Embark on a journey to South Africa’s Drakensberg region, a vibrant tapestry of natural splendor and exhilarating experiences. This magnificent area, part of the grand Great Escarpment, is home to some of the highest peaks in southern Africa. It beckons travelers with its blend of peaceful nature trails, adrenaline-pumping adventures, and rich historical sites. As you explore the Drakensberg, every step unveils a different facet of this enchanting landscape with many places to visit in the Drakensberg, promising an adventure that’s as diverse as it is captivating.
The Drakensberg, known as ‘The Berg’ and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spans an impressive 243,000 hectares. It’s a playground for adventurers, offering everything from hot air ballooning to white water rafting and horseback riding. For snow enthusiasts, Highmoor presents a winter wonderland, with accessible routes leading to snowy escapades. Here, the snow may grace the peaks from April to September, adding a unique charm to the rugged mountains.
In Zulu, this range is known as uKhahlamba, or “barrier of spears,” and in Afrikaans, it’s the Drakensberg, meaning “dragon mountains.” This dual heritage reflects the region’s rich cultural and natural beauty. Each season brings its own allure, with autumn and spring being prime times for hiking amid pleasant climates. Whether you’re scaling Cathedral Peak for stunning vistas or exploring the Central Drakensberg’s hidden gems, the Drakensberg region invites you to immerse yourself in its breathtaking landscapes and myriad of activities. Prepare to be enchanted by the beauty, wonder, and endless exploration opportunities that await.
1. Sani Pass
Journey through the Sani Pass, a mountainous marvel weaving between South Africa and Lesotho. This awe-inspiring road, etched in the highest reaches of the Drakensberg Mountains, offers more than just a route—it’s an adventure at over 3,000 meters elevation. For those daring enough to self-drive, a 4×4 is essential.
Navigate this challenging but rewarding path without needing vehicle papers, just your passports and a toll fee at the border. Be prepared for steep climbs and pristine wilderness that make Sani Pass not just a journey, but a destination in itself, often referred to as the ‘roof of Africa’. The breathtaking views atop, usually the reward of days-long hikes, are a testament to its allure as a tourist attraction.
2. Tugela Falls
Embarking on a journey to Tugela Falls in South Africa’s Royal Natal National Park introduces you to one of the most iconic places to visit in the Drakensberg, where you’ll find one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, an impressive 948 meters of cascading beauty. The best times to visit are early autumn or late summer when the falls are most vibrant.
The hike, considered challenging, takes roughly 4 hours and 46 minutes. It’s a popular trail for birding, hiking, and walking. While dogs aren’t allowed, the trail is perfect for nature enthusiasts. For those wanting to bask in one of South Africa’s finest sunrises, an overnight stay near the falls is highly recommended.
Be prepared for a strenuous hike, especially with a backpack, as the elevation changes about 600 meters from the car park to the summit. The trail is not suited for those with a fear of heights, especially considering the daunting chain ladders. Overnight campers should note the lack of shelter at the plateau, requiring some creativity for necessities. A visit to Tugela Falls is more than a hike; it’s a chance to immerse oneself in the natural wonders of the Drakensberg.
Address: Royal Natal National Park, Giants Castle Game Reserve
Opening times: 24 hours
3. Falcon Ridge
Experience the wonder of Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre, a haven for raptor enthusiasts. Engage with the stars of the show – eagles, hawks, and owls – in mesmerizing daily flying displays. Visitors praise the informative and captivating performances, highlighting the incredible knowledge shared. A visit here offers a unique opportunity to feel the rush of wild yellow-billed kites swooping overhead.
Arriving early is recommended to secure front-row seats for an unmatched experience. The passion of the Falcon Ridge team is palpable, ensuring each visit remains fresh and engaging. The bond between birds, humans, and dogs in these gorgeous aerial displays is a sight to behold. The center’s commitment to the well-being of its birds is evident in the pristine facilities.
Guests, especially families, find the presentations both interesting and educational, showcasing the birds’ natural flying and hunting abilities. To ensure comfort during the outdoor show, it’s advised to come prepared with sunglasses, caps, and sunscreen. Falcon Ridge is more than just a show; it’s a celebration of nature’s beauty and the extraordinary skills of these magnificent birds.
