The enticing mountain wilderness of the Maloti Drakensberg issues an irresistible invitation to a distinct kind of adventurer; its extreme landscape of rock, ice, water and air offers a challenge to test their own limits of skill, endurance, strength and daring. The elation of conquering the elements and being immersed in this spectacular environment refreshes your spirit and invigorates your senses as you experience nature at its wildest.
With more peaks per square kilometre than any other country in Africa, and spectacular cliff faces, ridges and chimneys, the Maloti Drakensberg Mountains attract climbers from all over the world. here are operators who can inform you of the many available routes and local conditions.
Climbs in the high Drakensberg are on volcanic rock, often consisting of successive rock faces separated by narrow grass ledges. The rock also forms rounded overhangs, blocks and gullies, often making the climbing quite awkward. The rock quality varies considerably. Two “rules of thumb” are relevant:
(i) The lower rock is generally the worst, while that near the summits is often quite good.
(ii) The higher the technical grade, the greater the likelihood of good rock.
Protection: The following are recommended: a selection of wired stoppers and small hexes; self-adjusting cams (“friends”); a selection of knife-blade and channel pegs.
Rescue: Medical emergencies in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg are managed by the provincial EMRS (Emergency Medical Rescue Services). Rescues are carried out in conjunction with the Mountain Club of South Africa, supported by helicopters.
This spectacular sport has been growing in the Maloti Drakensberg region. The Giant’s Castle area has been known to ice-climbers for some years. Recently the Sani Pass and Lesotho areas have been explored, and several new ice-climbing routes have been opened. A grading system enables climbers to match the climb to their skills levels.
There is ice on the high cliffs from late May to late August. The best time to climb is from mid- to late July.
Skiing is a recent development among the tourism offerings of the Maloti Drakensberg region. There are ski resorts available in Lesotho and the Eastern Cape. They vary in the quantity and reliability of snowfalls, and some use snow machines to supplement the natural snow. Some resorts offer skiing lessons and equipment rental. The ski slopes at present vary in length between 500 m and 1 000 m, sometimes served by ski lifts. Out of the skiing season the resorts generally also offer other activities such as golf, fly-fishing, kayaking and hiking. Up-to-date details and directions can be obtained from each resort.
Notes: Remember to put antifreeze into your car radiator and window bottle.
Towards the end of the twentieth century abseiling, (and the closely associated rappelling), became a sport in its own right – before then it was simply a method used to get off a mountain! Abseiling is the art of lowering yourself down a rope to which you are attached by means of a harness. Supported by the rope you “walk” backwards off the cliff face, controlling the rate as you go. Once you get over the initial shock, abseiling is great fun – you can even stop yourself and enjoy the scenery.
If this sounds tame to you, consider rapp jumping, which is abseiling with the ropes attached to your back instead of in front, which means you go down face first!
The Southern Drakensberg is one of the best mountain biking destinations in South Africa. It offers a wide range of self-guided mountain bike trails for both the competitive and the casual rider. Trails range from gentle gradients to the challenge of the Sani Pass – an ascent and descent of 900 m between the South African and Lesotho border posts – amidst the magnificent mountain scenery of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.
Many of the mountain trails are suitable for exploring on bikes and this is becoming an increasingly popular activity. You are asked to keep to recognized trails to avoid damaging the flora and fauna.
Southern Africa, despite being relatively dry, has some challenging rivers in the rainy summer months. The mighty rivers that form high in the Maloti and Drakensberg Mountains offer many opportunities to the adventure seeker: rivers that flow and cascade through mountain, grassland and bush, then meander through straight, quiet stretches before bursting into life again in a series of plunging waterfalls and churning rapids. These are powerful waterways, begging to be tamed by raft, canoe, kayak or tube.
Rapids are graded from 1 to 6, Grade 1 being quiet-moving water with no obstacles while Grade 6 offers extreme excitement and challenge.
Some white-water trips:
1 Ash River (North-Eastern Free State): The Ash River, near Clarens, is probably South Africa’s most dependable white-water rafting spot, thanks to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project which releases water on a continual basis.
2 Central Drakensberg Rivers: Daily river trips are offered (subject to river conditions) on the four main rivers in the area: Injasuti, Mlambonja, Bushman’s and Thukela. The Thukela River trip is the most popular and includes a Grade 5 rapid, the strongest rapid allowed to be run commercially. Two-person inflatable rafts and all the equipment are provided. Trips are led by experienced guides.
3 Senqu River (Lesotho)
4×4 driving and quad bike experiences
The Maloti Drakensberg region is a 4×4 driver’s paradise. However, bear in mind that these areas have great environmental importance, so take care to avoid damaging the environment. Keep to established trails at all times.
Quad biking is also fast gaining popularity and when enjoyed responsibly is a fantastic way to experience the region. Unfortunately it has the potential to destroy rare species and damage sensitive ecosystems as even just one trip off the established path can cause irreversible damage. Please respect this ancient landscape so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.
1 Sani Pass: The legendary Sani Pass is one of the better-known 4×4 and quad bike routes. The steep zigzag pass climbs to 2 874 m. Sani Top Chalet offers a pub, hearty meals and accommodation.
2 Lesotho Highland Routes: From Sani Top a 4×4 is the best way to travel the gravel roads and dramatic passes which give access to the majestic scenery of the highland areas. Possible destinations are Mokhotlong, Oxbow, Katse Dam, (the base for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project), Thaba Tseka and Semonkong. Notable passes include the Moteng Pass and Molimo Nthuse Pass (“God Help Me Pass”).
This is for the true endurance junkie, looking for events which pit competitors against the altitude, ruggedness and steepness of the Drakensberg.
The Sani Stagger is a gruelling race, run in late November along the Sani Pass road between the Sani Pass Hotel in KZN and the Lesotho Border Post at Sani Top. The event actually comprises three races: a 21,1 km UP RACE, a 21,1 km DOWN RACE and a 42,2 km MARATHON which goes up and down, starting and ending at the Sani Pass Hotel.
The Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge, run in September every year, offers a limited number of athletes (270) the opportunity of running from the Mahai campsite at the Royal Natal section of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site to the top of the Tugela Falls and back again via the chainladder (up) and the gully and Witsieshoek Hotel (down). This 50-km challenge has a 10-hour cutoff and is therefore a comfortable event for those who are fit enough.
Hot-air ballooning offers a serene way to enjoy the region. Half an hour before sunrise your group meets for a safety briefing at the launch site. Once the balloon has been inflated, you’re off on a flight over some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
There are various take-off sites around Kamberg, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and near some resorts within sight of the Drakensberg.
Notes: Air temperature decreases with altitude, so if it is cold on the ground it will be colder in the air, so dress accordingly. Ballooning is fun for the family, but remember that children should be tall enough to see over the edge of the basket, which is about 1,1 m high.
Paragliding is probably the most affordable form of free flight. Having launched from a mountain or hill, you are able to ride the air currents and soar with the eagles in absolute silence and at one with
nature. Bulwer Mountain, next to the village of Bulwer in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg,
is a favourite spot for paragliders, hang gliders and ‘wannabe’ pilots.
Bulwer Airsports Club controls the flying sites around Bulwer. Through the club you can access a number of paragliding operators. There is a two-day introductory course. Starting off on a nursery slope in a safe environment, the course gives you the opportunity to decide whether flying is really for you! Should you decide to continue, the flights that you take during the two days are incorporated into the basic licence course.
Notes: While paragliding is largely an adult sport, the whole family can enjoy the spectacular views from the take-off points.