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Hlatikulu Nek Trail

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36km from Winterton

-29.0494, 29.4063

32km

+27 33 845 1000 www.kznwildlife.com

Moderate to hard trail; Suitable for children over 10 years old.

About

Once you have collected your permit from the Ezimvelo KZN Wildlife office at Monk's Cowl and filled in the mountain register, find the path leading off from the car park up the Sterkspruit/Mpofana River course behind the offices. About 500 metres on, you should see a sign, where you head left towards Crystal Falls and The Sphinx. This is one of the most heavily used paths in the Drakensberg, which explains why it has been "engineered" to minimise erosion, and you might also find entrepreneurs from the nearby kraals selling walking sticks and other curios en route.

The steep walking starts almost immediately, as you begin your assault on the Little Berg's sandstone ramparts. But take heart because after about a kilometre you reach a lovely shady cove through which flows the Crystal Falls. Take the next section slowly, stopping to look for proteas, sugarbirds and other creatures of the Afromontane zone as you climb steeply up what you could call the rump of The Sphinx - the only tough section on what is otherwise a lovely, easy walk. At the top, called Verkykerskop (Binoculars Hill), you gain stupendous views of the Cathkin spur to the right and Champagne Castle, which at 3 377 metres is the third-highest peak in southern Africa, on the left. The fences you pass are there to keep in the eland that roam the foothills. The Bushmen held the eland up as an animal-god and painted its likeness in hundreds of caves throughout the Little Berg area. 

For the next two kilometres, the path heads directly towards the looming escarpment's vertical rock face until you reach the T-junction at Blind Man's Corner on a high shoulder, from where you get a good idea why the Zulus call Cathkin Peak "the Bully" (Mdedelelo).

You can go either way from here, but the most picturesque route is to the right, 2,5 kilometres on the contour to Hlatikulu Nek, with the basalt gargoyles of the Cathkin-Sterkhorn ridge close up on your left and the land falling away into forested gorges on your right (the Hlatikulu, or big forest). There are not many walks of this distance that allow you to get as close to the main escarpment face as this, which accounts in part for its popularity.

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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To Do

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