Address: Falcon Ridge, R600, Okhahlamba
Opening times: Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday – Sunday, 9:30 am – 11:30 am; Monday and Friday, Closed
Contact: 082 774 6398
4. Drakensberg Canopy Tour
Embark on a captivating adventure with the Drakensberg Canopy Tour, a highlight among the many places to visit in the Drakensberg, shadowed by the impressive Cathkin Peak. This experience transports you through enchanting indigenous forests, offering close encounters with the area’s unique flora and fauna. The tour unfolds with a series of thrilling zip line flights, each presenting a fresh, exhilarating perspective of the mountainous terrain.
Guided by experts who ensure safety and enrich your adventure with insightful stories, you’ll zip from one platform to another, creating lasting memories. This tour is an ideal choice for families, providing both adults and children with an unforgettable adrenaline rush.
As your journey through the treetops concludes, a challenging hike awaits. This rewarding trek serves as the perfect finale to your aerial escapade, giving you time to absorb the magnificent views and the joy of your flight through nature. The Drakensberg Canopy Tour offers more than just a day’s excitement; it’s a fusion of adventure, natural wonder, and memorable moments, solidifying its place as a must-experience destination in the Drakensberg.
Address: Cathkin Park
Opening times: Monday – Sunday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Contact: 036 468 1981
5. The Cavern Drakensberg Resort & Spa
Immersed in the captivating Northern Drakensberg, The Cavern Resort & Spa stands as a serene sanctuary for families and nature lovers. Set amidst lush forests and crystal streams, this historic retreat, more than 75 years old, is perfectly located 65 km from Harrismith and 48 km from Bergville.
It offers a picturesque backdrop for a diverse range of activities, including horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, and bird watching. The resort’s spa provides a peaceful haven for rejuvenation, offering a variety of treatments to relax and refresh.
Accommodations at The Cavern Resort & Spa blend comfort with nature. Each room provides garden views, a patio, and essential amenities like tea-and-coffee-making facilities. Some rooms feature added luxuries such as seating areas and fireplaces.
Guests enjoy free WiFi in public areas, and the inclusive daily rate covers three meals plus two guided hikes each morning. The resort caters to culinary delights with a breakfast and dinner set menu and a buffet-style light lunch, complemented by morning and afternoon tea.
The Cavern Resort & Spa is not just about relaxation but also about adventure and family fun. It offers an array of activities from thrilling outdoor adventures to tranquil experiences in nature. The resort is a paradise for children, with a playground, pony rides, and scheduled group activities.
It’s also a haven for birdwatchers, housing over 195 bird species. Nearby attractions like Sterkfontein Dam and the Drakensberg Amphitheatre add to the allure, making The Cavern Resort & Spa an ideal destination for those seeking both adventure and tranquility in the heart of the Drakensberg.
Address: District Road D119, End of D119, Northern Drakensberg, Bergville
Phone: 036 438 6270
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6. Royal Natal National Park
Discover the enchanting Royal Natal National Park, a jewel in the Drakensberg Mountains renowned for its majestic Amphitheater and unparalleled natural beauty. This park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering an array of activities from tranquil picnics and refreshing swims to adventurous horseback riding and trout fishing in its crystal-clear dam. The lush green grasslands and pristine waters invite nature lovers to immerse themselves in serenity.
For the adventurous at heart, the Tugela Gorge walk is a must-try, leading to a stunning view of the Tugela Falls, one of the world’s highest waterfalls. The journey, though demanding, rewards hikers with breathtaking vistas of the Drakensberg’s grandeur. The park also offers various hiking options, including the challenging but rewarding Sentinel Peak hike, accessible via chain ladders and offering spectacular views of the imposing rock wall of the Amphitheater.
Royal Natal National Park is not just a destination; it’s an experience that reconnects you with nature. The park’s varied landscapes offer something for everyone, from serene cascades to the awe-inspiring heights of the mountains. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat or an adventurous escape, the Royal Natal National Park, with its picturesque scenery and diverse activities, is an unforgettable destination that beckons for exploration and admiration.
