Best Drakensberg Hikes

BEST DRAKENSBERG HIKES

 The Drakensberg is fast becoming one of the most sought after hiking destination for both local and overseas visitors alike. But what are the best Drakensberg Hikes you may be wondering? Lucky for you, we happen to some information to share with you. We have been hiking in the Drakensberg for the past 30 years. So we may know a thing or two. 

 And so, without further ado, do, do, a, dah, dah dah….here is what we suggest. 

MNWENI CIRCUIT 

 Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult  

Duration: 3 days 

Distance: 46km 

 

The Mnweni Circuit hike is by far one of the most scenic hikes in the Drakensberg and that’s not just when I’m there. Strangely enough this is one of the less popular trails in the berg but is also the most remote… and no were not talking about the remote you use to guide through porn sites. The hike covers 46km over a period of three days taking you through two of the more scenic passes in the Drakensberg, easy peasy right? The first day is fairly easy {when I say easy, I mean the “Drakensberg” standard for easy} and sees hikers walking from the cultural center to Five Star Cave with the alternative either being Shepard’s Cave or sleeping in tents, up to you. If you’re feeling strong you can opt for walking another 4km and staying at Chichi Bush Camp {personally this is one of my favorite campsites in the lower valleys of the berg}. The second day takes hikers from their campsite along a contour path until you reach the base of Mnweni Pass {last water spot}. From here you ascend about 1000m up the pass while being surrounded by the most magnificent rock structures such as The Mnweni Pinnacles, Hanging Valleys and eenymenyminy, and mo. Once at the top of the pass you have three options. 1) camp next to the river up top. 2) camp at Ledgers Cave {most peoples choice}. 3) camp at Mponjwane Cave {my personal favorite as I believe it offers the best views in this area, especially for sunrise}. On day three you head from your camp and begin your descent down rockeries pass. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll see a couple of bearded vultures soaring above you. Once at the bottom of the pass it is about a 2-4-hour contour back to the cultural center. Due to the high presence of shepherds in the area there are many trails and this hike should not be undertaken by unexperienced hikers. Also due to recent flash floods the area has been transformed so some sections of the main path is missing as well as the river crossings have become more difficult to cross during the rainy season. 

 

Amphitheatre or Tugela Falls Hike 

 Difficulty: Easy-Moderate 

Duration: 1-2 days 

Distance: 14km 

 

The Amphitheatre hike, also known as the Tugela Falls hike, is one of the “easier” hikes in the Drakensberg as the majority of the hike is over flat terrain… and no we are not flat earthers. The toughest parts of the hike being the zig zag, gully and chain ladders. The hike only covers 14km and can easily be done in a day, but you won’t regret spending the night on top and were not talking about being on top of your significant other. Yes, it might get a bit chilly up here but once you see that sunrise, you’ll see that its totally worth it.  There are four ways of doing this hike. 1) up the gully and down the chain ladder. 2) up the chain ladder and down the gully. 3) up and down the chain ladder {the most popular option}. 4) up and down the gully {personally I don’t think anyone ever does this}. The weather on top of the Amphitheatre is the worst in the berg so make sure to have a sturdy four-season tent. 

 Champagne Castle Hike 

Difficulty: Difficult  

Duration: 3 days 

Distance: 45km 

 

So this hike is one of the more difficult hikes on the list and is usually completed over a 3 day period. The hike covers 45km in total and sees hikers going up one of the more well-known passes in the Drakensberg, Grays Pass… and no its not gray… well not completely gray anyway. Day one is a long day of walking as it covers about 16km and has an altitude gain of around 500m… not so bad right?  Your home for the next two nights will be at Keith Bush Camp which is personally my favorite campsite as it is surrounded by towering cliff faces and peaks such as Cathkin Peak, Monks Cowl and Dragons Back. Day two is the hardest and longest out of the three and sees hikers ascending nearly 1200m. Slow and steady wins the race for this day… just not too slow or else you won’t make it back in time for your two-minute noodle dinner. The best part about today is that you don’t have a heavy backpack… which helps… a lot. Day three follows the path you took to get there. 

 

 The Bell Traverse 

Difficulty: Difficult 

Duration: 3 days 

Distance: 45km 

 

 

 The Bell traverse is one of the most scenic circuit hikes in the Drakensberg and covers around 45km over a period of three days taking you through some of the most incredible spots in the northern Drakensberg as well as sleeping in two of the most well-known caves. Day one sees hikers leaving from Cathedral Peak Hotel and heading towards organ pipes pass. It is called Organ Pipes Pass due to the amount of black-market organ smuggling that takes place here between July and August. Organ Pipes is one of the more scenic passes in the berg and only a handful of other passes can compete with it. Once at the top of the pass hikers will make their way to Roland’s Cave {hope you like heights and a guy named Roland!]. Roland’s cave is one of the best, if not the best cave in the Drakensberg. The views from here are phenomenal. The second day is probably the easiest of the three as the majority of today is spent contouring and climbing over small hills. Your goal for tonight is twins cave which is located inside Mlambonja Pass. Day three is the longest day and sees hikers descending almost 1400m. From Twins Cave, hikers rejoin with the contour path for the Bell Traverse. This is, in my opinion, the most scenic traverse in the entire Drakensberg as you walk alongside towering peaks such as The Chessmen, The Inner and Outer Horn, The Bell and last but not least, Cathedral Peak which is the highest free standing non-technical summit in the Drakensberg, topping out at 3004m. Hikers have the option to summit the peak if they get there early enough {don’t forget to bring rope}. Once at the base of Cathedral Peak it is about a three-hour hike from here back to cathedral peak hotel where you’ll be able to get a nice refreshing drink. The Bell Traverse isn’t the hardest hike in the Drakensberg but there are a lot of exposed sections during the hike so a head for heights and extra cation are necessary. 

