The Drakensberg has the largest conglomeration of day walks and longer hikes in South Africa and is also undoubtedly the most popular outdoor pursuit in this region.
There are a number of beautiful walking and hiking trails in the Drakensberg which mainly start from the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Camps, such as Giants Castle, Injasuthi, Monks Cowl, Cathedral Peak and Royal Natal. Some of our personal favourites are Crystal Falls and the Spinx; Nandi Falls together with the Sterkspruit Falls; Gray’s Pass; the Sunset Trail; Monteseel and the Blue Grotto, combined with the Fern Forest, Mnweni Pools, Main Cave in Giants Castle Nature Reserve and the Thukela Gorge Hike.
Grays Park Hike (Source: James Seymour and YouTube)
The author will be publishing a series of overviews of walking and hiking trails in the Drakensberg over the next few months. The following section deals with some of the most popular walking trails in the Cathkin and Champagne Castle areas of the Drakensberg:
Most of these hikes are marked on Google maps. Another useful application that can be used is “TrailGuide”, and a useful website is drakensberghikes.com .
- Sterkspruit Falls. This easy walk starts at the Monks Cowl Camp of KZN Wildlife. It is clearly marked and is roughly 4 km in length and 1.5 hours in duration. The highlight of this walk is the view of the spectacular Sterkspruit Falls.
- Keartland’s Pass, Blind Man’s Corner, The Sphinx and Crystal Falls.
Moderate walk. This circular route, which also starts at Monks Cowl Camp can be described as moderate to challenging. It is well marked. Follow the signs to Keartland’s Pass and Nandi’s Falls. You will reach an intersection where the path splits to Nandi’s Falls and Keartland’s Pass. Be Careful to follow the path to Keartland’s Pass. The Keartaland’s Pass route intersects with the Contour Path. Turn right towards Blind Man’s Corner. Turn back at Blind Man’s corner and follow the Sphinx route to Monks Cowl. En Route you will encounter the magnificent Crystal Falls. 11.5km and approximately 6 hours in duration.
- Nandi’s Falls. An easy walk from the Monks Cowl Camp. Well marked. 8km. 2.5 hrs.
- The Blue Grotto and Fern Forest. These hikes can be done separately. However, it is recommended that you combine the two into one walk. The route is clearly marked from the Drakensberg Sun Hotel. The hike can be described as easy to moderate. It is a hike of some 10km in length and 4 hours in duration. You will encounter two spectacular waterfalls and a crystal clear pool in the Blue Grotto. The Fern Forest is literally, a “fairy garden” of cascading streams and dense clumps of ferns. Remember to pay the relevant fee at the Drakensberg Sun activity centre and to fill out the register.
- Cleo’s Falls. This hike starts at the Drakensberg Sun Activity Centre and is well marked. 7.5km. Just over 3 hours. Easy. The falls are in the Monks Cowl Reserve. This hike can also be approached from the Berghaven side of this area as well.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done”.- Nelson Mandela.
Some key tips to consider when taking a walk or longer hike:
- Sign the mountain rescue register;
- Wear sturdy leather boots and carry a walking pole;
- Wear a light rucksack even in the case of a walk;
- Ensure it contains food items for at least one day, warm clothing and a poncho (the weather in the Berg can change suddenly), sufficient water, a small medical aid kit, a cell phone, map, torch and a box of matches;
- In case you encounter a bushfire try to get as quickly as possible to a small grove of trees or light a fire break around you. At worst run directly through the fire and roll;
- If you are caught in a lightning storm, urgently head for a forest. At worst squat over a piece of insulating material and ideally cover your self with a poncho or raincoat. Discard any metal items and leave your backpack a distance from you. Do not lie down or stand under an isolated tree; and
- Walk in a group of at least 3 persons.