There are many ways to get out and experience nature, but none have the undisturbed organic feel of hiking. Putting one foot in front of the other, without the reliance of any sort of machinery, truly integrates the participant with his/her surroundings.
And while day trips and afternoons spent walking certainly aren’t wastes of time, why not try hiking for many days? Why not head to the Drakensberg Mountains?
Stretching out for around 621 miles (1,000km), the Drakensberg Mountains cross both field and town. Representing South Africa’s tallest peaks, the mountains reach heights of up to 11,424 feet (3,482m). For travelers hoping to get a taste of the nation’s wilderness, there is no starting point quite like Drankensburg.
Having made your way into the mountains, you will be presented with an abundance of things to do. These activities are based both on water and on land, involving different levels of commitment and skill. Visitors often consider mountain biking, kayaking, or fishing. However, the most readily available activity is hiking.
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As with any such range of mountains, there are both long and short hikes. Those who want to walk around for a few hours can feel free to do so, while those who want a longer adventure can partake with minimal preparations. Below are a couple of the countless trails around the mountains:
Taking place around the moderately sized Cathedral Peak, the Bell Traverse is one of the range’s more moderate hikes. Making your way up along the Cathedral Peak trail, the route winds its way along some of the areas craggy cliffs and past expansive caves. Up towards the top of the pass, you will be walking among the clouds at an altitude of around 10,000 feet (3000m).
Hikers should give themselves about three days to complete the route. Fortunately, the area’s caves will provide a natural shelter for your night in the hills. This is not to suggest that visitors shouldn’t be adequately prepared.
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Giant’s Cup Trail
Taking around five days to complete, the Giant’s Cup Trail isn’t as intimidating as the name suggests. Running some 37 miles (60km) along the base of the mountains, the route skirts along past pools and streams. The trail gives hikers a chance to glimpse the mountains as well as interact with locals along the way. In addition to the natural aspect, keep your eyes peeled for caves lined with traditional paintings.
Basing your trip from Sani Pass, work your way south towards the huts at Bushmans Nek. Hikers should take solace in the fact that there are a number of huts along the way that provide basic accommodations. These huts have warm showers, bunks, and communal kitchens for preparing those well-deserved meals.
Credit: Albertus Bernardus
You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves. - Lito Tejada-Flores, Author and Ski Instructor
When To Go
As you’ll be looking to hike the Drakensburg Mountains in ideal conditions, consider traveling sometime between April and September, when temperatures are warm but not sweltering. Additionally, you may look to avoid December and January, when many South Africans have their summer vacations and therefore there will be more hikers.
The lowest one would expect temperatures to drop would be around 41°F (5°C) from June to July. Alternatively, highs will climb up towards 77°F (25°C) in spring and fall. Rains will be at their highest from November through to March.
Getting There & Around
After basing your trip either from Durban or Johannesburg, the simplest route is to rent a car and drive to the starting point of your journey. Alternatively, buses are available to the area’s larger hubs.
- Mid-range accommodations: $75-100
- Meal: $10-20
- Beer: $2
- Hire a porter if you’re not comfortable carrying all your gear.
- Make sure you have a decent pair of hiking shoes.
- Bring plenty of water along the Bell Traverse as there aren’t too many sources.
- Discount bring along binoculars to catch some wildlife.
- Leave any waste along the trail.
- Expect round trips. Arrange end of route transportation before setting off.
- Artifacts found in caves suggest that there was life in the area at least 40,000 years ago.
- Many sites along the range were important battle fronts during the Boer Wars.
- South Africa has some of the world’s cheapest electricity.
Feature Image Credit: Fritz Park