This month Siva takes us to Drakensburg (means “The Dragon Mountains ” in Dutch). Siva provides an exhaustive details of the best that Drakensburg has to offer..
Whether one is a new comer or an older timer, this province on the east coast of South Africa never ceases to amaze for its natural beauty and varying landscape. From the golden beaches of the Indian Ocean to the majestic mountains of the Drakensberg, from the games parks of north-eastern KZN to the numerous dams in the midlands, there is a lot for the nature lover. In this article I will cover a couple of my favourite destinations in the Drakensberg region. I will also take you to Nambiti game reserve, which is a within a couple of hours drive from northern Drakensberg. Last but not the least; I will end with the specials for the season – Turtle nesting in St. Lucia and Barn swallows roosting in Mt Moreland.
The Drakensberg can roughly be divided into three regions; the northern region, which includes the Royal Natal National Park, the middle region, which includes Giants Castle game reserve and the southern region, which includes the scenic Sani Pass. The entire region is beautiful, with a variety of flora and fauna which can be explored through easy to energetic walks. There is a lot of history as well, with numerous San rock paintings scattered across the region. Drakensberg is easily accessible from Durban, being less than 3 hours drive. Two of my favourite destinations in Drakensberg are the Tendele camp in Royal Natal National park and the Giants castle camp in the Giants Castle game reserve. The Drakensberg region is listed as an UN world heritage site under two separate criteria: natural beauty and historical significance (San rock art).
Royal Natal National Park (RNNP)
Situated in the Northern Drakensberg, the RNNP boasts some magnificient mountains and beautiful landscapes. The most famous is the Amphitheatre, so called due to the semicircular formation of the mountain. This region is also home to one of the 5 longest waterfalls in the world, the Tugela, which drops about 900 meters in 5 stages. This falls can be seen after a heavy rain. A climb up the amphitheatre and to the top of the falls is strenuous but possible within a day trip.
While there are a number of accommodation options around RNNP, I recommend the Thendele camp run by KZN wildlife just for the ringside view it offers of the amphitheatre. This camp has a number of self service chalets and cottages, all with braai facility; there is also a small shop in the camp. There are a number of easy walks along marked trails. The walk to the Cascades (a series of small waterfalls) takes about 45 minutes return. A climb to Tiger falls is more strenuous and the round trip would take about 3 hours.
The Giants Castle game reserve is in the central Drakensberg. Accommodation is run by KZN wildlife, and the camp has got self catering chalets, a restaurant and a shop. There is wildlife in this area; if one is lucky Elands can be sighted. The San Rock paintings are well preserved in this area. Guided tours are conducted on the hour during the day. The site of the rock paintings is about an hour’s walk with some gentle climbs on the way. If you are travelling in winter, you could be lucky to see snow capped peaks or even luckier and see snow fall.
Drakensberg Mountains are a great weekend getaway with beautiful scenary and easy treks. What leaves me wondering is the ingenuity of the San people to survive the harsh climates and at the same time express themselves through the rock paintings.
Nambiti Game reserve is situated north of Ladysmith, about 2 hours drive from Royal Natal National Park and about 3 hours from Durban. This is a 8000 hectares reserve which consists of a number of luxury lodges, and offers good game viewing of Lions, Cheetahs, Elephants, Rhinos, Giraffes, Eland and a lot more. I stayed at the Lions valley lodge and really enjoyed the luxurious retreat. Usually, 2 game drives per day are included, and so are all meals. There is a really nice swimming pool, and on a hot day, you may find an elephant drinking water from the pool.
As I mentioned, I will end article with two seasonal specials.
Turtle viewing, north of St Lucia: Every year, between November and February giant Leatherback turtles and loggerhead turtles visit the Southern African shores to nest. The leatherbacks are larger and weigh between 300-600 kgs, while the loggerheads are lighter at approx 150kgs. Nesting time starts in the beginning of November, with the leatherback laying its eggs on the sandy beach just above the high tide mark. The loggerhead heads inlands to lay the eggs. Within 70 days the new born hatchlings break out of the egg and instinctively head towards the waters.Turtle watching tours are organised by operators based out of St. Lucia. Bear in mind that the nesting happens at night, so the tours typically start after 8pm. If you go towards end of December, you may be lucky to see both the mother nesting and the early hatchlings scrambling for the waters. What is astonishing is that the female hatchlings invariably return to the same beaches to lay eggs 12-15 years later.
Closer to Durban is the roosting site of the Barn Swallows located at the foot of Mt Moreland in Umdloti. The tiny barn swallows migrate 12000 kms from Europe during the African summer and there are millions of them roosing in Mt Moreland, claimed to be the largest roosting site. Every evening before dusk millions of swallows return to roost and the sight of their flight home in the backdrop of the setting sun is awesome. There is a picnic site, so one could take some eats and drinks while enjoying this natural wonder.
There are many more easily accessible destinations in KZN. I recommend Lonely Planet guide, which has been a constant companion in my exploration. Here’s to happy travelling during the holiday season.