Whether you choose to take your time on easy walks or embark on a challenging three- or four-day trip into the mountains, hiking in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg remains one of South Africa’s top wilderness experiences. The marvel of setting out on foot in these mountains is that you’re unlikely to encounter vehicles, settlements, or even other people, and the scenery is sublime.
The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg is divided into the High Berg and Little Berg, according to altitude. In the High Berg, you’re in the land of spires and great rock buttresses, where the only places to sleep are in caves or, in some areas, huts. You’ll need to be totally self-sufficient and obey wilderness rules, taking a trowel and toilet paper with you and not fouling natural water with anything – which means carrying water away from the streams to wash in. Both mountaineers’ huts and caves must be booked with the KZN Wildlife office you start out from, and you’ll also need to write down your route details in the mountain register. Slogging up the passes to the top of the mountains requires a high degree of fitness, some hiking experience and a companion or guide who knows the terrain.
The Little Berg, with its gentler summits, rivers, rock paintings, valleys and forests, is equally remote and beautiful. It’s also easier (and safer) to explore if you’re of average fitness. If you don’t want to carry a backpack and sleep in caves or huts, it’s feasible to base yourself at one of the KZN Wildlife camps and set out on day hikes, of which there are endless choices. It’s also possible to do a two-day walk from one of the camps, spending one night in a cave. Two excellent bases for walking are Injisuthi in the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve, or Thendele in the Royal KwaZulu-Natal National Park. With extensive grasslands, the Southern Berg is the terrain of the highly recommended Giant’s Cup Hiking Trail, an exhilarating introduction to the mountains.