Giant’s Castle – basalt buttresses, cutbacks and golden sandstone

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park protects Africa’s highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro. The Maluti-Drakensberg Park is a transfrontier reserve comprising the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in  Lesotho. This park is largely a mountain range consisting of basalt buttresses, cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. In its lower reaches, commonly called the ‘lower berg’, there are wonderful hikes through rolling foothills, mountain streams, rock pools and caves. This is one place where the clouds at times gently caresses those buttresses and ramparts and at other times violently strikes them with thunderbolts of lightning and saturates them with rain.

Photographic trip to Giant's Castle Vulture Hide with Helen

In 2000, this transfrontier park became the fourth site in South Africa to be granted World Heritage status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). SA is home to seven Unesco World Heritage sites, places of “outstanding value to humanity”. Internationally, there are 812 World Heritage sites, in 137 countries. Africa has 65 of these sites and South Africa seven. Three of these are cultural sites and three natural and this park is a mix of both. The Drakensberg, because of its remarkable and ancient geology and elevation is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna in the world,  and the richest and most concentrated incidence of rock art south of the Sahara. There are some 600 bushman painting sites in the Drakensberg.

Photographic trip to Giant's Castle Vulture Hide with Helen

Among the park’s 48 species of mammal are the threatened Eland and endemic grey Rhebuck. It has the largest groups of clawless and spotted neck Otters in South Africa. Easy pickings at Giant’s Castle vulture hide will ensure you will see Black-backed Jackal  Some times these Jackals have to fight the Cape Vultures for their share of those pickings.

Unesco describes the park’s natural heritage as “exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. Rolling high altitude grasslands, pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges contribute to the beauty of the site”.  It  stretches 150 kilometres from Royal Natal National Park in the north to Cobham Forest Station in the south.

 The park is also home to 299 recorded bird species – an astonishing 37% of all non-marine avian species in southern Africa. Ten of the park’s bird species are listed as important to world conservation. These include the globally endangered Cape parrot and white-winged Flufftail, and the globally threatened Corncrake, lesser Kestrel and yellow-breasted Pipit. The blue crane, Cape vulture and bald ibis are counted as globally vulnerable, while the pallid harrier and black harrier are on the near-threatened list. The Bearded Vulture is especially endangered. It can only be seen in this transfrontier park in sub-equatorial Africa. The vulture’s hide is a particularly productive place to see these unusual and massive soarers.

Photographic trip to Giant's Castle Vulture Hide with Helen

Both the Zulu name uKhahlamba – barrier of spears – and the Afrikaans name Drakensberg – dragon mountains – aptly describe the massive horizon created by the range. The Drakensberg is composed of basalt capping a sandstone base.  Originally this area was an enormous inland lake. The sediments of mud and sand were deposited for millions of years into the vast central swamp.  As the supercontinent of Gondwanaland began to crack and drift apart, massive lava flows were generated. These lava flows stopped about 140-million years ago. Since then, erosion has sculpted the mountains, forming the imposing peaks and steep-sided valleys we see today.

The vista on a hike to World's View at Giant's Castle Reserve in the Drakensberg

Unesco goes on to describe this area as “Rolling high altitude grasslands, the pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges which contributes to its beauty. The site’s diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants.”

The vista on a hike to World's View at Giant's Castle Reserve in the Drakensberg

This transfrontier park symbolises the spiritual life of the San people, who lived in this area over a period of 4,000 years. They lived in the sandstone caves and rock shelters of the Drakensberg’s valleys making paintings that Unesco describes as “world-famous and widely considered one of the supreme achievements of humankind … outstanding in quality and diversity of subject and in their depiction of animals and human beings … which throws much light on their way of life and their beliefs. Originally roaming freely throughout southern Africa, the San were forced to take refuge in the mountains during the 13th-century migration of Bantu-speaking people into the region and, later, European colonisation. San culture disappeared from the Drakensberg at the end of the 19th century.

Moody Dragon Mountains

This time of the year the weather in the ‘Dragon Mountains’ can be mercurial with temperatures varying between zero and 17 degrees centigrade in mid-summer. The weather can change so quickly that hikers need to be well prepared. Mother nature can be very beguiling but up there she can also be a hard task master.

Photographic trip to Giant's Castle Vulture Hide with Helen

Giant’s Castle reserve located in the southern part of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg transfrontier park gets its name form the silhouette of peaks and escarpment with looks like the profile of a sleeping giant.

Photographic trip to Giant's Castle Vulture Hide with Helen

I hope you found this post interesting. It is worthwhile to stop and reflect on the richness of the country in which we live. It  will continue to exist long beyond our transitory human affairs changes. We do though have an intergenerational responsibility to preserve its richness for our children and their children to enjoy.

In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.”

 John Sawhill.

Seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and then let it be.

Have fun,


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