uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park in South Africa

The Drakensberg Mountains, which rise to 3000 m and extend 180 km along the western edge of KwaZulu Natal, form the backbone of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, and determine the border with Lesotho. This formidable mountain range is one of South Africa's most staggeringly beautiful destinations, and in 2001 it was awarded the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, both for its diverse flora and fauna and its impressive San rock paintings. The greater uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park extends from the Royal Natal National Park in the north to Sehlabathebe National Park, part of Lesotho, in the south. The protected area is 180 km long and up to 20 km wide. Almost the entire range falls within protected reserves managed by KZN Wildlife . Despite going through a series of name changes over the years, this conservation body has looked after the region's natural heritage for decades and succeeded in striking a balance between protecting the fragile resources and giving visitors an opportunity to appreciate all the mountains have to offer. There are numerous points from which to explore the Berg, ranging from fully equipped holiday resorts and luxury hotels to campsites, mountain huts and isolated caves.

Getting to uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

Baz Bus, www.bazbus.com, runs through the Drakensberg three times a week en route between Johannesburg and Durban, stopping at Oliviershoek Pass and Winterton. In the southern Drakensberg Underberg Express, www.underbergexpress.co.za, run to and from Underberg/Sani Pass and Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

Transport in uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

There is little in the way of public transport, so the best way of exploring the area is by car. The most popular resorts are within two to three hours' drive of Johannesburg, Tshwane (Pretoria) or Durban, accessed from the N3 and then a network of minor roads heading west into the mountains. The popular sights and resorts are well signposted. Those in the far south are best approached via Underberg on the R617 from Pietermaritzburg, or the R626 from Kokstad. The Central Drakensberg resorts, and the reserves around Monk's Cowl and Cathedral Peak, are signposted from Winterton and
Bergville, off the N3, along the R74 and then onto the R600. The Northern Drakensberg resorts
can be reached by taking the N3 as far as the Northern Berg turning. From here the R74
goes through Winterton and Bergville, and on to the Royal Natal National Park. The Battlefields
Route lies to the northeast .

Best time to visit uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

The weather in the Drakensberg can be divided into two main seasons: summer and winter. Although the weather tends to be pleasant all year round, the altitude and the mountain climate shouldn't be underestimated. Climatic conditions can change rapidly and snow, fog, rain and thunderstorms can develop within minutes, enveloping hikers on exposed hillsides.

Winter (May to August) is the driest time of the year and also the coolest. There will always be some rain during the winter months which, when it's cold enough, will occasionally fall as snow. Daytime temperatures can be as high as 15°C, while at night temperatures will often fall below 0°C. Despite the risk of snow, this the best season for hiking.

Summer (November to February) is the wettest time. The mornings tend to be warm and bright, but as the heat builds up clouds begin to collect in the afternoon. The violence of the thunderstorms when they break is quite spectacular, usually accompanied by short bursts of torrential rain. Daytime temperatures average around 20°C and the nights are generally mild with temperatures not falling much below 10°C. The summer is a less popular season for hiking, although then the landscape is greener and the wildlife more abundant.

Tourist information

There are a number of information offices in the area. The
Drakensberg Tourism Association
, www.drakensberg.org.za, provides information on the whole region. The
Central Drakensberg Information Centre
, www.cdic.co.za, is an arts, crafts and
tourist centre, which has a coffee shop and restaurant, and stocks useful maps and brochures.
It can also help arrange accommodation.

Safety

There have been a number of carjacking incidents in the Drakensberg. Beware when driving down isolated roads and always take local advice.

Entry fees

An entry fee, which includes a community levy and an emergency rescue levy, is payable each time you enter a protected area administered by
KZN Wildlife
. This fee is included in the cost of accommodation within the parks so only day visitors pay an entry fee at the gate.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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