Grindstone Caves TrailEnquire Now
52km from Winterton
+27 33 845 1000 www.kznwildlife.com
Easy to moderate difficulty; Suitable for children
You don't get shorter and better walks than this in these or any other mountains. In just one hour from a public rest camp, you will find yourself deep in the wilderness, with not one but two large caves to chose from - caves that ring with the consequences of a dramatic past. Even the grindstones from which the shelters got their names still lie there on the cave floor. They date from the early 1800s, when the vulnerable Amahlubi people were chased by Zulu impis from the plains into the mountains. But even before that, these, and indeed all the hundreds of caves that dot the sandstone at the base of the main Drakensberg ramparts, sheltered small clans of Stone Age San, who are members of the oldest human line on earth.
The hike starts out the back of Injesuthi hutted camp, passing the small rondavels of the original Solitude resort, and almost immediately begins to climb the grassy hill. The hillside is littered with large boulders, around which are clusters of small trees and shrubs, while proteas grow on the more exposed slopes. The path climbs steadily towards the rock band and then ascends in large steps, where you'll almost certainly need to stop a few times to catch your breath. You then traverse the steep slope high above the Old Woman Stream, which rises against the main escarpment high up against the outline of the Old Woman Grinding Corn.
Below is dense forest, but there is no way of getting there. After just three kilometres, you come to the first of the two caves and should see at least two broken grindstones. Because of the steepness and the exposed feeling on the higher slopes, it feels like you have walked at least double that distance. You'll find the second cave on the same level about 50 metres further along. The first cave is the bigger and the more homely of the two, while the second has a small waterfall running over the lip, which freezes in winter. Up the valley you can see Monk's Cowl thrusting into the sky like a huge assegai, recalling the Zulu name for these mountains - Qathlamba, the barrier of spears.
You can lengthen the return trip by taking the path to the head of this valley and then going right (north) via Cataract Valley and Del'mhlwazini Stream back to camp for a seven-kilometre round trip.
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.