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Life Is Better In Hiking Boots | Drakensberg

William Langewiesche, an American author and journalist who was also a professional airplane pilot for many years, said, “So much of who we are is where we have been.” 

Put on your hiking boots and explore the panoramic Drakensberg. Upon your return, William Langewiesche’s wise words will resonate with you too!

If you don’t have this e-book yet, it is well worth buying Walking in the Drakensberg, by Jeff Williams. When it comes to planning hikes, you want this e-book as your primary resource.  Jeff trained as a safari guide in South Africa and currently teaches new guides and lectures in North Wales on safari guiding and walking.

This guidebook presents 75 different day walks of 1 to 26km in South Africa's Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in KwaZulu Natal and easily accessible from Johannesburg, Harrismith, Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the region boasts dramatic cliffs, gorges and waterfalls, abundant wildlife and 2000-year-old rock paintings.

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“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” The Royal Natal National Park may not have a thousand miracles, but it is pretty close. Here you will find the world’s second-tallest waterfall and the tallest waterfall in Africa, measuring 948 m (3,110 ft). I’m talking about the magnificent Tugela Falls. 

Best time to go Hiking in the Drakensberg

Spring or autumn are the best seasons for hiking in the Drakensberg because they offer sufficiently long days, mild weather, the vibrant greens of spring (or alternatively, the deep yet fading greens of autumn), and most importantly, a reduced risk of thunderstorms and heavy rain.

The Sentinel Peak Trail to Tugela Falls takes hikers around the Sentinel Peak to the top of the Mont-aux-Sources plateau. From there it’s an easy flat 1km walk to reach the Tugela Falls.

Also called the Amphitheater or the Tugela Falls trail, the 12 km roundtrip is one of the most scenic hikes in South Africa.

  • Trailhead: Sentinel Parking Lot (requires 4×4 vehicle OR a shuttle from Witsieshoek Lodge)
  • Highest Point: 3254 m
  • Elevation Gain: 700 m
  • Time to do the hike: 4-6 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy-moderate (you must climb 2 sets of chain ladders in one section).
Drakensberg hiking trails sentinel peak hike chain ladders Photographer Dannii Coughlan
Chain ladders in Drakensberg hikes. (Photographer: Dannii Coughlan)

The 14 km roundtrip Tugela Gorge Trail also leads to the spectacular Tugela falls. Adventure lovers will enjoy a longer walk that includes conquering large boulders, precarious chain ladders, and steep gullies. In addition to the added adventure, the reward is a greater glimpse of the falls.

  • Trailhead: The Gorge parking lot (follow the direction to Thendele camp)
  • Highest Point: 3254 m
  • Elevation Gain: 700 m
  • Time to do the hike: 5-7 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate (boulder hopping, wading fast knee-deep water, chain ladders, uneven/muddy terrain).
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Tugela Falls, Drakensberg

While the Sentinel Trail takes you to the top of the escarpment which is literally 1km higher, the Tugela Gorge gives you a different but beautiful perspective of the Tugela Falls from the valley below.

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Amphitheatre, Drakensberg
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Amphitheatre, Drakensberg
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Royal Natal National Park, Drakensberg
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Tugela Gorge, Drakensberg (Photographer: De Wet Cilliers)

Also known in isiZulu as Thaba Ngcobo, the 21 km Rhino Peak trail is southern Drakenberg’s most iconic peak.

  • Trailhead: Garden Castle campsite, in the Southern Drakensberg (about 3½ hours’ drive from Durban, and 1 hour from Underberg, the nearest town).
  • Highest Point: 3056 m
  • Elevation Gain: 1385 m
  • Time to do the hike: 7-10 hours
  • Difficulty: Relatively easy, and lots of water points on the trail.
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A beautiful sunset over Rhino Peak, Drakensberg

Suggested Read: Kanonkop Trail, with Willemien du Plessis

In April Cosmos flowers are in full bloom in the Drakensberg, making for a wonderful display of color. 

The 17.7 km Cathedral Peak hike is a popular trail near Ngoba, KwaZulu Natal. The trail is not too well sign-posted near the end. Therefore, it will be wise to have the map downloaded ahead of time to stay on track.

  • Trailhead: Cathedral Peak Hotel.
  • Highest Point: 3004 m
  • Elevation Gain: 1200 m
  • Time to do the hike: 8-10 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging and difficult (especially the final push to the top which involved a bit of climbing), but well worth it. (PS: Some people ran down, but that was a bit too energetic!)
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The Ploughman’s Kop Mountain range runs along the left arm of the Amphitheatre, which forms part of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains. Put on your hiking boots for about 7 km roundtrip hiking.

  • Trailhead: From Mahai Camp in the Royal Natal National Park.
  • Highest Point: 1760 m
  • Elevation Gain: 475 m
  • Time to do the hike: 3-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous, but the rockpools made up for it. Beautiful sights!
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Suggested Read:  1 Day Hiking Trails – Around the World Epic Trails

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Hiking Tips

  • Do not hike on your own.
  • Plan your hiking trip well in advance and ask for advice from experienced hikers and/or do some research. And a reminder to get the e-book Walking in the Drakensberg, by Jeff Williams. It is worth every penny.
  • Make a checklist of to-do’s (like telling someone where you’re about to go) and what you must pack before setting out. Remember to take duct tape. It’s the most creative item in your backpack, covering up hiking hot spots on your feet to mending dodgy boots, or keeping food bags closed and fixing cracked water bottles.
  • Check the weather forecast before setting out. And if it should turn bad, turn back immediately if before the halfway point.
  • When you pack, prepare for an emergency and be sure to take an extra pair of socks (keep your feet dry and prepare for Murphy’s wear and tear) and a first aid kit. Also, pack the night before so you don’t forget something. 
  • Wear proper and comfortable hiking boots. If you take care of your feet, they will take care of you. And while on the subject, don’t wear your newest boots on the trip. Break in your boots on smaller hikes.
  • Dress like an onion. In other words, dress in layers so you stay dry but are warm when needed.
  • Eat and drink methodically.
  • Set a steady pace. 
  • Navigate methodically.

In conclusion, may today’s most popular hiking trails, in the Drakensberg region, tempt you to put on your hiking boots! Together with the highly experienced Jeff Williams’ Walking in the Drakensberg in your pocket, you’re well-prepared to live the hiking life!

Shop Hiking Books - Drakensberg, South Africa:
Durban & KwaZulu Natal: Includes the Battlefields Route and uKhahlabamba-Drakensberg Park
Durban & KwaZulu Natal: Includes the Battlefields Route and uKhahlabamba-Drakensberg Park

Traditional South African Cuisine

South Africans are known for making the most delicious pancakes. 

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South Africa is a truly diverse country with stunning scenery.

Cape Town is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, while South Africa is home to breathtaking beaches, dramatic mountainscapes, vast tracts of wild bushveld, starkly beautiful semi-deserts, lakes, waterfalls, spectacular canyons, forests, and large plains.