Northern Drakensberg Traverse

TRAVERSE LINE has been renamed WALKS IN AFRICA
 

Please navigate to the same trek on our new website by clicking here: Northern Drakensberg Traverse

This is arguably the most renowned trek in South Africa, and is frequently rated as one of the World’s top ten big walks. Not without good reason!  Starting with a spectacular ascent up 17m chain ladders, or a rocky gully behind the Sentinel, this is a classical traverse of the northern section of the KwaZulu-Natal escarpment, and takes in some of the Drakensberg’s most spectacular scenery and notable landmarks, including the impossibly symmetrical Amphitheatre and the soaring pinnacles and buttresses that dominate the area around the Mnweni Cutback - Mnweni Pinnacles and Mponjwane to name a couple. 

The experience

A big draw of the trek is that you will pass through an extensive, pristine wilderness, mostly off marked tracks, experiencing nature and unrivalled geography in complete isolation (save the occasional Basotho herdsman) as you proceed - this section of the high ‘Berg is probably at its most varied and interesting, and its relative inaccessibility once beyond the Amphitheatre adds to its allure.  You traverse along the South African watershed (the water is the purest on the southern continent!), with drop-offs of several thousand feet falling into South Africa on one flank, and the stark, rolling, high-altitude moorland interior of Lesotho keeping your vertigo at bay on the other flank.  For naturalists, there is plenty on offer - the high Drakensberg is home to a variety of unique mountain flora, which is at its best in November, occasional fauna, and a variety of mountain birds, including the magnificent bearded vulture (the renowned Lammegeier, or "lamb killer"), whose wingspan can reach 3m, Black Eagles and Jackal Buzzards. The vulture colony at the top of Rockeries, where over 100 birds congregate, will fascinate all and sundry. 

Route and time required

The traverse can be made over either 5 or 6 days, depending upon how long you wish to linger in the beautiful Mnweni Cutback area, and whether or not you intened to proceed all the way to Catheral Peak, or drop down into the beautiful Mnweni valley system - see the pdf itinerary for fuller detail. Descents into the Cathedral Peak area are usually made using either Organ Pipes pass, the most straightforward routing, or via the Bell Traverse and Orange Peel Gap, a trickier, more exposed route which affords the chance to ascend Cathedral Peak itself.  A third possibility using the Mlambonja pass is less favoured, although this makes for a faster exit.

Descents into the Mnweni valley also hold very strong appeal, even though this entails dropping off the escarpment earlier.  The valley is particularly beautiful, and there is a strong cultural aspect to the walk-out through this area – the valley’s lower reaches are occupied by traditional tribal homes, and you are likely to meet few outsiders here.  The Mnweni Cultural Centre is the only “nod” towards commercial tourism.  Either the Rockeries pass or the nTonjelana pass can be used for access to Mnweni, and both offer impressive descents that bring you down between the spires into an ethereal world of soaring cliffs, tussock-strewn slopes, desert sandstone buttresses and tumbling brooks. 

Basics

This trek is normally run on a fully supported basis using porters, and including all catering and transport to and from trail-heads, although it can be arranged on a self-carry basis for fit participants. Other than private, bespoke treks, we also run one or two fixed date group treks on this route each year - see the "Dates and Prices" tab, or click here.

There is a good choice of hotels/camps situated close to the Amphitheatre, which range in price and make good bases - for open, fixed-date group treks we favour using a B&B in Pietermaritzberg which is very easy to get to from Durban and minimises cost. In short, all transport to and from the Drakensberg can easily be arranged by us, for both small and large parties, private groups or individuals joining fixed date treks.  There are also some excellent extensions within KwaZulu-Natal to the Zulu War Battlefields, KZN Game Reserves and the Maputaland coast, and we are also very well versed in arranging travel further afield across South Africa, and into Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.