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Lower Injesuthi Caves Trail

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52km from Winterton

-29.1264, 29.4404

15km

+27 33 845 1000 www.kznwildlife.com

Moderate difficulty; Suitable for children over 10 years old.

About

The walk to Lower Injesuthi is an easy morning's or afternoon's stroll. It’s never really steep, although the valley can get stiflingly hot on summer days. Unfortunately, after the first crossing, there is little chance for swimming until you get to the final cave, but once there you are in for a treat. Time your walk to coincide with the daily 10am guided trip to Battle Cave, one of the top five or so accessible rock art sites in the Drakensberg. It's more of a huge overhang than a cave, and much of the original shelter has fallen to the floor, but more than enough remains to make this a national treasure.

The hike follows the main road from the camp for just over a kilometre to a bridge, where you take the footpath to the right up the Injesuthi River. The name means "well-fed dog" and refers to the abundance of game, with even the Zulu hunters' dogs getting more than their share. For the next two kilometres you trundle along open grassland next to the river and then the path sneaks into a small forest patch at the end of which is a suspension bridge. This is a small but magical forest where, if you are quiet, you occasionally see bushbuck and forest-dwelling crowned eagles overhead.

The river crossing that follows involves wading, sometimes up to your thighs. From there, the valley frames the view of the mighty Injesuthi Triplets, behind which the land rises to the highest point in South Africa, Mafadi (3 450 metres). As you move away from the river along the grassy spur, look out for a large boulder with a yellowwood tree growing out a crack in the middle. Instead of taking the path uphill to the left, keep right on a lower route and, less than a kilometre further on, you will come to Battle Cave: it's fenced and locked and only guides have access.

After this, the valley narrows and the riverine vegetation can get quite rank in places. After another couple of kilometres, the path rises steeply up towards the cave set in the rock band above. As you approach the cave, you will cross a stream at the same level: find the path between the cave and here and you'll find one of the finest series of swimming pools in these mountains, including a corkscrew “bum slide”. The cave is enormous and can sleep 12 people with space to spare, with sleeping "cubicles" and straw underfoot. Unfortunately the rock paintings in the cave have been badly defaced, so they are hard to find.

Return the same way. If you didn't make it the previous day, leave the overnight cave in time to get to Battle Cave at about 10am for the guided tour.

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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