The Mythical Drakensberg

The Upturned Spears

The Zulus called them the barrier of upturned spears, uKhahlamba. As the Voortrekkers ventured forth, most of the names they bestowed upon geographical feature were fairly prosaic - Swartberg, Blouberg, Rooiberg. The one exception was the Drakensberg, or Dragon Mountain, for these are truly mythical mountains. 

©Roger de la Harpe

Both descriptions are apt for mountains as dramatic as these. Whether you know them as the 'barrier of spears', the 'dragon mountains', or something in a lost San dialect, you will appreciate them as the mightiest mountains in Southern Africa - the Drakensberg. The Drakensberg rises to a mammoth 3400 m on a ridge just north of Sani Pass in KwaZulu-Natal.

The summit is harsh, like a high-altitude Scottish highland, while the mid-altitude Little Berg is a wonderland of protea-studded Afro-montane grasslands, deep-cleft gorges with waterfalls, rock pools and playful streams, and dank primeval forests alive with textures, colours and wondrous creatures.

Fast Fact The highest point in Southern Africa is Thabana Ntlenyana in the Drakensberg. The peak in Lesotho, whose name means 'beautiful little mountain' is 3 483 metres above sea level. By David Bristow

Year-Round Getaway

©Justin Fox

Along with the Cape Peninsula, the Garden Route, the northern Maputaland Coast, and the Blyde River Canyon, the Drakensberg Range is one of the prime leisure destinations in South Africa. Each season has its own appeal, and the Drakensberg is a year-round getaway. Sightseeing and hiking are the main activities, but there are many others.

Horse-riding, fly-fishing, game-viewing, mountain biking, kloofing, abseiling, rock climbing, birding, and 4X4 driving are some of the other options. The Drakensberg extends south from Magoebaskloof in Mpumalanga for over 1 000 Kms and ends in the north of Eastern Cape Province, whose highest point is Ben Macdhui (3001 m), just south of Lesotho. But the heart of the range is the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg.