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