The Drakensberg (literally meaning Dragon’s Mountain) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, having qualified in 2000 for both its natural and cultural wonders. Most of the range encompasses the well managed uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park. The Drakensberg range is made up primarily of sandstone with a chunky basalt cap. Over the centuries the elements have taken their toll on the basalt, forming the characteristic steep-sided blocks and pinnacles which attract visitors from all over the world.
The Amphitheatre, Giant’s Peak, Cathedral Peak and Mont-Aux-Sources are well known Drakensberg attractions. Mont Aux Sources is the source of the Tugela river, which falls over a series of cliffs to create the spectacular Tugela Falls. The Sani Pass is in the south.
Four Valleys make up the Drakensberg region. The Champagne Valley in the Central Berg, through the Cathedral Peak and Didima Valley; the Royal Natal National Park and Amphitheatre Valley; and finally the Middledale Pass Valley in the Northern Berg. Each valley has its own distinctive character and beauty. But what they share are magnificent mountain views. The region’s animal checklist includes the black Eagle, bearded Vulture and small herds of Eland antelope, as well as troops of baboons. Some of the more elusive creatures include blesbuck, oribi, and mountain reedbuck. It is not uncommon to spot a duiker, deftly springing on the moutain slopes.
This area is as old as time. You can feel it. The foothills and caves of the Drakensberg contain over 35,000 San rock art images – evidence of the tiny, indigenous people who practiced a prehistoric lifestyle in the area hundreds of years ago.
This is one of the few places on earth where the water runs clean and cool, the wind blows fresh and clear, and the natural resources remain protected.
Located in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, the national park covers some 12,000 ha and takes its name from the magnificent golden-hued sandstone cliffs, which characterise the area. It has many walks and hiking trails, pony trails, rock art and small game species (including eland, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, blesbuck and zebra). Some famous landmarks such as Oribi Basin, Brandwag Rock and Cathedral Cave are well worth a visit.
Golden Gate is also a birders paradise with more than 100 species of birds frequently spotted on walks. Some very rare finds include the bearded vulture and the bald ibis.
The village of Clarens is situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in close proximity to the Golden Gate National Park and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, and is a short driving distance from Wild Horses.
Clarens is a tranquil village which is home to a growing population of artists and entrepreneurs, and has become a hub of creative activity. Ambience coupled with spectacular scenery and a mild climate makes for the ideal weekend getaway for city dwellers from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban (approximately 300km away, and a comfortable 3 to 4 hour drive).
Many of the beautiful old homes in the village have been built from the golden sandstone typical of the area. The Free State also has rich deposits of fossils, offering a view of life in a different time – although the landscapes remain unchanged.
Harrismith, just off the N3 highway, is named after a previous Governor of the Cape, Sir Harry Smith. It lies at the foot of the Platberg (meaning ‘flat’) mountain, and occasionally experiences snowfall in winter.
The Botanical Gardens, Blockhouse and the Community Museum are worth a visit, while historical tours make an interesting excursion, particulary for those interested in the Anglo Boer War as a number of battles were fought in this area.
Harrismith is the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in Southern Africa. The town is also home to the largest truck stop in the Southern Hemisphere, Highway Junction.