Champagne air, fantastic hikes and beautiful mountain scenery make a visit to the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal a highlight for any South African holiday. This selection of hikes will get you going and maybe even start a family tradition!
If you'd like to spend some quality time in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park but you're not sure where to start, then The Cavern Resort & Spa
is a great place to start. The resort is based in a private mountain reserve within this World Heritage Site - right next the Royal Natal National Park and one of the most iconic sandstone features - the Amphitheatre.
10 Fantastic Drakensberg Hikes from The Cavern Resort
The Fern Forest
This delightful trail takes you through a lush forest where you will pass the tallest tree in this area, a Cape ash which is about 200 years old. Later you can stand beside the biggest Cabbage tree in this mountain range and possibly on the continent. This hike takes about 2 hours over easy terrain with some stream crossings.
On this hike you will see unusual trees that have established themselves on large boulders and mini forested areas. The Cannibal Cave has a fascinating history and has been occupied by Bushmen in ancient times and more recently by refugees from the Shaka Zulu wars in the 19th Century. Food was scarce for the refugees who eventually resorted to eating their dead to survive. The hike takes about 5 hours over moderate terrain with some steep sections.
You'll follow a contour path that connects with a zig-zag route to the ascent on this hike. There are actually 2 ridges, the second yields breathtaking views of the main Drakensberg range from Cathkin Peak to the Amphitheatre. See lovely flora on the return route. The hike takes about 3.5 hours over moderate terrain with various slopes and inclines.
This is a guided hike led by a Cavern guide as the rock art site is not easily found. The main highlight of this hike is to see Bushmen paintings on the rock face. The Drakensberg seems to have been a good environment for this ancient race - the many caves and rock overhangs made excellent shelters and the porous sandstone rock provided the perfect surface for art. This site is one of the most easily accessible for viewing rock art in the Drakensberg. The hike takes about 2.5 hours over easy to moderate terrain.
You'll follow a route to the plateau and climb a rock face. Along the way you'll pass some faded Bushmen paintings. The path to the cave goes around just below the escarpment. There is a little trickle of water at the rear of the cave. The hike takes about 4 hours over moderate to hard terrain with some scrambling involved.
On the hike you will pass through the Fern Forest and climb steeply up the plateau from where you can enjoy views of the Amphitheatre. The walls of Echo Cave are shaped like a giant wave and feature unique black stripes created by Cyanobacteria, an ancient species. On the return you'll see a couple of very old Yellowwood trees and some endemic Bamboo. The hike takes about 4 hours over difficult, slippery and steep surfaces.
This route is best done with a Cavern guide who knows the paths. The route follows a grassy path below the rock face through the Sungubala Pass into a valley and then descends to the riverbed before climbing out the valley on the other side to a boundary. You can return the same way or take alternate routes. The hike takes about 8 hours over hard terrain with steep parts - bush whacking is required.
The Big 5 Hike
This is a speciality of the resort and covers various highlights in the area namely Hlolela (very steep), Bridge of the Battleship, Venus' Bath, Sugar Loaf, Cold Hill, Cannibal Cave, Surprise Ridge and Camel's Hump. There are a number of routes back to the hotel along the way and hikers have a good opportunity to see Eland in the reserve. This is a tough 8 hour hike (experienced hikers will cope) with steep climbs to heights and is best done with a guide.
The Cavern offers this spectacular hike with a hotel guide and packed lunches for a full day outing. The day includes road transfers (4 hours roundtrip). The first kilometre of the hike offers superb views, after which it takes about 3 hours along fair paths with 2 chain ladders and narrow ledges to reach the summit, for some of the most wonderful views in the world. This is a tough hike taking 6 hours altogether plus the drive time but very worthwhile for those of average fitness.
Tugela Gorge and Falls
This Royal Natal National Park hike is a beauty and considered to be one of the best 1 day hikes in the country. Going with a Cavern guide and packed lunches makes it a great outing. You will literally climb into the mountains. The trail is mostly flat with superb views of the valley and river and only begins to get steep on the last stretch. There will be boulder jumps and wading through the water, rock pools to swim in and a chain ladder. The hike takes about 5 hours over mostly moderate terrain.
The Cavern Resort Activities
The resort offers something for everyone. Couples will love the romantic suites with their cosy fireplaces and families can enjoy quality facilities and activities for all ages. Individual travellers will also find everything they need for a great escape.
Apart from resort activities, there is an Activities Calendar which focuses on all kinds of interesting seasonal features from photography to art and from birding to mountain bike racing. The resort offers a spa plus extensive recreational activities such as tennis courts, guided walks and hikes, swimming and horse riding, trout fishing, a kid's playroom and activities including pony rides, trampoline and play area, fishing and guided walks.
An Adventure Centre near The Cavern offers canopy tours, bridge swings, forest paint ball, flying trapeze, zip line (flying fox), bungee jumping, quad bike tours, mountain biking trails and adventure courses.