Report

Drakensberg – natural Zulu border

The mountainous region of KwaZulu-Natal forms a natural and practically impregnable frontier with the kingdom of Lesotho. The ramparts of golden sandstone and basalt summits have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site by virtue of its jaw-dropping landscapes and fascinating rock paintings.

The road from the Indian Ocean to Drakensberg conjures up the quintessence of South Africa. You will first leave the muggy climate of Durban for the Midlands, a medium-altitude region of rich grazing pastures and isolated farmhouses, owned by and large by white farmers. You will know you have entered Zulu territory when you begin to see the first traditional round huts, rondavels, whose familiar outline can be seen at the foot of the tabletop mountains, dominated by a far-off jagged ridge. Such is the Drakensberg, depicted by some 200km/120miles of head-spinning cliffs, some of whose summits effortlessly rise to over 3,000m/10,000ft; indeed, the highest point of South Africa is Thabana Ntlenyana at no less than 3 482m/11,424ft.

 

Giants Castle Valley

On your journey to these gargantuan ramparts, the Zulu people, the main ethnic group of South Africa (to which President Jacob Zuma belongs), provide the traveller with snapshots of their daily lives ranging from children in school uniforms walking by the roadside; riders on horseback in the fields; women dressed in long skirts and brightly coloured aprons selling their wares in the market, their faces caked in clay… Once past the village of Mahlutshini, the journey continues along a wide path, into Giants Castle Valley, one of the major sites of the Drakensberg.

 

Sheer cliffs

The picture is both iconic and idyllic, as the ruddy landscapes of the southern autumn merge into the ochre-coloured earth, the faint sound of a far-off river breaks the ocean of silence and the sheer wall of the threatening cliff face looms on the horizon. Dizzyingly high and interminably wide, this craggy ridge marks the border with the neighbouring kingdom of Lesotho, an enclave in South Africa. The Sani Pass (2,876m/9,436ft) represents the unique point of passage between the countries.

 

Bushmen and San

This larger-than-life, primeval landscape, part of uKhahlamba National Park (245,000 hectares/605,408 acres), like the entire central range, is the site of cave paintings. From Giants Castle Lodge, a blissful haven for nature lovers and hikers, a short walk leads to rock caves where you will see depictions of animals and daily life. Among the most famous of South Africa, they were painted by Bushmen or San at different periods, from 3000 BCE up until the contemporary era.


©McPhoto/Vario Creative/Photononstop

 

Cape elands and baboons

The natural and cultural wealth of the park has led to UNESCO World Heritage recognition since 2000. Wildlife lovers will be able to observe Cape elands, baboons and rock hyrax or dassie.
In addition to Giants Castle, other valleys are also equipped to welcome tourists and hikers: in the north, Mont-aux-Sources, Cathedral Peak, Champagne Castle; and Cobham Nature Reserve in the south. Sites whose rich diversity is emblematic of the beauty of the Drakensberg and KwaZulu-Natal.


©Marie-Pierre Pelletier/Michelin

 

Practical informations

country.southafrica.net : The official South African tourist website

Drakensberg – natural Zulu border

The author

Philippe Bourget

Freelance journalist and author, Philippe Bourget has been globetrotting for some 15 years, working for the mainline tourist and economic media and press. A geographer by training, he is as interested in nature as he is in the links between populations and their territories.
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The tourist attractions mentioned

Natal Drakensberg Natal Drakensberg
Natal Drakensberg
Bergville
1:00
Giant's Castle Giant's Castle
Giant's Castle
Bergville
5:00