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Giants Castle Main Caves Trail

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59km from Estcourt

-29.2698, 29.5203

3km

+27 36 353 3718 www.kznwildlife.com

Easy trail; Suitable for children

About

Giants Castle, named after the sleeping giant you can see silhouetted on the horizon, is a hiker's paradise, with trails ranging from three kilometres to several days. One of the most popular hikes is to Main Caves, one of the most accessible and varied rock art sites in the Drakensberg.

Sadly the paintings are not the best-preserved thanks to the extensive damage inflicted by the 75th Carbineers, who used the evocative images for target practice when they camped nearby during the Langalibalele Rebellion.

The walk to the caves, which has now been turned into a museum showcasing a Bushman's way of life, starts from the reception area. After buying a ticket, head through the camp onto a path up a protea-studded ridgeline, where you might spot the Gurney’s sugarbird flitting around the flowers. The well-marked path then drops down to the small stream and turns left, following its bank for a while.

Once in the indigenous forest, the path crosses the stream and heads up to the gates of the cave, where a guide will be waiting. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the cave from the camp and you can bank on at least an hour on the tour, during which you’ll get a potted history of the San people and some help with interpreting the paintings.

From here, the trail exits by a second gate and drops back down tothe stream. You can either cross it and follow a path back to the camp or turn left and join up with the Bushman’s River. The latter is stunning on hot days as there are several crystal-clear rock pools to dip into. A little way downstream, there’s a path heading back uphill to the camp.

Tours run on the hour from 9am until 3pm. The main camp is seven kilometres from the reserve gates, which are open from 5am to 7pm from October to March and from 6am to 6pm from April to September.

A stunning add-on while in the reserve is a visit to the vulture restaurant at the Lammergeier hide, where carcasses are put out to supplement the diet of the rare bearded vulture. Other raptors that visit the hide include the Verreaux's (black) eagle, lanner falcon, Cape vulture and jackal buzzard. Advance booking is required.

uKhahlamba Drakensberg

KwaZulu Natal

About

The Drakensberg mountain range begins its rise in the Eastern Cape, running along the length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western border. It also extends in fits and starts into Mpumalanga and covers a vast area stretching into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

It is generally agreed that the ‘Dragon mountains’ got their name from their ragged, irregular silhouette that looks like a dragon’s back from a distance. It was so-named by Dutch settlers. Another, albeit less popular, explanation is that early settlers were told by the locals that dragons lived in the mountains. This theory was given a bit more credence when numerous dinosaur footprints were discovered in the Eastern Free State.

The Zulu tribe has given the mountains its own, equally descriptive name – Ukhahlamba, or ‘the barrier of spears’. Whatever the language and whatever the explanation, there is no argument that the Drakensberg mountains are evocative and mysterious. It is a wild and beautiful area that can change from sunny to snowy in mere moments.

In 2001 a park was established that encompasses a huge tract of the mountains. Known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area, it covers 13 000km² of Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. It includes the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage Site that by itself covers some 2 400km² and is 150km long.

The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a place of immense beauty and enormous spaces. It is one of the few true remaining wildernesses where hikers can walk for days without encountering other people.

It is no surprise, then, that this place is as dangerous as it is beautiful, and one must be well-prepared if tackling it on foot.

In the very north of the park is Royal Natal National Park. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the proud guardian of the world famous ‘Amphitheatre’. This can be easily viewed from the road to the main camp of the park. A short walk along the river gives amazing photographic opportunities. The attractions of this park are many, from pleasant walks to fly-fishing and swimming in clear mountain streams. It is also home to the 850m-high Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world.

Other notable parks within the greater Drakensberg Park are Giant’s Castle, Kamberg and Loteni Nature Reserves. Each has its own attractions, capable of keeping the tourist busy for days on end.

The Drakensberg was declared a World Heritage Site for a number of reasons. It is an area of incredible natural diversity with over 2 100 plant species, more than 200 of which are endemic to the area. It is also home to over 60 species of mammal, including the threatened oribi and herds of eland and black wildebeest. It has nearly 50 species of reptile and more than 300 bird species. The naturalist will definitely find a visit to the Drakensberg incredibly rewarding.

No less interesting is the human history of the area. A prime drawcard is the San rock art. Excellent examples can be seen in Giant’s Castle. There is also a recreation of how these people prospered in the mountains until they were ruthlessly hunted out of existence by both black and white settlers.

Look out for

The Bushmen paintings are a unique art form that shrouded in mystery and deserving of at least an afternoon’s attention. The fact that they are almost always to be found in remote, beautiful caves adds to their allure. And the walk there adds to the attraction.

Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in the Drakensberg. Depending on fitness and time, hikers can choose from short but beautiful walks to multi-day hikes. On the latter one needs to be entirely self-sufficient and equipped for inclement weather - including snow - no matter what time of the year it is.

The Giants Cup Hiking Trail is the premier ‘Berg hike, totalling almost 60km and usually taking five days to complete. It runs from Sani Pass to Busman’s Nek in the south.

The Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park is one of the first things that should be put on the ‘To Do’ list. You haven’t really been to the Drakensberg until you’ve viewed it from below - and then again from the top. Here you will encounter one of the most breathtaking views in South Africa.

Fly-fishing is another excellent reason to visit the Drakensberg. KZN-Ezemvelo has a collection of very good trout waters in their reserves. Other dams and rivers are privately owned, but many are accessible to fisherman for a day fee.

The Lammergeier Hide at Giant’s Castle is an amazing place from which to get incredible sightings and photographs of birds. Highlights are the bearded vulture, Verreaux’s eagle, white-necked raven, lanner falcon and Cape vulture. Many smaller species can also be spotted. Booking is essential.

Sani Pass is one of South Africa’s great drives. In winter the pass is often closed due to ice and snow and can be a very hazardous drive. Remember that a passport is necessary to get onto the pass and a 4x4 vehicle is required by law.

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