General help for overseas visitors to the Berg

16 Jul 2011 20:40 #3319 by Piotr
Hi All,

I'm coming together with my wife in August to Drakensberg for 4 days. It will be our first visit in this area. Unfortunately in my country I don't have access to any maps or guidebooks targeting this region. I have a headache trying to establish a plan of our trip :(

Could you give us some tips (taking also safety into account) which one-day hikes we should definitely try, what are the best trails, etc. We'll have a rented car so we would like to see different parts of Drakensberg. We're reasonably fit, quite experienced hikers. We'd like to spend around 10h in the mountains each day so we're interested in moderate and more demanding hikes.

Firstly I was interested in doing one two-day hike and sleep somewhere in a cave but I read on this forum that temperatures might fall way below zero. Is that really so?

I would be very grateful for all ideas and opinions on how to spend these 4 days in Drakensberg most efficiently.

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17 Jul 2011 09:05 #3321 by ghaznavid
Where in the Berg will you be staying (bearing in mind that the high berg range is about 300km long)?

No1 should be the Ampitheatre (Royal Natal National Park/Witsieshoek) by the Chain Ladders or Beacon Butress Gully (there is a full write up on both on this forum, you can start at the Sentinal car park which makes it a fairly short hike, this will allow you to spend some time on the top, maybe hike right across the top and back again)

2nd I would say is Cathedral Peak (Didima nature reserve) via the standard route (this is a tough 20km hike, it has (b-grade I think) rock scrambling, it is advisable to get a guide from the Cathedral Peak hotel)

3rd I would say Rhino Peak (Garden Castle Nature Reserve, my personal favourite reserve) via Mashai Pass (this is another 20km day hike, its pretty tough as a day hike, but it is an amazing area, there is a pass description on this forum for this one, the KZN Wildlife website has a fair description of it as well). It may be worth trying to arange for a KZN wildlife guide here as there are usually some Basothos waiting at the top to try to get food and cigarettes from hikers (I chose the day that KZN Wildlife remeasured the path to do this hike (not deliberately), so I reached the escarpment at the same time as 3 KZN wildlife guys with big guns reached the top, so the Basothos left us alone, but they have been known to be quiet pushy with other hikers in this area. Don't let this put you off, if you take a packet of sweets for them, they will probably leave you alone, its also winter so they are less likely to be at the top of the pass at this time of the year).

4th would be a really tough day hike (26km up a difficult pass, but from the top you should be able to clearly see half of the southern berg and the entire central berg) is Giant's Castle (at Giant's Castle Nature Reserve).

There is a book (I doubt you could get it in Poland, but when you get to SA you should be able to get it, otherwise might sell it), Best Walks of the Drakensberg by David Bristow, it has detailed descriptions of all of these hikes (and many more) as well as maps and some details of the history of the area, I personally have found it to be very useful in planning hikes.

It is true that it should be well below 0 in August (bearing in mind that it is winter here at that time), it would probably reach about -8 at night at the top.

Btw you can download the maps (and photos of the areas) from

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19 Jul 2011 14:04 #3338 by intrepid
Hi Piotr and welcome to this forum.

The options listed above are good ones, so look into those. In addition you could scramble up Sterkhorn at Monk's Cowl. It does involve some clambering but nothing serious and no ropes needed. Quite a popular peak these days. A day trip up and down Langalibalele Pass at Giants Castle is a good day hike, and much more manageable that doing Giants Castle peak.

Cathedral Peak is generally a very good, accessible area. Very scenic and lots of options and trail combinations possible, also ones which traverse the Little Berg, not only the High Berg (which all of the options mentioned so far involve).

The book mentioned by ghaznavid can be purchased online on

This image is hidden for guests.

Hiking maps can also be purchased online here:

Let us know if you need more info, and we always like to hear afterwards how the trip went!

