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  • Writer's pictureIne Vandenwyngaert

Drakensberg, South Africa: A Guide To The Different Areas To Explore

Spanning the border between South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province and the country of Lesotho, Drakensberg is a majestic mountain range. Encompassing a vast 243,000 hectares, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of towering cliffs, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, rolling hills, and deep gorges. The huge area can be divided into three distinct regions: the Southern, Central, and Northern Drakensberg. Each area can be easily accessed by road, although sometimes potholes can make driving times slower compared to other parts of South Africa. All three Drakensberg regions offer a wide range of activities and accommodation options. In this travel guide, we’ll cover each of the Drakensberg areas and unveil our favorite hiking trails and activities as well as great places to stay, eat, and drink.

royal natal national park drakensberg south africa
Royal Natal National Park


Check out our video about the Drakensberg to see the destination through our camera!

Southern Drakensberg

Broadly speaking, the southern parts of the Drakensberg lie between Bushman's Nek and Kamberg, including quaint towns like Underberg which offers a charming base for exploring the region's diverse offerings.

This part of the Drakensberg mountains is largely farmland, which feels off-grid but is packed with interesting adventures. Here, you can enjoy mountain biking, horse riding, fishing, birding, and hiking. A trail we really enjoyed was the scenic Pillar Cave hike, which is a moderate 8.5-km or 5.2 miles out-and-back. With 360 meters or 1180 feet of elevation gain, this is one of the best reward-for-effort hikes that you will find in the Drakensberg area. Another popular hike in the area is Giant’s Cup trail, which takes at least 3 days to complete.

But the true crown jewel of the Southern Drakensberg is Sani Pass. This is the highest-altitude pass in South Africa, which you can only traverse in a 4x4 vehicle. At the top, you will reach Lesotho’s border at a staggering 2,874 meters or 9430 feet. On the plateau, you can dine at the highest pub in Africa, immerse yourself in Basotho culture by visiting a local village, or even embark on a multi-day adventure into Lesotho itself. We did this as a day tour from Underberg and we left a link to the tour we booked in the description below the video. Our guide gave us some really interesting background on the blankets used in Basotho culture.

Sani Pass Road drakensberg south africa
Sani Pass Road

Central Drakensberg

Located in the heart of the range, Central Drakensberg forms the largest area of the three. Encompassing Giants Castle, Champagne Valley, Monks Cowl, and Injisuthi, this vast region boasts the park's most dramatic scenery. Towering peaks pierce the sky, all exceeding 3,000 meters or 9,840 feet and ranking among the highest in Drakensberg.

The main access point to explore the Central Drakensberg is Cathkin Park. This is the small town that we stayed in, which lies at the base of Monks Cowl in the Champagne Valley. One of the main attractions in the area is hiking to Blindman’s Corner. We would rate this route somewhere between medium and hard since it does have some steady uphills and can be overgrown in some sections at the top. The out-and-back route is about 12 kilometers or 7.5 miles total with 660 meters or 2,160 feet of elevation gain. It takes you along spectacular viewpoints the entire way.

An easier alternative hike in this area is Nandi Falls, which takes you to the bottom of a waterfall. But apart from hiking, this valley is also the cultural heart of the region. It’s home to the world-renowned Drakensberg Boys Choir, a boarding school where music shines in holistic education. Generally, you can catch a performance on Wednesdays at 3:30PM, though make sure to check the schedule beforehand.

Another popular area for hiking in the Central Drakensberg is Cathedral peak and Didima Valley. One moderate trail we really enjoyed here was Rainbow Gorge, which was 5.5 kilometers or 3.5 miles roundtrip and had sweeping green peaks and flowing water in the gorge below. Another trail we liked was Mushroom Rock, which includes a strange rock formation and more gorgeous mountain views. This one can also be extended into a loop and offers some spectacular vistas overlooking the valley.

But if you’re looking for more of a challenging hike, then the mighty Cathedral Peak might be a good alternative. This trail takes about 9 to 10 hours to complete and is best done with a guide if you want to reach the summit. And even if you’re not planning on hiking here, you can enjoy views of the main mountain range from the Cathedral Peak Hotel or from your car on the lowland roads.

Champagne Valley drakensberg south africa
Champagne Valley

Northern Drakensberg

The Northern Drakensberg ignites debate about its exact boundaries. Some define it as stretching from the Royal Natal National Park south to Cathedral Peak, while others encompass the Golden Gate Highlands National Park to the north. But one thing's for certain: it’s home to the iconic Amphitheatre, a colossal rock wall that is arguably the most photographed feature of the entire Drakensberg. Here, the Tugela Falls plummets about 947 meters (3,110 feet), making it the second-highest waterfall in the world. 

If you have a head for heights, you can hike to get a view of the Amphitheatre and Tugela falls via the Sentinel Peak trail. This is one of the most famous hikes in the Drakensberg area and is a little over 13 kilometers or 8 miles round trip. With an elevation gain of 900 meters or 2950 feet and an exposed chain section, this hike is a true beast. To start this hike, you’ll first need to get to Sentinel Car Park, which is only reachable with a 4x4. If you don’t have a 4-wheel drive car, you need to book a shuttle from the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge about 8km down the mountain. Check out the description below this video for more details on booking that. The hike itself takes approximately 5 to 6 hours total and can be completed as a loop if you go up the chain ladders and then come down the gully. 

It was our second time completing this hike and the first time we had clear views from the top. In fact, the weather can change dangerously quickly here and our first hours up were in complete fog. So make sure to check the weather forecast beforehand. 

Another beautiful and easier hike in Royal Natal National Park is the Tugela Gorge hike, which offers a breathtaking view from the base of the Amphitheater. This trail follows the river to a stunning narrow gorge. Just keep in mind that although the trail seems close to the Sentinel Peak hike, it’s actually a 2 hour drive from Sentinel Car Park since you have to go all the way to the bottom of the mountain and then around the valley.

Amphitheater hike drakensberg south africa
Amphitheater hike

Places To Eat And Drink In Drakensberg

  • Cathedral Peak Winery: idyllic vineyard to try the local wines of the area

  • Draken's Burger Diner: tasty burger joint

  • Drakensberg brewery: locally-brewed beer

  • Scrumpy Jacks Restaurant: great breakfast and brunch options, also try the famous cheesecake

  • Stone House Kitchen Himeville: amazing dinner food

  • The Lemon Tree Farm Shop & Bistro: great coffee and food options

  • The Valley Bakery: delightful breakfast and lunch, lovely baked goods

  • Waffle Hut: decadent but delicious waffles, authentic pizzas, and burgers

Blindman's Corner hike central drakensberg south africa
Blindman's Corner hike

Map Drakensberg

Find all the places to go, eat, drink, and stay in Drakensberg on Google Maps. To follow and save the list, do the following:

  1. Tap on the link to open it (click button below)

  2. Tap Follow. This list will now be added to the group of lists you follow.

  3. Optional: To unfollow a list someone shared with you, tap the list Saved.

If you follow the list we made, all our saved places of Drakensberg will show up in Your Places. The places will also appear as suggested locations in Google Maps.


Use These Websites To Save Money On Your Trip To The Drakensberg


Are you having a hard time planning your trip to Drakensberg? Get our Interactive Travel Planner to keep it all organized.

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Need more travel inspiration? Check out our other destinations and articles about South Africa:

World Wild Hearts

Hi! We are Ine & Zac. An international travel couple from Belgium and the US. We created World Wild Hearts to inspire life-changing travel experiences like we've had. Use these tips, stories, and guides to inspire your next adventure of a lifetime!


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