Embracing the magic of the mighty Drakensberg

by Media Xpose

By Megan Bedingham

There is something magical about the Drakensberg. As many times as visitors explore this enchanting region it still retains an aura of mystic where the land holds many stories of the past while creating new long-lasting memories…

KwaZulu-Natal’s Drakensberg mountains range, from the iconic Amphitheatre in the north to Bushman’s Nek in the south, is a rugged range of igneous basalt forming the border between South Africa and Lesotho. It is also one of the greatest water catchment areas in South Africa.

The highest peak is Thabana Ntlenyana at 3 482m and the Thukela Falls is now the highest falls in the world, cascading 947m into the valley below. It is an impressive region to visit.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, this is an area of captivating beauty, with a wide range of endemic species. Within its hills and caves are the greatest collection of rock art in the world. It is known in isiZulu as ‘uKhahlamba’ which means ‘Barrier of Spears’, a perfect description of the peaks and rugged mountains that make up this impressive range.

Planning a trip?

The Drakensberg is divided into three areas: Southern, Central and Northern Drakensberg. Each area offers visitors the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the stunning surrounds and experience the best nature has to offer.

Autumn in the ‘berg is beautiful. The landscapes are transformed by the golden grasslands and the weather becomes more settled with fewer summer storms. Birding enthusiasts will find the endemic Gurney’s sugarbird feasting on the garden aloes. Temperate days are perfect for hiking and the cool evenings make it the ideal destination for fireside gatherings and chats with friends.

Since the Drakensberg is an eco-tourism destination, the natural landscapes offer a wide range of activities for tourists. There are challenging hikes for adventure enthusiasts and easy strolls for those wish to enjoy and explore the outdoors. The views are breathtaking, the surroundings healing, and crisp clear berg streams create space for tranquillity and solitude. Geological features provide the opportunity to explore caves and overhangs and the indigenous forests and open grasslands are home to birds, antelope and other friendly wildlife.

Hiking highlights

Highlights in the Northern Drakensberg include the Tugela Gorge and the Amphitheatre ascent hikes. The gorge hike meanders up the Thukela River with boulder hopping on the final stretch to reach the sandstone tunnel beneath the wall of the Amphitheatre.

Alternatively, hikers can drive to the Sentinel car park and hike to the top of the escarpment up the chain ladders. This is possibly the most accessible part of the Drakensberg range. After just two hours’ effort, one can be on top of the world – 3 100m above sea level! A further 45 minutes to the top of the falls and then the ultimate reward; a magnificent view of the valleys below. The newly installed via ferrata to the top of the Amphitheatre is an extreme adventure for the brave and fearless. (“via ferrata” translates as “iron path” in English. It refers to metal rungs, ladders or permanently fixed safety wire as a means of crossing otherwise tricky and steep rocky terrain.)

Battlefields, golf courses and restaurants

The central Drakensberg region is home to Cathedral Peak, Champagne Castle and Cathkin Peak. It is well known for the array of battlefields tours, golf courses and eateries. The Champagne Valley offers a range of activities from bird shows, scooter tours, and hot-air ballooning to beer and wine tastings, and much more. This is the conferencing capital of the area and there really is something for everyone.

The southern ‘berg’ is home to the Sani Pass, a 4×4 enthusiast’s dream destination with the highest pub in Africa nestled at the top. Fishermen can enjoy open water trout fishing in the region and the Rhino Peak is a great climbers’ challenge. The southern region tends to get more snowfall in the winter months and snow seekers are thrilled when the weather plays the game!

Accommodation from budget camping to luxury lodges

Accommodation offerings range in price and comfort, from budget camping to comfortable cottages to gorgeous hotels and luxury lodges. Self-catering or full inclusive packages are available. Larger resorts and establishments can host gatherings and weddings while solitude cottages and smaller boutique lodges provide something special for the more discerning traveller.

While adventure and adrenalin junkies can get their full in this mountain paradise, it is also the remote locations with the peace and quiet that calls to holidays makers to rest and be rejuvenated.

With wellness a priority, retreats and spas offer an alternative to the thrill of adventure. Tranquil escapes to quiet cottages, relaxing signature spa massages or afternoons spent next to a gurgling ‘berg stream help restore the weary.www.drakensbergexperience.com

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