5 Hikes in the Drakensberg Mountains
Being cooped up at home can only go on for so long and many South Africans are looking for safe ways to spend some time in the great outdoors. Hiking is just one such a pastime and we cannot think of a better place than the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains to get going. This mountain range is famous for its hundreds of hiking trails, ranging from multi-day hikes to easier one-day hikes. You will be spoiled with sweeping mountain views, rivers, waterfalls, rock pools, forests and even caves on these hikes! TravelGround has rounded up five of the best hikes where you can let those feet loose and breathe in some fresh mountain air!
Ploughman’s Kop Trail
This short trail is known for the spectacular Ploughman’s rock pools where you can take a refreshing, icy dip on your way to the ‘kop’. Ploughman’s Kop is a mountain shaped like a head on the left arm of the iconic Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park. There is a lot of ascending and descending involved ─ the route ascends quite steeply before descending to the pools at the end, so make sure you bring enough stamina for this one. Don’t forget to take in the view of the Amphitheatre while enjoying the route.
Start: Mahai Campsite, Royal Natal National Park
Distance: 7 kilometres
Duration: About 3 hours
This route circles the foot of the Cathedral Peak and is mostly flat, making it suitable for children hiking with adults. It weaves its way uphill towards the northern slope of the mountain and you are rewarded with a beautiful view of the Ndumeni River at the top. From there you descend into an indigenous forest with a variety of rare birdlife and trees all around you! Take a moment to listen to the birds chirping and the river flowing in the background while you cool off in the shadow of the forest. There is also a number of waterfalls on this trail.
Start: Cathedral Peak Hotel or Didima Camp
Distance: 12 kilometres
Duration: 4 to 6 hours
Difficulty: Moderate, suitable for children
Lower Injisuthi Cave Hike
This unique route at the top end of the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve includes four caves that you can visit or even overnight in if you book it in advance! These rocky shelters house the largest and most concentrated group of San rock art in Africa and if you want to split the route in half (eight kilometres each way) you can spend the night beneath the stars. The trail follows the Injisuthi River Valley with numerous mountain peaks and offers views of the high escarpment in the background. The trail also features some rock pools to cool off in and a gully just before the caves.
Start: Injisuthi Camp, Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve
Distance: 17 kilometers
Duration: Overnight hike
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Cathedral Peak is a free-standing summit that is surrounded by the towering peaks of the great Drakensberg Mountains. This hike is classified as a vertical endeavour by avid hikers and the peak towers 3005 metres above sea level! The hike is for more experienced hikers because of the steep climb with loose rocks, ridges and ropes. But it is not only technical, the trail starts in the lower Berg, following the river and passing caves and gullies before heading up the ridge. You will encounter some magnificent views from there before you take the short chain ladder to the summit! You return to the starting point along the same path.
Note: This trail can be guided by one of the experienced guides at the Cathedral Peak Hotel.
Start: Cathedral Peak Hotel
Distance: 19 kilometers
Duration: 12+ hours
The Sentinel Peak (Chain Ladders Hike)
This well-marked trail starts and ends at the Sentinel Peak parking lot and forms part of a multi-day hike following the length of the Amphitheatre. It features a series of chain ladders leading hikers up an almost vertical rock face (there is an alternative route if you are scared of heights). The hike ends at the top of the Tugela Falls ─ Africa’s highest waterfall ─ and offers a breathtaking and exhilarating view from there. Once you have caught your breath and completely taken in the view you can return the same way you came or via the Beacon Buttress Gully (which is the alternative route to the chain ladders).
Note: It is possible to do this hike as a day hike.
Start: Sentinel Peak parking lot
Distance: 12 kilometers
Duration: Whole day
Tips for hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains:
- Always take water and food with you.
- Remember a hat, sunscreen and all-purpose weather clothing.
- Make sure you are wearing the correct shoes.
- If in doubt about your capabilities, do the hike with a guide.
- Collect and follow a map of the route if available.
- Take a light-weight tent if you plan on doing a multi-day hike.
- Make sure someone knows where you are hiking and have them check in on you when you are supposed to finish the hike.
Whether you are an avid hiker or someone who just needs to breathe in some fresh mountain air, you should definitely have one of these Drakensberg hikes on your bucket list!
Feature image: Bigstock