Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa
The Natal Drakensberg
Northern Berg: Activities
Northern Drakensberg: Activities
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Witsieshoek Mountain Drive (2200m)
A spectacular drive that takes you to the highest viewsite accessible by car and the highest resort in the Drakensberg. Turn to Phutaditjhaba off the Golden Gate road. As you approach the Sentinel car park, The Sentinel (3165m), Beacon Buttress (3047m) and the Devil's Tooth are in view immediately ahead of you.
From the Sentinel car park, the summit is only a 2.5 hour walk via the chain ladders. The steel chain ladders are in two sections and offer relatively easy access to the summit. The popularity of this walk has resulted in the erection of a second ladder. This hike is onto the High Drakensberg, so one should be prepared for severe changes in the weather conditions.
After negotiating the chain ladder, it is a half an hour's walk to the Amphitheatre edge where the Tugela River plunges almost 1000m into the gorge below , making it one of the highest waterfalls in the world. This walk offers marvellous mountain scenery and because of its accessibility is offered by many northern Berg hotels as a day's guided outing.
This pass is the gateway into Natal from the Highveld. From the top of the pass, one has an open view of the Drakensberg escarpment from the Amphitheatre to Cathkin Peak. The dams stretching out below are part of the Tugela Vaal Water Transfer System, which collects water and pumps it northwest over the pass into the interior.
In order to save the endangered raptors of the Drakensberg from near extinction (mostly through unintentional poisoning) conservation bodies have established feeding sites at various locations: Sterkfontein Dam, Witsieshoek & Dragon's Peak Park. Lammergeyers, Cape Vultures, Black Eagles, Jackal Buzzards and Lanner Falcons can be seen at these 'restaurants'.
Upon arriving in the Free State, there was a dispute amongst the Boers as to the eventual destination of the Great Trek. Piet Retief chose Natal. Here at the foot of Kerkenberg, he left his laager on 7 October, 1837 with 14 men to reconnoitre Natal in advance. His daughter Deborah painted her father's name on the rock on 11th November to commemorate his birthday.
At Voortrekker Pass, there is a monument of a woman walking away from Natal. This is in memory of Susanna Smit, sister of Boer leader Gert Maritz, who declared that she would barefoot back over the Drakensberg than live in Natal under British rule. Although on fenced private property the monument is accessible 12km from the tarred road.
When Shaka's impis rampaged through Natal in the 1820's, smaller Zulu clans were forced to flee. Some took refuge amongst the overhangs in the sandstone of the Little Drakensberg and had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive... until they could safely move out to the plains below. Contact the Cavern Berg Resort to arrange hiking to this massive sandstone 'cave'.
Woodcutters and Saw Pits
Before the turn of the century, the accessible indigenous forests of the foothills were exploited for timber, especially Yellowood for the construction of wagons and buildings and for mining. In the Cavern area one can still see the old stonewall saw pits used by the woodcutters. The Drakensberg's indigenous forests are now protected by law.
Thandanani Craft Village
A community initiative to encourage tourism and market local Zulu crafts including fine basketwork. This is based on a co-operative system where local people can collectively sell their handwork and share in the profits. Thandanani is on the road not far from Royal Natal National Park. (Look for the colourful, thatched building after you cross the Singati bridge).
KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service Reception
The visitor's centre in the Royal Natal National Park serves as the Service's administrative and information centre. It has a well constructed display on the natural history of the Drakensberg. The shop has a good selection of curios and also sells refreshments, braai wood and camping essentials. There is a mountain register at the centre.
Goodoo Falls (Royal Natal National Park)
. . . is reached after a two hour hike through Protea savannah and a large Yellowwood forest. The effort is rewarded with a refreshing dip in the superb pool of crystal clear water at the base of the waterfall. Getting to the top of the falls (usually via 'The Crack') requires a little extra effort, but rates as one of the more scenic day walks in the Park.
The Cascades (Royal Natal National Park)
The lower Mahai River widens slightly to expose flat sandstone ledges over which the water cascades, providing several pools and flat rocks for sunbathing. This destination is only 15 minutes from the Mahai Campsite via the 'Queen's Causeway', built so that Her Majesty wouldn't have to get her feet wet whilst on a short walk during the Royal visit of 1947!
The Tugela Gorge and Tunnel (Royal Natal National Park)
This is the most popular walk in the Royal Natal National Park. A clear path follows the Tugela River into the heart of the Gorge with its peaks towering above. Here at the confluence of the Devil's Tooth Gulley and the Tugela River one will find the water eroded sandstone 'tune'. There is also a chain ladder to assist in climbing even higher into the Gorge.
The Amphitheatre (2900m)
The 1000m sheer basalt cliffs of the Amphitheatre form the backdrop to the Royal Natal National Park. The 4 kilometre wide Amphitheatre wall lies between the Eastern Buttress (3047m) at the South and Beacon Buttress (312lm) and Sentinel (3165m) to the North. The Tugela Falls plunges over the Amphitheatre approx. lkm South of the Beacon Buttress.
The village provides essential services to the local people of the northern Drakensberg including a Post Office, doctor and bank. During the Boer War of 1899-1902 the British built a blockhouse, now a museum and national monument, in what are now the Courthouse grounds. The Drakensberg Publicity Offices are in central Bergville.
The scene of fierce fighting between the British and Boers. British General, Redvers Buller, sent to relieve Ladysmith from Boer siege. lost 340 soldiers, had 1000 wounded and a further 189 taken prisoner by the Boers, at the Battle of Spioenkop 23 -24 February 1900). Self-guide booklets can be purchased from the Parks Board guard.
Spioenkop Dam and Nature Reserve
South of the Spioenkop Battlefield is the Spioenkop Game Reserve which is controlled by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services. It is well stocked with a large variety of antelope, rhino, zebra, giraffe etc. Watersports and camping are permitted and permits are obtainable from the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services. Access to the reserve is off the Winterton-Ladysmith road.
Descendants of the Nguni people still inhabit their traditional tribal areas in the foothills of the Drakensberg and their differing homesteads form an integral part of the changing rural scenery in these valleys. Sadly, the traditional thatched rondavel and 'beehive hut' is rapidly giving way to more westernized square shaped houses with corrugated iron roofs.
Sterkfontein Dam and Nature Reserve (Free State)
This 18000ha nature reserve encompasses the third largest dam in South Africa. Although it is prone to seasonal fluctuations, it is a favourite venue for watersport enthusiasts. The Free State Parks Board provides chalet accommodation and camping facilities. Hikers and photographers will delight at the changing scenery and wildlife in the reserve.
This information has been extracted from the 'Excursions and Information Guide' published by the Drakensberg Publicity Association.