Introduction to hiking in the Drakensberg
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.
A range of favourite hikes
There are several 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; Montesee, Injasuthi to Monks Cowl 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:
Googles Maps have loaded most of these hikes. Another useful application that can be used is “TrailGuide”, and a helpful website is drakensberghikes.com.
- Sterkspruit Falls. This easy walk starts at the Monks Cowl Camp of KZN Wildlife. It is 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. Because this is a circular route with some uphills, it is described as mild to challenging. It is well marked. It starts at Monks Cowl Camp. 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.
Moreover, 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. Alos 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 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.
- 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.
Injisuthi to Monks Cowl
This hike is strenuous. Moreover, It is an approximately 21km in extent and takes over six and a half hours to complete Start early, around 06h30, and you should reach Monks Cowl before 16h00. It is a hike that provides spectacular views of Shada Ridge, Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak and Sterkhorn, amongst other peaks and ridges.
You will need to get a friend to drop you off at the Injisuthi Camp and to collect you at Monks Cowl Camp. The walk starts from the main office, and you need to head in the direction of Van Heynigens Pass. You will walk between Chalets Three and Four.
The walk-up Van Heynigens Pass is tiring, but it is worth it when you reach the top, and you can walk across to the viewing point. The views of Red Wall, the Greater Injisuthi Buttress, Cathkin Peak, Monks Cowl and Ship’s Prow are particular. You then need to return to the main contour path and turn right to walk along Shada Ridge to Blind Man’s corner. At Blind Man’s Corner, you turn right down the contour path to either go down the Sphinx Route or Keartland’s Pass to reach the Monks Cowl Camp.
Some key tips to consider when taking a walk or longer hike
- Firstly, sign the mountain rescue register;
- Secondly, wear sturdy leather boots and carry a walking pole;
- Thirdly, wear a light rucksack even in the case of a walk;
- Also, 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;
- Moreover, 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 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
- Lastly, walk in a group of at least three persons.