
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