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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20 Jan 2012 21:54 #52938 by FrankNFood
Hello All,

Guess I'm taking some leeway starting a thread like this as a forum newbee who's never been to Africa, but figured it'd be more fun than my beggin for free advise about my coming trip to the Berg.

What's the most diversity you can get into a day or short loop hike in the berg?

Figured this would include views, ecosystems, animals, activities ( swims, etc. ), smugglers and what all

Personally was planning on doing the Bell Traverse from Cathedral as I have three days but two will be half days and I wanted to stay under 40 K

Now the beggin' what's the best way to get Paper Topo Maps with trails will be flying in to Cape Town first


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25 Jan 2012 05:38 #52963 by intrepid
Hi Figu and welcome to the forum.

You could consider Organ Pipes Pass, Thuthumi Ridge Route up and down the Camel Route. Both are classic routes. You would experience panoramic views on the Little Berg plateaus, very grand and sometimes exposed views going up and down each route, and in the Ribbon Falls area you can see good waterfalls and forests (short diversions) and even a cave (Ribbon Falls Cave - not the best, but a sandstone shelter nonetheless). This would also put you on routes that smugglers frequent. Avoid going alone though. If you are very fit and fast you can do this in a day, especially if Mikes Pass is drivable and you get dropped off. Else 2 days is more manageable, given an reasonable hiking fitness level.

You could try stores like Cape Union Mart or Capestorm in Cape Town area, not sure if they have maps. Else, if hiking at Cathedral Peak, they usually have maps in stock, so phone ahead and check. Won't help you with planning ahead of time, but at least you can get them there.

Please let us know what other help and ideas you need. Hope you have a really enjoyable time here in SA, and that the Berg enchants you like it has the rest of us! Please also let us know how your hike went afterwards.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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27 Jan 2012 11:45 #52965 by ghaznavid
You have definitely come to the right place for information!

Are you staying at Cathedral Peak hotel or is that just what you are looking at at the moment? If you are looking at diversity, the Southern Drakensberg is by far the best you will ever come across.

My personal view is that the best 2 nature reserves in the Drakensberg are Didima (Cathedral Peak hotel - northern range) and Garden Castle (which has Drakensberg Gardens hotel - southern range).

If you are looking for views within a 4 hour walking range, Didima is better, but Rhino Peak (at Garden Castle - 20km 8 hour day hike, not very easy, but easier than the Bell traverse from what I'm told, I personally have never done the Bell traverse) is one of the shortest routes to the top and comes with an amazing view over the area.

My personal record on animals in the berg, by area is as follows (referring to larger animals, not birds, snakes etc as you will probably see these no matter where you go):
- Didima - never seen animals there
- Garden Castle - I have been there around 8 times and seen eland at least 6 times, I have also seen lots of baboons

For activities, if you are referring to indoor activities, the hotel websites may be useful, but I have never stayed at a hotel in the Drakensberg, always a tent, mountain hut or a cave. Once again Garden Castle (or Bushman's Nek - the reserve south of Garden Castle, literally the bottom end of the main Drakensberg Range) have lots of amazing pools. But all areas in the Drakensberg have rivers which are usually suitable for swimming in, and due to how clean they are, you can generally drink from them (provided you aren't too far from the mountains). The river on the road into Garden Castle also has tubing on it.

I don't know that smugglers is a good thing to put on your list, but my suggestion of the Rhino Peak hike definitely covers that one! Although they are probably shepherds more than smugglers in that area, but they are definitely high altitude Basotho's who live in a very tough environment by very old traditions, so they are definitely of interest. And on the bright side, they are usually the friendlier than the ones further north, so if you give them some sweets (not wrapped in plastic as they litter), they will probably be friendly to you.

