A beginners guide to hiking in the Drakensberg

A beginners guide to hiking in the Drakensberg

So. You have heard of this amazing place they call the Drakensberg Mountains and the Kwazulu Natal Midlands and have decided to want to experience a hike in these spectacular mountains. Here is what to do next. Its kind of a frequently asked questions with a few of our secret tips thrown in.

1: What sort of Drakensberg hike are you after?

Your options are many. You could base yourself at one or even a few of the lodges, bushcamps, camp sites and b&bs around and do day hiking trips. This is a great way to start for beginners, you dont need much in the way of kit and you have a comfortable bed to sleep in. Next up you could go for an overnight hike and sleep in a Drakensberg cave. If its you first time hiking in the Drakensberg my suggestion is to go with a guide. Its costs a little more but is very worth the money. For those of you that like your comfort there is even the option of a slack packing trail.

2: Where will you start from for your hike?

The Drakensberg is huge and is accessed through 17entrance points. These 17 entrance points are what make up the Northern, Central and Southern Drakensberg. When you read the information on any of these regions an overview of the region is given, the contact numbers, what accommodation and activities are available at the reserve and most importantly directions to get to the reserve. Your hike will in all likelihood start from one of these reserves.

Of the 17 regions, 13 are run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The entry fee (daily conservation fee) to these reserves is currently R45 per adult and R25 per child per day. If you are doing a day hike starting at any of these reserves then you simply arrive at the reserve on the day, pay the applicable entrance fee, park in the designated day parking area and go out and enjoy your hike.

Should you choose to stay in a campsite or chalet at these reserves then refer to the accommodation schedule of tariffs as published by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

The Mnweni (AmaZizi Traditional Authority Area) and AmaZizi Traditional Authority Area are not part of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and forms part of a Community Conservation Area. The park entrance fee is R45 for adults. Camping at Mnweni Cultural & Hiking Centre is R90 per person and the chalets are R250 per person. Overnight hiking is R90 per person.

The Sehlabathebe National Park is in Lesotho

The entrance to Sentinal Car Park (the start of the Chain Ladder Hike) is run by Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD) and administered by Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. The first 4km’s of the 7km section of road after Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge to Sentinal Car Park is not in good condition and a 4×4 vehicle is advised.

3: Decide on your hike

Now that you have decided where to start, know the costs and how to get there you need to choose a hike. This may be a day hike or overnight hike. Overnight hikes would mean you will either stay in a tent you carry, in a cave or in one of the Huts.

If your hike includes staying in a cave choose a cave that can accommodate the size of your hiking party. Cave bookings are done directly with the reserve and not with Central Reservations. The cost of overnight hiking/accommodation paid to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for using a cave or your own tent is R70.00 per day.

For ideas on hikes view our directory listings of hikes showcasing lots of hikes that have mostly been added by our Drakensberg hiking community. We keep adding to this list so be sure to return and see what new hikes ideas are added. Alternatively use one of the many hiking books written. One such book is: Best Walks of the Drakensberg by David Bristow which covers most of the Maloti-Drakensberg and has short and long hike ideas with detailed directions.

4: Navigation

Please purchase a map (shown below) of the area published by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife before embarking on any of the hikes. The maps are usually available at the Reserve from where you will be hiking or at Ezemvelo head office in Pietermaritzburg.

drakensberg maps

Over the years we have used many different app’s and devices to assist navigation, especially in the high berg and also when in very misty conditions where you cannot see more that 10 metres in front of you. We have found using BackCountry Navigator TOPO GPS to work extremely well on a cell phone. The app costs R159.99 and is worth the cost.

How to use the app is explained by the developer and one of the best things is you can pre download the map of the area you are hiking so no cell reception is required, the tracks and markers you will add manually to the app.

5: Mountain Rescue

When going on your hike you will fill in the Mountain Rescue Register (in case you get lost, someone hurts and ankle, etc). It is very important this is filled in accurately so that if you need to be found then MCSA knows where to start looking, the Drakensberg Mountains ahuge area..

In the event of a mountain rescue emergency it is best to try and contact the local KZN Wildlife ranger in the Drakensberg and report the matter to them first. If this is not possible, or if you are not in the Drakensberg, you must dial 0800 005133 and report that this is a “mountain rescue”. The operator will in turn contact one of the MCSA rescue organisers.

6: Safety

Overnight camping in potential problem areas should be avoided to minimise the chance of something going wrong and if near the potential problem areas sleeping in one of the caves down a pass is potentially a better alternative, caves at top of the passes in the potential problem areas should also be avoided.

7: Bushman Paintings – also a hike option

One of the Drakensberg’s greatest treasures is cultural. Some 40 000 individual rock paintings have been recorded at 600 different cave and overhang sites between Royal Natal and Bushman’s Neck. You may only visit caves that have rock art with an accredited guide that have been opened for the public. So if you are taking a guide on your hike ask if they are Amafa accredited.

8: Hiking Equipment

You will need comfortable hiking boots, a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, underwear, quick-drying pants or shorts, long-sleeve shirts, sun hat, socks, insulating jacket, nsulated pants, gloves, rainwear, sandals, gaiters, matches, lightweight cooking pots/pans, food-storage containers, resealable storage bags, trash bags, plates/bowls, mugs/cups, utensils, water container, canister stove or liquid fuel stove and a basic first aid kit.

9: Food

This can become a debate. I like to have proper food when I hike so carry things like tomatoes, onions, meat etc. But normally hiker go for the died options worrying about weight.

10: Enjoy your hike

Being as prepared as you can and knowing what to expect on your hike will allow you time to stop, enjoy the views, take some amazing pictures of the Drakensberg Mountains and enjoy your time with your fellow hikers.

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A beginners guide to hiking in the Drakensberg
Antbear Reservations

Antbear Reservations

Andrew has been living in the Drakensberg area for nearly 20 years. He has walked nearly every trail himself and recommends daily what his guests that stay his lodge do each day. He certainly is a great person to talk to

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