The Drakensberg region of South Africa is a dramatic land of sheer cliffs and jagged mountains, of green moss-like hills that seem to roll on forever, and giant skies full of puffy clouds. It’s also one of the best places in South Africa to stretch your limbs and relax. Here are 15 things to do in the Drakensberg region.
1. There are three different sections
The Drakensberg is usually divided into three sections – Northern, Central and Southern, although the distinctions aren’t strict. The Northern Drakensberg runs from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park to the Royal Natal National Park. Harrismith and Bergville are the main towns in this part.
2. Central Drakensberg
The Central Drakensberg is home to natural features like Giant’s Castle and Cathedral Peak, and is one of the most popular parts of the region. There are also opportunities to mountain bike here.
3. Backpacker paradise
The Drakensberg has some great backpacker lodges including Inkosana Lodge in the Central Berg. It has been around for 22 years and is one of South Africa’s top backpackers.
4. Outdoor activities
Most people come to the Drakensberg for the outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and horseback riding trips into the mountains. There is also an opportunity to ride a zip-line through the trees.
5. Southern Drakensberg
The southern Drakensberg runs south from the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. This area is less developed than the others but is no less spectacular.
6. Climb the Central Berg
The Central Berg is a climbers paradise with some of the most challenging ascents in the region. Try Cathkin Peak, Monk’s Cowl and Champagne Castle.
7. Hike across the roof of South Africa
Situated between Royal Natal National Park and Cathedral Peak, the Mnweni area is the least touristy part of the Drakensberg and belongs to the Amangwane people. Spend a few nights hiking on the roof of South Africa and sleeping in rondevels along the way. Taking a local guide is advised.
8. Drive Sani Pass
In the Southern Berg, Sani Pass, which is the highest pass in South Africa, has long been a wild 4×4 road leading to the Lesotho border. It is set to be paved soon and become a scenic drive, so be sure to visit soon for the original experience.
9. San rock art
The Giant’s Castle Game Reserve in the Central Berg is rich in San rock paintings with some 50 different sites. The most extensive examples of this art are Main Cave and Battle Cave.
10. Horseback ride in the Southern Berg
The area around Sani Pass is great to experience from the back of a horse. Try staying at Sani Lodge Backpackers, which has long been a favorite sleeping option. The folks at Sani can also organize horseback riding trips.
11. Experience the Amphitheatre
Inside Royal Natal National Park you’ll find an 8-kilometer-long stretch of cliff, which is known as the Amphitheatre. It’s most impressive when seen from the bottom, and there are some 30 different day walks in the park, as well as good technical climbs.
12. Tugela Falls
At the bottom of the Amphitheatre you’ll also find Tugela Falls, which drop 850-meters in five stages — the top tier often freezes in winter.
13. Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Once you’re done with your hiking adventures, head to Golden Gate Highlands National Park to watch a sunset. It’s pretty easy to get to and is located in the Free State portion of the Northern Drakensberg.
14. Knock a World Heritage Site off your list
The Drakensberg is a mountainous basalt escarpment that forms the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho and continues a little way into the Free State. The region was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. This is definitely one you’ll want to knock off your list.
15. Explore dragon territory
Drakensberg name means Dragon Mountains in Afrikaans. In Zulu it’s called Quathlamba, the Battlement of Spears. Both are fitting.
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This article was originally published on April 15, 2015.