We just love visiting and sleeping in the Drakensberg caves, so why not plan a hike to see as many as possible over three days. Five friends agreed to go with on this adventure knowing we would be spending the majority of this hike on no path.
On the first day starting at Bushman's Nek we walked 10km's with 850m elevation again and were privileged to see three caves, sleeping in Whyte's Cave for the night.
Day two was the day for adventure where getting stuck on top of a mountain if the gully down is not found is a possibility. You hike 10km's with 570m elevation gain and can see five caves, sleeping in Secret cave for the night.
Day three is a longish hike back to Bushman's Nek of 17km's and 520m elevation gain with one cave to view along the way.
The hikes starts at the Bushman's Nek Office where you fill in the mountain register and pay your overnight camping entrance fee of R140 (R70 per person per night). The caves are booked with Garden Castle on: +27 (0)33 701 1823.
During this hike you may pass near to one or two caves with Bushman Paintings. Please note that No person may access any area within 50 meter of a rock art sties unless he/she adheres to the access and control measures instituted by Amafa KwaZulu-Natal in consultation with the land owner or manager. 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. If you are not willing to abide by these rules please do not do this hike.
Day 1: 10km's and 840m elevation gain
Your hike starts from behind the wooden hut where you sign in and you head along the Giant's Cup trail path which is uphill for the next four kilometers and 400m in elevation gain. It's then a gentle uphill for the next 700m with Langalibalele mountain on your right.
At this point is a small cairn on the hill to your left and a vague path you then hike along for the next 2km's mostly uphill and about 200m in elevation gain. The path often disappears and returns now and then, as long as you head in a North West direction you are going the right way.
You then reach a short steep section with a well defined path zigzagging up to the right. Once at the top follow the path along the contour of the hill with the valley to your right. This path brings you near Painters Cave with a stream alongside.
Route when you leave Giant's Cup Trail path towards Painters Cave
Please note that Painters cave has bushman paintings and you are reminded to please be aware of the of the following rules when near such a cave which can be read here.
You now cross over the stream and head up the hill in front of you, in a North to North East direction. There is no path and you can decide how to go up the hill, a zig-zag pattern especially after the crossing the stream is suggested as its very steep. The hill is 600m in length and 100m in elevation gain, take your time to the top.
The steep hill after Painters cave
Once at the top of the hill, walk straight down for about 50m, take off your backpacks (you will come back to this point) and head to your right going down the hill, after 200m's you will reach Sherry Cave (new). This cave in summer should have some water otherwise you carry it up from the hill you climbed a bit earlier if planning to sleep here for the night. The view's of the Drakensberg and valley below from the cave are stunning.
Sherry Cave (new)
Next head back to your backpacks and now head to your left, in a Northerly direction and head down the hill in a gap that will become visible as you proceed down. The hike down from where you left your backpacks is about 500m and 120m drop in elevation. You will eventually come across a path heading to your left, Westerly along the mountain with a valley on your right. Hike along the level path for about 700m and in front of you is your stop of the evening, Whyte's cave.
Route down after Sherry cave (new) leading to the path for Whyte's cave
Whyte's cave with a very high overhang, this cave is unique.
Day 2: 10km's and 570m in elevation gain.
After a healthy breakfast (bacon & egg with rolls for some of us) your hike starts on the path exiting the opposite side of the cave you entered from near the waterfall. Follow the path staying as close to the cliff above you on your left. After a short while you cross a stream and start heading up the hill directly in front of you, about 1km and 150m in elevation gain.
Hill to climb a few hundred meters after leaving Whyte's cave
Once at the top and after enjoying the stunning views from here of the high berg, your goal is to find the gully down to Rob's Cave.
View after climbing hill and before you descend towards Rob's cave
Head to your right (North) for about 400m along and then down in a Westerly direction for about 500m and 130m down. To your right you should see the start of a narrow gully. The GPS point at the top is: -29.783319, 29.176433.
False path, only a viewpoint. If you are here head to your right over the hill alongside to the gully
From here head down this gully entering a small forest which turns left and becomes steeper. There is a path of sorts and hold on to the trees while going down to keep your balance. You drop about 150m down and as the gully becomes flatter, Rob's cave is on your left. Finding this gully from the other direction up the hill from the Mzimudu river towards Rob's cave is easy, it's when going downhill and you can't see the cliffs that a bit or prior knowledge is very helpful.
The gully down to Rob's cave (-29.783319, 29.176433)
Getting closer to Rob's cave heading down the gully
A little climb up to Rob's Cave from the gully
After exploring Rob's cave from where you will see the Mzimude river below and a path on the other side of the river head down to the river for an early lunch. The downhill from here is about 1km and 280m drop, take your time and watch for footing. Hiking poles are very helpful when going down this type of hill.
The view down to Mzimude river from Rob's cave
This detour is optional. After your rest at the stream take the path next to the stream to your left (West) for 1.5km and 150m in elevation gain. Here you will find Curtain and Wave Cave both in close proximity to each other. Next head back in the same direction on the path towards where you had an earlier lunch and continue on the path for 2.1km's and 200m gentle downhill till your reach Sherry Cave (old).
Sherry Cave (old)
Sherry cave (old) is also your marker to leave the path and head into secret valley (North West direction). At times there is a good path to follow which eventually seems to disappear as you get near Secret Cave where you will sleep for the night. The distance from Sherry Cave (old) to Secret cave is 2.5km and 250m uphill, most of the uphill being just before you get to the cave.
Heading up Secret valley to Secret cave
View from Secret cave
Day 3: 17km's and 520m in elevation gain.
Another option instead of heading back to Bushman's Nek on day three is to continue up Secret valley for about 1.5km's and 200m up the hill directly in front of you and to the right that then joins a path leading you down to Sleeping Beauty Cave and through to Garden Castle reserve. A total hiking distance of approximately 10km's if you select this option.
The hike back to Bushman's Nek is mostly downhill, 940m of total downhill. Head back down Secret valley towards Sherry Cave (old) and cross the river where you will find the path along Hidden valley. Its 6km's and 200m downhill to the wooden bridge that joins you back onto the Giants cup trail.
After Sherry cave (old) cross the river to find the path
When you cross the Mzimude river about 2.7km's after Sherry Cave (old) you have the option of following the path along the stream of taking the higher path heading up the hill and then round and down to the bridge. Both ways have their benefits, the choice is yours.
The Mizmude river where you select to walk along the river to the wooden bridge or on the higher path.
After a short break at the bridge follow the Giant's Cup trail path up the hill for about 4.5km's and 400m in elevation gain which brings you to Langalibalele Cave. A few faint bushman paintings are visible on the rocks that have fallen down.
Giant's Cup trail, Mzimude river crossing
From here its a short uphill and then 4km's downhill with 400m drop back to Bushman's Nek.
Homeward bound - Bushman's Nek Hut in the distance
|Overall distance (metric)||34.6 km|
|Overall distance (imperial)||21.5 miles|
|Altitude range (highest-lowest point)||717 m|
|Minimum altitude (lowest point)||1754 m|
|Maximum altitude (highest point)||2471 m|
|Uphill (addition of positive altitude changes)||1680 m|
|Downhill (addition of negative altitude changes)||1682 m|
|Altitude range (highest-lowest point)||2352 ft|
|Minimum altitude (lowest point)||5755 ft|
|Maximum altitude (highest point)||8107 ft|
|Uphill (addition of positive altitude changes)||5512 ft|
|Downhill (addition of negative altitude changes)||5518 ft|