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Hiking

The Southern Drakensberg offers superb hiking opportunities to all, young and old, fit and unfit. From short rambles to overnight hiking, experience the views, the peace and swims in mountain streams. Fit hikers might tackle a strenuous trip up the Rhino or bag Hodgson’s Peaks and Thabana Ntlenyana (the highest point in Africa south of Kilimanjaro).

Most of the walks are in the Maloti Drakensberg Park, administered by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. All hikers on KZN Wildlife land must purchase an entry permit first. Always take a waterproof jacket with you when hiking – the weather can change very quickly in the berg! Also pack energy food, a water bottle, sunscreen and a cap.

It is advisable to start Drakensberg hikes from an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife entry point. In the Southern Drakensberg, these can be found at (from north to south):

LOTHENI: Contact number +27 (0) 33 702 0540
COBHAM: Contact number +27 (0) 33 7020 181
GARDEN CASTLE: Contact number + 27 (0) 33 701 1823
BUSHMANS NEK: Contact number + 27 (0) 33 701 1823

Maps

Whilst a number of Apps show a variety of hikes in the Drakensberg, it is still advisable to take a paper map with you as technology can sometimes fail. Ezemvelo publish a series of 6 maps covering the whole Drakensberg range. Map #5 covers the area from Lotheni to Cobham and Map #6 covers the area from Cobham to Bushmans Nek. Maps are available at the above Ezemvelo offices and at outlets around the district (eg. Giants Cup Cafe & Crafts)

KZN Wildlife Website

Day Walks - self-guided

Many beautiful and varied day walks give one a real feel for the magic of the Drakensberg mountains without carrying a heavy backpack. Take the family for a wonderful walk, swim and picnic! Make sure you have entry permits for the Park. Enter through an official entry point and complete the Mountain Register, or else ensure someone knows where you have gone. It is important that whilst enjoying our beautiful mountains, you also take care as the mountains can be dangerous. In case of emergency, contact the Ezemvelo numbers above or the local search co-ordinator Paul Roth on +27 (0) 76 395 0119 or try the toll free Emergency Medical rescue Service on 0800 0051 33

Here is a selection of day walks available from each Ezemvelo office:

Lotheni

Eagle Trail 13km +- 5hrs – Spectacular views of the high berg, leads through indigenous forest & grassland plains. Follows several streams, with a large waterfall enroute.

Emandundwini Trail 12km +- 4hrs – Through protea savanna, indigenous montane forest, grassland plains & along streams. Excellent bird watching and magnificent views. Some steep inclines.

Jacobs Ladder Trail 2km – Follows the Lotheni River and leads to the spectacular Jacobs Ladder Waterfall. Numerous pools along the route, perfect for swimming. Easy gradient.

Call Loteni

Cobham

Emerald Stream Trail 20km – Follows the valley between Ndlovini Mountain and Emerald Dome, leads to Pinnacle Rock, situated on a grassland plateau. Many pools are found along the route. Good for bird watching and game viewing. Steep in parts.

Gxalingenwa River Trail 3hrs – Along Gxalingenwa River, passing indigenous forest, which leads to a spectacular waterfall with pools suitable for swimming. Good bird watching. Gentle gradient. Starts on Sani Pass Road.

Pholela River Trail 15km – Follows Pholela river. Spectacular views of the Giants Cup, many pools suitable for swimming. Indigenous forest in the upper reaches. Gentle gradient.

Call Cobham

Garden Castle

Hidden Valley – You determine when to turn back. This hike up the Mzimude valley offers geologically interesting formations & unusual erosion features. Gentle climb.

Pillar Cave 6km 3-4 hrs – A fairly easy walk, not many steep sections, lovely scenery, combined with various pools, ideal for swimming.

The Rhino 18km – Severe to extreme, only for the very fit. A full day is required for this trail up to Rhino Peak. Offers magnificent views.

Call Garden Castle

Day Walks - guided

A number of companies and freelance guides offer guided day hikes, many of them with a focus on Bushman rock art, but all will give you a good feel for the mountains without the stress of hiking on your own.

Hiking Operators

Day Walks - Sani Pass

The Sani Pass is a public road and so one can hike from the South African Border Post to the top of the Pass without the usual Ezemvelo requirements. A passport is required to go beyond the South African border post and it is advisable to carry warm clothing and rain gear as the weather can change rapidly and can be extreme near the top of the Pass. Water can be refilled from streams crossing the road. Take care of traffic, although vehicles are all travelling very slowly due to the road conditions. A number of organised hikes take place on the Pass at different times of the year including Sani Wildlife’s annual Flower Walk and the Choc Walk which is one of the charity walks on the Pass every year. 

Sani Wildlife Website

Overnight hiking - self-guided

The Drakensberg is the ideal place for wilderness hiking. Large sections of the Park are designated as “Wilderness”, a rare commodity in this day and age. “Wilderness” is an area where there is no sign of human activity and overnight hikers hiking deep into the mountains are usually in this type of terrain. It is permissible to camp almost anywhere within the Park in your own tent and there are also many large rock overhangs (we call them “caves”) in which you are allowed to sleep. Note that any rock art site may NOT be slept in. Caves with their capacity are shown on the Ezemvelo map series and you can contact the relevant Ezemvelo office to book the cave. Only one party is permitted to stay in any cave each night.

See contact details for Ezemvelo entry points above.

View Contact Details

Overnight hiking - The Giants Cup Trail

The Giants Cup Trail runs for 5 days from Sani Pass to Bushman’s Nek. Days are a maximum of 13km long, the trail is easy to follow and well-marked. Nights are spent in hiking huts, which can accommodate up to 30 hikers. Camping at the huts is NOT permitted. The trail is administered by Ezemvelo and should be booked in advance with central reservations.

Slackpacking options also exist.

SA Trails WebsiteKZN Wildlife Website

Overnight hiking - Guided

A number of operators and freelance guides offer guided hiking in both the Drakensberg and neighbouring Lesotho. There are guided hiking options where you need to supply your own equipment and carry your own backpacks as well options for supported hikes where heavy backpacks do not need to be carried. 

Hiking Operators

Training

We are fortunate to have a highly qualified hiking guiding trainer in the area, Paul Roth of High Horizons. Paul is also currently the leader of the Mountain rescue service in KZN. High Horizons run regular 3-4 day courses. Link to their site if Paul joins SDCTO

Hiking Clubs

A number of hiking clubs operate in the area, offering regular day and overnight hikes. They welcome visitors to join their hikes. To find out more about their schedules, contact:

Sani hiking Club – Contact Ian Davies  +27 (0) 83 601 1637

Mqatsheni Hiking Club - Contact Skhumbuso Molibeni  +27 (0)72 476 6080

Mahwaqa Hiking Club - Contact  Luvuyo Gushu +27 (0) 78 746 6872