The Drakensberg, “mountain of the dragon”, enigmatic and forbidding in the west of the province of KwaZulu-Natal, is actually an escarpment dropping gently down over kilometers westwards through Lesotho. It is fondly referred to as “the ‘Berg” (the mountain). The whole range has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
It is advisable to have your own transport for this leg of your journey through South Africa. This will enable you to experience more of the different regions of the ‘Berg.( A 4×4 is not necessary unless you want to travel up Sani Pass on your own). These regions are all very similar and yet have their own character. Having said that, it is stressed that if you are short of time, you will NOT lose out on any major experience if you are unable to visit a particular region!
The watershed forms the border with Lesotho. On ascending the mountain one may find oneself in a summit valley, still in South Africa. Other mountain passes summit over the watershed and one is immediately in Lesotho. It is wise to carry passports, though generally one meets no one but Basotho herdsmen and occasional hikers.
The range stretches some 200 kilometers from the border with the Free State in the North to Bushman’s Nek, and then beyond in the South. Lately people have started calling the area from Royal Natal National Park to Cathedral Peak, the Northern Berg, then from Cathedral Peak to Giant’s Castle the Central ‘Berg, and south of that, the Southern ’Berg.
The range was formed after massive rains started eroding the basalt (volcanic) deposits covering the whole of KwaZulu-Natal. The basalt still recedes westwards at the rate of 2 cm a century. The foothills are of hardier sandstone exposed below the basalt and this is where the Bushman shelters are found. These foothills are known as ‘the little ‘Berg”.
Quiet streams from the summit watershed join forces forming great rivers that exit in the Indian ocean to the east. Other watercourses mingle westwards and form the mighty Orange River which runs to the Atlantic ocean in Namibia.
For interesting reading and great photographs of the ‘Berg please refer to “Drakensberg Magnificent Mountain” published by Oshana. The text is by Edmund Salomons, the owner of Inkosana Lodge. Photographs are by Erwin and Nicolene Niemand.
Access by road to Lesotho is usually from the Free State where there are quite a few border posts. From the east, KwaZulu-Natal side, access it is only by 4×4 at Sani Pass or even further south on easier roads where the mountains are much lower.
Please also see www.inkosana.co.za for more general info on the terrain of the Drakensberg.