By personal preference I would recommend Garden Castle, its the most diversity you will find in the range. If you stay at Drakensberg Gardens hotel, provided there are enough interested guests, they even do a guided walk up Rhino. Further to this, I'm not sure if the nature reserve still has guides for hire on this hike, but they definitely did a few years ago. It is also a very well used path, which is fairly easy to follow without a guide (weather permitting). You also have the option of doing Rhino peak as an overnight hike, stay over at Pillar Cave (which is a rock overhang, not a deep cave like what most people picture when they hear the word "cave") if you don't mind roughing it for a night (the cave is fairly close to water and its floor is flat, so its pretty good as far as caves go).

In the interim, since you can't get the latest maps in the US, you can download the old ones (which are only slightly outdated in some very small aspects such as peak heights, mountains don't really change that frequently :P ), go to , it may help you with planning.

When you are in Cape Town, makes sure you go to Cape Point (which, contrary to popular belief, is not the most southern tip of Africa, that would be Cape Augulhas, which from what I hear doesn't really look like anything). At Cape Point, walk up the steep bank from the parking lot past the old lighthouse, and down towards the new light house, there you will get the view of one of the highest sea rock faces in the world, being there is one of the most amazing feelings.

Ps. Once you have been to South Africa, you will want to keep coming back, its such an amazing country (and yes, I know I am biased!) :)

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28 Jan 2012 08:30 #52967 by FrankNFood
Yeah I could tell that this was the only place for info on the kind of hiking I like

Really excited about coming, had picked the Bell from the post Top 5 in the Berg, and seemed to be highly rated plus would get both Amphitheater and Mnweni views.

Wanted to get the most of it I could and really love hikes that are diverse and full of surprises, where you turn the corner or go over the pass and you feel like your in a different world. So wanted to hit the top of the escarpment, go though the forest, swim, scramble, etc. Looks like Rhino might fit the bill, and seeing Baboons would be great.

I'll be Flying to Johannesburg and meeting my friends there, we're renting a car and driving straight to Drakensberg. Will be Tent Camping so we're fully mobile to go anywhere, but don't want to jump around just want to park the car and not see it or any car for that matter till we're back.

Thanks for your help,



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30 Jan 2012 06:34 #52968 by ghaznavid
The one thing that you will be missing that you might want to see is San Rock-art, I am not aware of any of these sites at Garden Castle.

If you have a tent that is suitable for sleeping on the escarpment (refer to the tent threads, bear in mind that wind speeds of over 100km/h have been recorded on the escarpment), and you are looking for a 3 day hike, another option is to climb up one of the passes south of Rhino (eg Bollard or Wilson Pass, both include tricky rock scrambles, alternatively Mzimude Pass is an easy alternative and has 3 nice caves at its summit) and traverse north to Rhino peak and descend via Mashai Pass (Mashai Pass is the normal route people use to climb Rhino). If you go with this loop option, I would highly recommend the use of a GPS, most passes south of Rhino peak are rarely used and they often don't have paths. The GPS tracks are downloadable from this site or on for most passes.

Another option that comes to mind is Giant's Castle Peak (the 19th highest peak in South Africa, most eastern point of the escarpment and 6th highest peak on the escarpment edge), its at Giant's Castle nature reserve. The reason that this may be a suitable option is that the route goes straight past the Main Caves (one of the most commonly visited rock art sites in the Berg). I was in the area recently and saw 21 Blesbok and last year when I was there I saw around 70 Eland, you are also likely to see a few Berg-adders, dung beetles and other similar smaller wildlife. The rivers in the area are definitely suitable for swimming, although generally not very deep (and when they are deep, they are usually dangerous to swim in). The area has also been known in the past to not be the safest area, so sleeping on the escarpment is not recommended in the area.

As far as forests go, Rhino peak includes a 2 minute walk through a forest, Cathedral Peak area includes a similar small forest and I guess you could always walk through Greysbok Bush on your way to Giant's Castle, but basically, due to the altitude, trees are not very common in the Drakensberg. If you are spending some time in the KwaZulu-Natal area after you leave the Drakensberg, the Karkloof and World's View areas outside Pietermaritzburg are pretty good, they are much more substantial forests (although they are plantations, not indigenous forests). Karkloof also has a canopy tour option.