Opening times: The park is open 24 hours daily for accommodated visitors only. Day visitors must observe the gate times.
7. Maloti-Drakensberg Park
Journey deeper into the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a seamless blend of South Africa’s uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park and Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park. This transboundary gem showcases nature’s splendor through its towering basaltic buttresses, golden sandstone ramparts, and dramatic cliffs. The park, a canvas of breathtaking landscapes, is dotted with sculpted arches, caves, and rock pools, each telling a story of the earth’s ancient artistry.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a haven for biodiversity. It protects the endangered Cape vulture and the bearded vulture, alongside the critically endangered Maloti minnow, found only in Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park. But the park’s wonders aren’t just natural. It’s a cultural treasure trove, home to the densest and most striking collection of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara, reflecting the spiritual life of the San people over 4,000 years.
Walking through the Maloti-Drakensberg, you’re not just exploring a scenic landscape; you’re stepping into a story. A story that weaves together spectacular natural beauty, critical conservation efforts, and deep-rooted cultural history. It’s an experience that promises to leave an indelible mark on the heart and mind of every visitor.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm
Contact: 021 424 1036
8. Monkscowl Adventure
Venture into the enchanting world of Monkscowl Adventure, nestled in the Central Drakensberg. Here, horseback riding takes on a magical dimension, with trails winding through the majestic mountains. Nathi, an expert guide, leads riders on unforgettable expeditions, including exhilarating gallops in pursuit of baboons across the rugged landscape. Whether you’re an experienced equestrian or a first-timer, the gentle, well-trained horses ensure a safe and joyous journey through the breathtaking Drakensberg.
Monkscowl Adventure isn’t just about horse riding; it’s a complete experience filled with laughter and camaraderie. The staff’s infectious humor and Nathi’s skillful guidance enhance the adventure, making it a perfect choice for those looking to explore the Drakensberg’s beauty in a unique way. The half-day ride with Nathi comes highly recommended, offering a splendid opportunity to witness the Drakensberg’s splendor from a different perspective.
For visitors planning a trip to Monkscowl, it’s important to note a few useful tips. Pets are not permitted within the reserve, ensuring the preservation of its natural serenity. Nearby, just a 10-minute drive away, the Oaks Supermarket caters to all your needs, from fuel to charcoal. For a broader range of services, the village of Winterton, located 35 km from Monkscowl, offers more extensive amenities. The reserve’s entrance gates open daily from 06:00 to 18:00, and for those cozy nights under the stars, firewood is available at the Monks Cowl Curio Shop. Embrace the tranquility, adventure, and natural beauty of Monkscowl Adventure for a truly memorable Drakensberg experience.
Address: Bell park dam rd 4, Bergvlei farm, Winterton
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm; Sunday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Contact: 072 664 2993
9. Drakensberg Brewery
Nestled in the breathtaking Drakensberg, the Drakensberg Brewery is a haven for craft beer enthusiasts and lovers of majestic mountain vistas. Here, one can unwind in a serene setting and savor the distinct flavors of Drakensberg Brewery’s finest beers, offered in various sizes, including 500ml, 300ml, and tasting glasses.
The brewery’s unique DIY platter menu allows guests to craft their own culinary experience with a selection of cold meats, cheeses, pickles, nuts, and preserves. Alongside these tantalizing offerings, there’s a thoughtfully curated wine list for those who prefer a vineyard’s touch amidst the brewery ambiance.
Contact: 060 382 6225
10. Kenmo Lake
Discover the tranquil paradise of Kenmo Lake in the Drakensberg, a perfect retreat for relaxation and nature lovers. This picturesque recreational area, especially vibrant in autumn, offers a serene environment with well-placed benches ideal for peaceful picnics or quiet contemplation amidst the beauty of nature. Visiting in late April is a treat, with the area showcasing a stunning display of autumn leaves, creating a peaceful and visually stunning experience.
Kenmo Lake, nestled on private property generously open to the public at no cost, is a hidden gem where tranquility reigns supreme. The thoughtful addition of benches, jetties, and bridges enhances the experience, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the serene environment. The landowners’ decision to share this beautiful spot with the world exemplifies a remarkable spirit of community and generosity.
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