A slackpacker’s guide to hiking in the Drakensberg
While the Drakensberg may be the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, enjoying its many “khulus”, doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re filming the latest episode of Bear Grylls.
“The Drakensberg is home to some amazingly scenic and challenging hiking routes, but there are many easy hikes for those wanting a taste of the outdoors, without breaking too much of a sweat,” says Glen Hadden, Reservations Manager at Little Switzerland, a resort in the Northern Drakensberg under the Dream Hotels and Resorts’ portfolio.
“Whether you’re an intrepid explorer, an incurable romantic or an exhausted businessman, here in the Drakensberg, you can take your holiday at your own pace, even if it means using your afternoon to lounge out by the pool, enjoying the views of the Amphitheatre.”
If you’re up for stretching your legs on one of the area’s tamer hikes, here are five recommendations from Jonathan Newman, who has logged over 6000km in the Drakensberg and currently heads up the hiking portfolio for the Mountain Club of South Africa’s KZN Section:
1) Giants Castle, Main Caves
Duration: 2 hours
Originally referred to as Garden Castle, before its name was changed by map makers just over 100 years ago, Giant’s Castle is a hiker's paradise with trails ranging from 3km to several days. This particular route to the main caves is an easy walk, but you will have to be accompanied by a guide from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to do it, as it includes a visit to a rock art site. With over 6000 different cave paintings, the Drakensberg is the world's largest outdoor art exhibition.
2) Cannibal Cave
Duration: 4 hours
In the past, this cave was occupied by the San, as well as refugees from the time of Shaka Zulu. You can start this walk from The Cavern on the road leading into the Royal Natal National Park, following a well-marked trail to an impressive cave that overlooks the valley. A 5km Cannibals Cave parkrun also takes place here at 8:00am every Saturday and starts near the craft shop on the way in.
3) The Gorge Walk
Duration 6 hours
Starting from the Royal Natal National Park's hikers parking near the reception area, follow the Tugela River towards the base of Tugela Falls (the second highest waterfall in the world). Expect breathtaking views, a clearly demarcated trail and a combination of terrain, 7km each way. Be sure to pack a picnic, and to make a few stops along the way, but be careful of baboons who might try their luck for a quick snack.
4) The Sentinel Peak (Chain Ladders)
Duration: 6 hours
The Sentinel Peak is one of the icons of the northern section of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, standing guard at the western end of the Amphitheatre. Starting from the Sentinel Car Park, follow the trail as it zig-zags up the mighty Sentinel and traverses around Beacon Buttress. This 12km hiking route is the easiest to the top of the Drakensberg. The top of Tugela Falls can be reached from here.
5) The Giants Cup Trail
Duration: 5 days
The Giants Cup Trail is a great beginner’s route for slackpackers wanting an extended hike and don’t mind extra preparation. Starting on the Sani Pass road, this five-day hutted trail traverses the valleys and ridges of the Southern KZN Drakensberg for a total of 60km. Every day includes at least one nearby rock pool, perfect if you’re hiking on a hot summer's day.