When are you planning on doing the hike? The time of the year can also be a consideration to what hike is recommended, eg in September you are unlikely to see any bigger wildlife, but there will be flowers (including the 2 species of protea flowers that are only found in the Drakensberg), in July there is likely to be snow and many passes will not be much use etc.

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31 Jan 2012 13:32 #52973 by intrepid
Bear in mind though that The Rhino/Garden Castle is a good 8+ hours of driving from Joburg, ie the drive consumes most of your day. Cathedral Peak is about 4-5 hours. You only have 3 days, so you may want to aim for something closer to Joburg, ie Northern Berg.

FrankNFood wrote: Personally was planning on doing the Bell Traverse from Cathedral as I have three days but two will be half days and I wanted to stay under 40 K

There is still the possibility of doing the Bell Traverse, and it is under 40km. You can make it up to the base of Cathedral Peak, near Bugger Gully, and even Bell Cave in half a day. On day two you can do the actual Bell Traverse, which is normally a pleasurable half day or so to Twins Cave, but you will have to descend Mlmabonja Pass on the second day instead and camp at the bottom of the pass. On the third day break up camp early and walk out - that would be a half day. This would fit into your time constraints. NOTE: this does assume confident navigation skills (the trail is poor in places and not signposted), good weather and visibility, and a reasonable hiking fitness and stamina. Things are not always what they seem to be on the map and places (like caves, campsites and junctions) can be notoriously difficult to find, especially if you are new to the Berg.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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01 Feb 2012 07:03 - 01 Feb 2012 07:06 #52976 by ghaznavid
@FrankNFood: where are you going when you are done in the Berg? If you are proceeding through towards Durban, the drive won't be the issue as a longer drive on one side means a shorter drive on the other side, but if you are going back towards Johannesburg then I agree 100% with Intrepid.

Giants Castle may also be a valid point considering drive time - if you look at a map of South Africa you will notice that the Drakensberg forms the eastern border between SA and Lesotho. The most eastern point of Lesotho is at Giant's Castle. It is further from Johannesburg in total distance, but the reserve is closer to the highway. Not sure what the roads are like when approaching from the northern side though, I have only ever gone there from the south side.

This is the (admittedly very crude) map of the Drakensberg, just to give you an idea of where the reserves are in relation to each other:

As I said in my first reply, Didima Nature Reserve (where you would go to do the bell traverse) is one of the most amazing nature reserves in the Berg, but based on your list of what you are looking for, it is doesn't fit all of your requirements, (@Intrepid: please correct me if I'm wrong) eg there isn't much in the way of places to swim and there isn't much in the way of wildlife.

As far as wildlife goes, are you planning on going to Kruger National Park (which is right up in the north of SA - its the oldest nature reserve in the world, and I believe its also the 2nd largest in the world, famous for having all of the big 5) or one of the numerous nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal (such as Weenen, Umfolozi, Spionkop Dam (not too far from Didima) or any other reserve (I believe that in KwaZulu-Natal there are over 100 nature reserves (excluding those in the Drakensberg))? If so, wildlife may not be the most important defining criteria on your list, we are very fortunate to have so many nature reserves in this general area, and with the exception of Queen Elizabeth Park (which is more a training ground and admin office for the province than a proper game reserve), every time I have been to a game reserve, I have always seen something (at a minimum you should see Zebra and some size of antelope, you should also see giraffes and if you are lucky, either buffalo, elephants or rhinos, but you won't always see these).

And if you are planning on spending some time in KwaZulu-Natal, they say that you will never beat the wildlife in St Lucia (which is admittedly very far out of the way from anywhere else referred to above), it has the most diverse bird life, lots of crocodiles and hippos, not to mention the usual other wildlife. Its probably the only place in SA where the myths about animals walking our streets is occasionally true!

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Last edit: 01 Feb 2012 07:06 by ghaznavid.

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