Travel to uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park – Drakensberg Mountains – The Barrier of Spears
The soaring peaks of South Africa’s Drakensberg mountain range run in a ragged sickle shape along the eastern part of the country, dividing KwaZulu-Natal’s highlands from Lesotho. To the Boers who first trekked north away from British rule in the Cape, these jagged peaks wreathed in mist looked like the back of a giant dragon. The word Drakensberg literally means ‘dragon mountains’.
To the Zulus, the storms crashing around the peaks in summer sounded like warriors beating their shields with their spears, so they named the mountain range uKhahlamba, or ‘barrier of spears’.
In 2000, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park became the fourth of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites. It is one of only 23 such sites worldwide to be recognised for its natural as well as its cultural value – comparable with Machu Picchu in Peru or Ayers Rock in Australia.
It was the San (also known as the Bushmen) who first lived in these mountains. By 1880, they had been decimated by black and white settlers, but they left a magnificent collection of rock paintings on rocky overhangs and cave walls. There are thought to be roughly 40,000 individual images painted in the Drakensberg, one of the richest ‘collections’ of rock art in the world.
Some are thought to be at least 3,000 years old, and are now recognised as a unique expression of human creative genius. They are also the best preserved rock paintings south of the Sahara. The animals depicted on the rock walls are acutely observed and movingly portrayed, but their meaning is not just descriptive. Certain paintings in the Drakensberg alerted academics to the fact that the paintings have a rich spiritual significance, and were often painted by shamans in trance states.
The mountain range is considered a South African biodiversity hotspot with well over 2,000 plant species, many of them found nowhere else in the world.
At least 299 bird species have been recorded, including Verreaux’s eagle and the endangered bone-cracking bearded vulture. Leopards lurk in the mountains, hunting the antelope that thrive on the fertile, watered earth.
Hiking is the best way to explore the mountains. There are excellent trails and maps. Many of the camps have horse-riding facilites and mountain bikes are generally allowed.
- Covering over 243,000 hectares, this is a place of extraordinary beauty – summer-green grasslands, high twists of montane forest, a place of sheer cliffs, clear streams, a fairy world of tree ferns and mosses that just begs to be explored on foot.
- In winter, the mountains are often shape-shifted by mist and snow – the perfect place to relax before a roaring fire with something belly-warming to hand.
- One of the world’s top spots for walking, hiking and trekking holidays.
- See basalt and sandstone peaks that have eroded into shapes that evoke their names: Giant’s Castle, the Amphitheatre, Cathedral Peak, Devil’s Tooth, Champagne Castle, the Monk’s Cowl, and the Sentinel.