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  • Hiking in the Drakensberg

    Posted by Rupert Denham December 16, 2013 - 2,256 views - 0 comments - 0 likes

    In November a friend and I went on a two-day hike in Giant’s Castle Reserve, which is two hours’ drive from Pietermaritzburg.


    Starting at 1400 metres at the main camp, the first day was a ten kilometre walk up to Bannerman's Hut at 2200 m. The first part of the hike involves steep walking on a well-trodden path, with wonderful views of the mountains ahead – a wide wall of rock rising steeply in front of you.


    The views of the mountains and then back down into KwaZulu-Natal are spectacular. You have the feeling of getting away from people - it is very quiet, and you only hear the occasional bird and the wind. In two days, we saw four other hikers. On the other hand we saw many eland, which the San (Bushmen) used to hunt with bows and arrows, as well as baboons, other antelopes and dozens of birds, including kestrels and eagles. 


    After six kilometres you reach the contour path, which runs beneath the steep face of the mountain. We turned north and walked for an hour and a half to Bannerman’s Hut. Inside its thick ironstone walls are four hard bunk beds, a table, benches and a surface for cooking. You have to bring a gas stove if you want hot food, as lighting fires is not allowed. There was no running water, but there are streams nearby.



    We set off early the next morning for the top, and spent three hours in the cloud negotiating an unclear and often rocky path. The pass, which is 3km to the top, becomes steep and for an hour or so and involves scrambling over large rocks, with occasional cairns often the only way to tell if you are on the right path.


    We emerged tired but elated into sunshine at the summit of 3050 metres, with a long view of the barren valleys of Lesotho. Then there was the long walk down in order to get back home by the end of the weekend. We reached the camp at 5pm. Overall it was exhausting but fun.


    A more relaxing way to do it would have been to camp at the top and on the following day walk south and then down through the easier Langalibalele Pass. Langalibalele was a tribal King who in 1873 refused to hand over his people’s guns to the British, and was pursued over the mountain passes into Lesotho where he was eventually caught and arrested.  


    The main Giant’s Castle Camp has comfortable chalets for R 695 (about £45) a night. You can arrive early and go on a day hike - there are a number of day walks that take you up to the face of the mountain and back. To reach the top, you need to spend at least one night on the mountain. A night in Bannerman’s Hut on the mountain is R 45 (£3). There are several caves that offer good shelter, as well as a cave near the main camp where you can view impressive paintings by the San (Bushmen) - these include some images that are quite mystical, with eland heads on human bodies.


    If you go in summer (November to February) there is a greater chance of thunderstorms or of walking in clouds and mist. The best time to go is just after or before winter, when the weather is dry, sunny and clear.