The Drakensberg (Dutch – Dragon Mountains) is the largest and highest mountain range in South Africa, described best by her Zulu name “uKhahlamba” which means ‘barrier of spears’. The mountains majestically span five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo) and form the south eastern international border between South Africa and Lesotho.
Covering over 1,000 kilometres, the most well-known, and I dare say, an impressive section of the Drakensberg lies in Kwazulu Natal. Divided into three parts, North, Central and South, there are endless delights for all travellers, traditional to millennial, local to international.
Southern Drakensberg in Kwazulu Natal (KZN) is about 2.5 hours drive from Durban’s King Shaka Airport through some of the most amazing countryside in the world. Note, plan extra travel time for pictures!
In both scenery and activity, I would describe the Southern Drakensberg as Midlands country serenity meeting Drakensberg outdoor adrenaline. Here are some of the things to do to find your perfect combination of both.
This is clearly the adrenaline category but has its own blend of serenity. On the slopes of Bulwer Mountain, right at the start of the Southern Drakensberg region, is Wildsky Paragliding (est 1996).
An exquisite trip through Bulwer Biosphere takes you to a paragliding site near the top of Bulwer mountain, known as the 1000 (it’s 1000 feet up into the air from Wildsky).
Staycation in their log cabins, and choose to jump tandem with an instructor, or complete a full course to learn to paraglide yourself. Does the thought of it make you a little queasy? Well, rest a little easier: Wildsky Paragliding is owned & operated by husband & wife team, Hans and Ria, are incredibly experienced in the field. Hans is a National Paragliding Instructor of South Africa, so you’re definitely in safe hands…wings.
Sani is the Drakensberg mountain pass between South Africa and Lesotho; at 2876 metres (9435 feet) it ranks pretty high as the ultimate off-road experience. If you are not the driving type, there are tours on which you can be elegantly ferried up and down up Sani Pass by an experienced guide.
And to top it all off (excuse the pun) you can staycation at the Sani Mountain Lodge, or simply enjoy a meal or drink with breathtaking views.
This year has seen an early snowfall on Sani Pass, the 12 May saw the beginning of snow-seekers from far and wide descending to the winter-wonderland of the Drakensberg. Skiing, sleighing and snowboarding is added to the list of Southern Drakensberg activities, like horse-riding, bird-watching, nature & cultural walks, hiking and camping.
The UmZimkulu River begins in the Drakensberg & ends in the Indians ocean on the KwazuluNatal South Coast. In the Southern Drakensberg, it plays host to a variety of watersports: leisure boating, canoeing, trout fishing, swimming and summer-only tubing (water levels are too low in other seasons).
The river also boasts famous events like the famous Drak Challenge, a canoe marathon that ends at the Umzimkulu River Lodge. The lodge is a truly unique way to experience the river; Fairy-tale style cottages, a la carte riverside dining, and indoor/outdoor family activities like miniature golf & petting zoo. What’s more, the owners and staff will readily provide insider tips on current highlights in the Southern Drakensberg.
While you’re exploring and adventuring, there are plenty of charming country stops on your Southern Drakensberg route. With the Underberg Cheesery, cafes, restaurants, crafts, curios, historic tours and the Wine Gallery of Africa, there’s plenty to see and do!
A romantic getaway, family outing, thrill-seeking group, or multi-day off-the-grid & cross-border (SA & Lesotho) camps – it’s a fabulous way to see Southern Drakensberg. Khotso Horse Trails is recommended for hosting of such experiences; their cosy log cabins provide a serene holiday location or a base-camp for adventurers. Khotso horses are exquisite creatures and the owner is an experienced outdoor enthusiast (Ultra marathons, trail running etc) – engineering a well-tailored & beautiful experience.
Mountaineering, Biking & Nature
The Drakensberg Mountains are well known as a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with all-year-round Mountain Biking, trail running, and mountaineering. If you are the camping type, you can sign up for a multi-day hiking experience and really go off-the-grid. In the central Drakensberg is the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a world-famous UNESCO World heritage site. UNESCO describes the site as having ‘exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts.’ So, while exploring the Southern Drakensberg, expects to see some of the rare & indigenous flora and fauna, such as the cycad, protea and bearded vulture.
Words and Pictures by Monique van der Walt
To read more of Monique’s articles on the Drakensberg visit her website