The number one hiking destination in South Africa by a long shot ( sorry Cape Town) is the mighty Drakensberg. These majestic mountains, situated in the province of KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape offers up some fantastic hiking opportunities.
The Best part about hiking in the Drakensberg?
The sheer diversity! Hike along the rugged escarpment, scramble up majestic mountain passes, follow a stream onto a Gorge-carving waterfall or huff and puff to the top of South Africa’s highest peak where the weather and scenery is notoriously wild.
And now for our next number…. We’d like to return to the classics
Two classic hiking trails are a good bet for exploration and adventure: The 65km Mafadi Hike, a mountainous journey which blazes its way up from the Injasuthi Valley to the top of the highest mountain in South Africa. And the 100km long Mini Traverse Hike, an escarpment corridor running the length of the Northern Drakensberg from the Sentinel to Cathedral Peak.
The major challenges on these hikes include exposure to the elements ( freezing cold conditions in winter), navigating in think mist and fatigue.
Here are best hiking trails in the Drakensberg:
Location: Mnweni Valley, Northern Drakensberg, KwazuluNatal
Duration: 3 days
Mnweni, Rated as one of the most scenic hikes in the Drakensberg. The route is circular and starts at the Mnweni Cultural Centre. The path to the top is either via the Mnweni Pass or Rockeries depending on the group dynamics and time available. We enjoy heading up Rockeries and down Mnweni with an overnight in Ledgars Cave on day 2. The first day is the easiest. We cover about 12km and overnight in an open area about 4km form the base of Judges Pass. The views here are incredible. The second day is strenuous. We contour up to the base of Judges, huff and puff up the Pass and then head across the escarpment to Ledgars Cave. The distance is about 12km taking us between 6-7 hours to complete. The last day is not for the feint hearted. We descend the notoriously beautiful Mnweni Pass and follow the valley back to the cultural centre. The distance covered today is 23km taking up to 9 hours to complete.
Location: Mont-Aux- Sources, Northern Drakensberg, KwaZuluNatal/Freestate
Duration: 2 day
Hmm…why are there iron ladders bolted onto the cliff on the Amphitheatre hike? Is it a trapdoor into oblivion? If you are short of time or can’t take leave, then this hike is a perfect option. It is also a great option for novice hikers or people who want to try out overnight hiking for the first time. The hike is relatively easy with a few steep sections. The greatest challenge for most is climbing up/down the 2 chainladders that are bolted to the cliff face. The summit and camp site offer superb views of the second highest waterfall in the world ( Tugela Falls). A highlight is the dramatic mountain scenery as you gaze 1000m down into the valley below.
Cathedral Peak Hike
Location: Cathedral Peak Area, Northern Drakensberg, KwaZuluNatal
Duration: 3 Days
Difficulty: Moderate (with a few exposed areas)
The Cathedral Peak Hike is different to other Drakensberg hikes. Firstly, it is one of the few hikes that will see you summitting a ‘free standing’ mountain. Most of the hikes in the Drakensberg top out at the top in the form of the escarpment. The second attraction is the last 200m to the summit. The route is exposed and there is a bit of scrambling involved. We make use of safety protocol for this section in the form of ropes, anchor points, harnesses, and belaying. The views from the summit of Cathedral Peak are breath-taking. You will be rewarded with a 60km panoramic view from the Sentinel in the North to Champagne Castle in the South. Day 1 and Day 2 are the easy parts of the hike covering only 4km on each day. Day 2 is the challenge. The distance covered on Day 2 is 16km. Up to the summit and back down to camp in one day. We overnight in Shermans Cave or at the base of the summit if the group is strong.
Note: The final 200m summit bid may not be possible in wet conditions.
Location: Champagne Valley Area, Central Drakensberg, KwaZuluNatal
Duration: 3 Days
A great hike to the second highest mountain in South Africa, Champagne Castle. The hike starts at the Monks Cowl camp site. The first day is a strenuous 15km hike into Keith’s Bush camp. A stunning camping area, that is nestled below mighty Drakensberg giants-Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak, Monks Cowl and the Dragons back. The second day is a hike up Grays Pass to the summit of Champagne Castle, returning to Keiths Bush camp for a second night.
Tugela Gorge Hike
Location: Royal Natal national Park, Northern Drakensberg, KwaZuluNatal
Duration: 7-8 Hours
A great day hike for the family. What awaits the 7km inward hike through forests and mountainous paths? Mesmerizing views of the Amphitheatre, Sentinel, Devils Tooth and the towering Buttresses of sandtone formations. The final part of the hike takes you into a Gorge where the stream has powered its way through the narrow granite and sandstone walls creating lovely pools for swimming. This is one the most popular hikes in the Drakensberg due to its accessibility and overwhelming beauty. Sometimes you just want to stop every 10 minutes, look at a stunning view and say “Duuuude…”
Bell Traverse and Organ Pipes Hike
Location: Cathedral peak area, Northern Drakensberg, KwaZuluNatal
Duration: 3 days
Besides the Mnweni area, this is our rated as the second most scenic hike in the Drakensberg-in our opinion. The hikes starts at the Cathedral peak Hotel and we ascend to the escarpment via Organ Pipes Pass with a night Roland’s cave. The views here are just stunning. On the second day, we make our way up to the escapement and traverse along to Twins Cave for the night. The last day will see us hiking along the narrow cliff paths of the Bell Traverse exiting through Buggers Gully. If we have time and the energy, we summit Cathedral peak before heading down via Orange Peal Gap to the hotel. The average duration every day is between 6-7 hours covering 14km a day on average.
Note: Not to be attempted in wet or icy conditions. There are a few exposed parts getting into Rolands cave as well as on the Traverse itself.