Giant's Hut TrailEnquire Now
59km from Estcourt
+27 33 845 1000 www.kznwildlife.com
Moderate difficulty; Suitable for teenagers.
If you do this as a one-day hike, it's long and hard - a serious mountain outing. If, however, you are sensible and plan to overnight at the dramatically located hut, it's a pleasant half-day's walk each way. Giant's is one of three mountain huts spaced along the contour path between Giant's Ridge and Injesuthi, about a day's walk apart. If you are looking for a great two- or three-day hike in the Drakensberg, this is one of the finest yet - amazingly – little-used trails.
There are two "official" paths between the main camp and the hut, so you can make it a round trip by hiking up one and down the other. The easiest way is probably to go up Giant's Ridge and then down Oribi Ridge, so, from the rest camp, take the path towards Main Caves. After crossing the wooden footbridge, look for a signpost directing you right to the Langalibalele and Giant’s ridges. After about 700 metres, the path splits; stay left and begin the long climb up the ridge.
The hut lies on an apron of open grassland on top of the Little Berg, close up to Giant's Ridge, which is one of the most outstanding features of the Drakensberg. The ridge forms the corner of the range and is almost smack bang in the middle, between the Amphitheatre in the north and Bushman's Nek in the south.
Whichever way you go up or down, it's a stiff climb from the rest camp at about 1700 metres to the hut at 2 240 metres over a distance of 11 kilometres each way. The routes are out in the open, with views of Giant's Castle and the escarpment sweeping away to your right.
The named peaks to the east of Giant's - Katana, Carbineers Point, Kambule, Mount Durnford, Pottterill, Bond and Erskine - commemorate colonial troops who were killed during the Langalibalele rebellion in 1873. The place where Colonel Durnford set up his camp is located among some large boulders on the Main Caves path, which leads to Two Dassie Stream. Here, the camp cook carved a calligraphically correct "75" onto one of the boulders. In front of the hut is a mountain tarn, where antelope such as oribi, mountain reedbuck, grey rhebuck and eland come to drink, mostly in the early mornings.
For one of the best photos you’ll get of the Drakensberg Mountains, set up your camera on the far side of the tarn and get a sunrise-reflection shot of the hut on the lily-dotted water.
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.