Southern Drakensberg Traverse

Hodgson's Peaks 1 (Panoramic)

The Southern Drakensberg escarpment provides a very fine, and often overlooked traverse, with several variants.  It’s less well known than the Northern Drakensberg Traverse, but the Southern section between Sani Pass and Bushman’s Nek more than holds it’s own, and is a worthy alternative with a more hidden feel to it. 

Basics

A full traverse of the Southern Drakensberg requires 5 days, commencing at Sani Pass and ending at Bushman’s Nek, the southernmost point of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.  Three nights are spent en route in tents, and the fourth night is best spent at Thamatu village, a veritable Shangri La in this remote corner of South-Eastern Lesotho, which provides significant cultural interest before a spectacular final day crossing the Devil’s Knuckles and dropping back in to South Africa via the lovely Sehlabathebe National Park.  The trek is normally supported by packhorses (there are no tribal lands lying close to this section of the Berg, and hence no localised porter culture), led by Basotho horsemen.  Between Sani Pass and Thamatu you are unlikely to meet anyone other than the occasional solitary Basotho herdsman and his mountain dogs.  It’s also relatively easy to undertake this trek on a self-carry basis, as supplies are driven to the top of Sani Pass, and you only need to carry food for three nights as the final night is catered in the village. 

How is the Southern Drakensberg Different?

Other than the fact that there are fewer free-standing peaks along the high escarpment in the South than there are in the Northern and Central segments, and there are arguably fewer soaring rock buttresses in its arsenal, other features count strongly in the South’s favour -  although the approach to the Southern escarpment has a softer look on approach from below, these looks are wholly deceiving; indeed, the whole of the Southern escarpment lies at a similar altitude to its Central and Northern rivals, featuring a high density of kulus (peaks over 3000m), including Thaba nTlenyana (3482m), the highest point in Southern Africa.  The African desert Sandstone buttresses that make up the Little Berg, are particularly interesting in this area, and generally finer than their equivalent in the Central and Northern Drakensberg; as you traverse, you look down on an appealing network of foothills capped by appealing sandstone formations. A traverse here takes you through a lovely corner of Lesotho, affording extensive views into the interior over monumentally long valley systems, fringed by serrated bands of rock that lend an almost prehistoric atmosphere to this highland landscape. 

Basotho Mountain Culture

Finally, a trek here is also an opportunity to experience the unique mountain culture of the Basotho herders, and a visit is made to the village of Thamatu in Lesotho, where you can overnight in a local settlement and sample local food - a particularly rewarding experience.   The trek finishes by passing over the Devil’s Knuckles (or a lower pass if you lack energy at this stage) and descending through the particularly lovely Sehlabathebe National Park to Bushman’s Nek, where you’ll re-enter South Africa.