A guide to Hiking in the Drakensberg
You have decided to want to go on a Hike in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, what do you do next?
After assisting many people who have asked questions for a hike they would like to do and now knowing the types of questions asked we thought it may be helpful to outline the steps so that when you go on your hike you are fully prepared and know the type of hike that best suits you, how to get to your destination, what you need to pack, how long your hike will take, what to do in case of an emergency and most importantly how to get the most enjoyment out of your hike.
Step 1: Where will you start from for your hike?
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is huge and is thus split into 17 regions (entrance points). These 17 regions are listed in detail here (will open in a new tab for ease of reference).
These 17 entrance points are what make up the Northern, Central and Southern Drakensberg. When you read the information on any of these regions an overview of the region is given, the contact numbers, what accommodation and activities are available at the reserve and most importantly directions to get to the reserve. Your hike will in all likelihood start from one of these reserves.
Of the 17 regions, 13 are run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The entry fee (daily conservation fee) to these reserves is currently R60 per adult and R30 per child per day. A detailed schedule of the tariffs can be downloaded here. If you are doing a day hike starting at any of these reserves then you simply arrive at the reserve on the day, pay the applicable entrance fee, park in the designated day parking area and go out and enjoy your hike. Overnight hikes, where you sleep in your own tent or a cave are charged at R100 per adult and R50 per child.
Should you choose to stay in a campsite or chalet at these reserves then refer to the accommodation schedule of tariffs in their booklet above for prices for each reserve as what is available and prices vary per reserve. Booking accommodation you will do by phoning the central reservations office of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife - +27 (0)33 845 1000 or by booking online at: https://bookings.kznwildlife.com
The Mnweni (AmaZizi Traditional Authority Area) and AmaZizi Traditional Authority Area are not part of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and forms part of a Community Conservation Area. The park entrance fee is R45 for adults. Camping at Mnweni Cultural & Hiking Centre is R90 per person and the chalets are R250 per person. Overnight hiking is R90 per person.
The Sehlabathebe National Park is in Lesotho and the contact number is +266 2232 6075. Some further information can be found here.
The entrance to Sentinal Car Park (the start of the Chain Ladder Hike) is run by Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD) and administered by Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. The first 4km's of the 7km section of road after Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge to Sentinal Car Park is not in good condition and a 4x4 vehicle is advised.
Step 2: Decide on your hike
Now that you have decided where to start, know the costs and how to get there you need to choose a hike. This may be a day hike or overnight hike. Overnight hikes would mean you will either stay in a tent you carry, in a cave or in one of the Huts.
If your hike includes staying in a cave download this document which lists all the caves showing the number of people each cave can accommodate and the contact numbers for the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserve where the cave booking needs to be made. Cave bookings are done directly with the reserve and not with Central Reservations. The cost of overnight hiking/accommodation paid to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for using a cave or your own tent is R85.00 per day.
If your hike includes staying in a hut (view the huts here) then your booking is made with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Central Reservations.
For ideas on hikes view our directory listings of hikes showcasing 95 hikes. We keep adding to this list so be sure to return and see what new hikes ideas are added. Alternatively use one of the many hiking books written. One such book is: Best Walks of the Drakensberg by David Bristow which covers most of the Maloti-Drakensberg and has short and long hike ideas with detailed directions.
Please purchase a map (shown below) of the area published by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife before embarking on any of the hikes. The maps are usually available at the Reserve from where you will be hiking or at Ezemvelo head office in Pietermaritzburg.
Over the years we have used many different app's and devices to assist navigation, especially in the high berg and also when in very misty conditions where you cannot see more that 10 metres in front of you. We have found using BackCountry Navigator TOPO GPS to work extremely well on a cell phone and have never got lost. The app costs R159.99 and is worth the cost.
A new version of this app is coming out soon and as part of their kickstart project we will be able to test the beta versions.
When going on your hike you will fill in the Mountain Rescue Register (in case you get lost, someone hurts and ankle, etc). It is very important this is filled in accurately so that if you need to be found then MCSA knows where to start looking, the Maloti-Drakensberg Park is vast in size.
In the event of a mountain rescue emergency it is best to try and contact the local KZN Wildlife ranger in the Drakensberg and report the matter to them first. If this is not possible, or if you are not in the Drakensberg, you must dial 0800 005133 and report that this is a "mountain rescue". The operator will in turn contact one of the MCSA rescue organisers.
Step 3: Is your hike safe?
Overnight camping in potential problem areas should be avoided to minimise the chance of something going wrong and if near the potential problem areas sleeping in one of the caves down a pass is potentially a better alternative, caves at top of the passes in the potential problem areas should also be avoided, for example Rate Hole Cave.
Below are 4 images with the potential problem areas near the escarpment where pitching a tent for the night should be avoided if possible to minimise the chance of any incidents. If near these areas walking to the next valley to pitch your tent is a better alternative.
The latest incident was at Ntonjelana pass on 02 January 2019 and the hikers were confronted by two people dressed in camo pants, a civilian top and armed with an R4 rifle. No one was harmed but extreme caution needs to be taken if hiking in this area.
Step 4: Bushman Paintings - also a hike option
One of the Drakensberg's greatest treasures is cultural. Some 40 000 individual rock paintings have been recorded at 600 different cave and overhang sites between Royal Natal and Bushman's Neck.
A list of all the caves (41) with Bushman Paintings we are allowed to visit with an accredited guide can be viewed here.
Below is an image from Mpongweni (Sipongweni) North Shelter is in the Cobham area. Mpongweni North Shelter is a must visit if you are interested in Bushman Paintings. It's a long uphill hike of about 6 hours to the site but well worth the visit. Probably best to overnight and make this a 2-day trip. Read more...
Please note that visitors may only visit rock art sites that are officially open for public visitation and they must either have a permit or be accompanied by an Amafa accredited custodian or guide depending on the management arrangements at each site. All of the open sites have a management plan and trained guides or custodians that will accompany the guests to the rock art site, relate the code of conduct and that would supervise the visitors’ behaviour. The list of public rock art sites can be seen here.
Step 5: Hiking Equipment, Food, etc...
We have compiled detailed pages that give an introduction to hiking, hiking ethics, hiking gear and food ideas here. This will give you a good idea of what type of gear you need and food you should take with. As you do more hikes (day hikes and overnight hikes) you will discover what suits you best, which kit is essential and what food you like to take with that does not make your backpack too heavy, there is always a compromise between weight and what you take with on your hikes.
Step 6: Enjoy your hike
Being as prepared as you can and knowing what to expect on your hike will allow you time to stop, enjoy the views, take some amazing pictures and enjoy your time with your fellow hikers.