 

Fangs to Rockeries 

Difficulty: Extreme 

Duration: 5 days {can be done in 4} 

Distance: 65km 

 

 

This is a hike that isn’t undertaken by many as its more of a “look at a map and plan your own route” type of hike… well that’s how I discovered it anyway. The hike is long and hard but completely worth every moment as it takes you through the most scenic spots of the Drakensberg including Madonna and Her Worshipers, The Mnweni Pinnacles, the Mnweni Buttress and Rockeries. The hike can be done between 4-6 days, but I like to complete it over 5 days, camping at some of the most amazing spots in the Drakensberg. The hike covers about 65km over a five-day period. Day one sees hikers leaving from the Mnweni Cultural Centre and heading towards Five Star Cave {basically the same route you’d use to get to Mnweni Pass}. Once at the cave you’ll turn right instead of going straight towards Mnweni Pass. You should walk all the way until the base of the pass. Your campsite will be just after the river crossing {this is not an “actual” camping spot, so it’ll take time to find a good spot to set up. There is also only room for about 4 tents}. Day two is straight up Fang’s Pass which is one of the harder passes as there is no path to follow for the majority of the pass. Your campsite will be at the top of the Pass. Day three is a nice easy walk and should take no more than two hours. Tonight’s camp spot will be at the Mnweni Pinnacles which is arguably the most scenic spot in the Drakensberg. Day four is a wonderful contour around the Mnwnei Cutback and also shouldn’t take too long. Your campsite for tonight will be at Mponjwane Cave which is my favorite cave in the Mnweni Valley. If you’re lucky you might see some Bearded Vultures soaring around this cave. Day five is down Rockeries Pass and back to the Cultural Center. 

 Cathedral Peak 

 

Difficulty: Moderate 

Duration: 3 days 

 

 

Although Cathedral Peak can be done as a day hike, it is still better to do it as a three-day hike as it’ll be less rushed, and you’ll have more time to enjoy the views and nature itself. Also, you get to sleep in a cave for two nights, who wouldn’t want that? The Hike Starts at Cathedral Peak Hotel and only covers 21km in total, not bad right? This is however, one of the harder day hikes in the Drakensberg not only because of the distance you cover but also the altitude gain of around 1500m. Day one is a walk in the park compared to many other hikes in the Drakensberg. Today’s hike is just under 4km and usually takes hikers around 2 hours to complete. Sherman’s Cave is one of the nicer ones in the berg and you can make it look really nice if you take some candles up with you. The second day takes hikers from the cave, up Orange Peel Gap, then up Heartbreak Hill {you’ll know it when you’re on it} and after this wonderful hill you’ll be at the base of Cathedral Peak. This is where it gets a bit hairy… not literal hair though because that would be weird. This part requires a bit of scrambling and you shouldn’t attempt it if you are not confident in your own abilities. However, your hike leaders for this hike should be carrying rope and harnesses for safety reasons and this will make it easier for you to climb {this is not a technical climb and it can be done without ropes but rather be safe}. Once at the top and you’ve wiped all the tears away and have taken your victory selfies, you’ll then make your way back to Sherman’s cave via the route you came up. Day three is back down to the hotel via the way you came up on day one. 

 The Mini Traverse 

Difficulty: Extreme 

Duration: 5 Days 

Distance: 110km 

 

The Mini Traverse also known as the Northern Drakensberg Traverse is a five day hike which starts at the Amphitheatre and ends at Cathedral Peak. This hike was actually named as one of the top ten hikes in the world, crazy right? This is definitely a hike that should be on everyone’s bucket list. The hike can be completed in a variety of ways but the BEST way to do this hike is by walking along the edge of the escarpment. Yes, this route does add a bit more mileage to the trip, but it is so much more worth it than walking through Lesotho passing the “same” hill every 30 minutes. The traverse covers about 110km in total, which is about 17km a day, not too bad right? Day one sees hikers hiking up towards the Amphitheatre. You can either go up the gully or the chain ladders {chain ladders being the easiest}. Once youre by Tugela Falls you’ll head towards Bilanji Falls which will be your home for tonight. The view of Tugela Falls from here is AMAZING. Day two is a wonderful walk along the escarpment past IfidiIcidi and finally Fangs which will be your home for this fine evening. Day three takes hikers past the Mnweni Pinnacles, around the Mnweni Cutback and finally to Rockeries Pass which will be your camp spot for this evening. Subsequently you’ll be able to stay in Mponjwane Cave if you’re up for a bit more walking. Day four takes hikers from Rockeries all the way along the escarpment until they reach the cathedral peak mountain range. From here hikers dip down Mlambonja Pass and head towards Twins Cave which will be there humble aboad for tonight. Day five is the final day of the hike which follows along the Bell Traverse and hikers eventually come out at the base of Cathedral Peak. From here hikers will head back down towards Cathedral Peak where they will not be greeted with open arms due to their smell. 

 

 

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