A Brief Introduction to the Drakensberg Area of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Recognised by the ancient mystics of our land as breathing new life into the human spirit, the inescapable allure of this 200- kilometre-long wonderland owes much to its intense relationship with people...the million-plus years of Stone Age occupation in particular. This culminated in the tragic disappearance, during the late 19th century, of the San hunter-gatherers, colloquially referred to as Bushmen. Migrating chiefdoms from the Great Lakes of Central Africa had, in the 13th century, been humbled by the sheer magnitude of the uKhahlamba - the Barrier of Spears - destined to become the western extreme of their Zulu Kingdom. The ox-wagons of Boer settlers negotiated its precipitous passes in 1837 on the Great Trek from British dominion in the Cape Colony to a 'Promised Land'. The name Drakensberg was coined forty years later when a Boer father and son reported seeing a dragon - a giant lizard with wings and a tail - flying high above the cloud-shrouded mountain peaks.
Inner Tower, Devil's Tooth and Eastern Buttress, Mnweni
The inscription in late 2000 of uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park as a World Heritage Site brought long-overdue recognition of its universal value to mankind. Meeting the criteria for both natural and cultural listings, the site can now officially boast 'superlative natural phenomena and beauty, unique richness of biological diversity, the conservation of all-important endemic and threatened species plus masterpieces of human creative genius in the form of 35 000 'San rock art images''. Many people have known this for a long time!
From the massive basalt cliffs of its northern reaches to the soaring sandstone buttresses in the south, the Berg - as it's popularly known - offers a myriad delights to anyone of any age who needs to 'get away from it all'. Peace and quiet is the catchphrase amid this unsurpassed grandeur where the world's second-highest waterfall tumbles down a series of breathtaking cascades.
Accommodation caters for all tastes and budgets... from luxury resorts and hotels with ultra-modern conference facilities to guest-houses, B&B establishments, caravan parks and cabins. Out in 'the wild', huts and listed caves await weary hikers. Thousands of trails are marked across the Berg - from short ambles through indigenous fern forests to more strenuous day-long traversing of river and hillside to full-on adventuring in the face of nature. Although accidents are rare, planned walks of more than a few hours require prior completion of the Mountain Rescue Register. Part of each entry fee into a KZN Wildlife protected area goes towards the invaluable emergency service provided by volunteers of the Mountain Club of South Africa.
You may not want to venture further than one of the four stunningly- situated golf courses, however, or your artistic talents may be so inspired that days spent blissfully capturing the surrounding magic on canvas are more than satisfying. Horse trails and scenic self-drives offer respite for aching feet without missing the unforgettable experience of, say, watching rare birds of prey settling down to dine at a 'Vulture Restaurant'. Or you could cast a line in one of the trout streams and more than likely catch your own lunch...
For treasured memories of a lifetime it's not entirely necessary, then, to be a rugged mountaineer or abseiler - although these daredevils quite obviously do derive an enormous buzz from the Berg's natural challenges. Either way, it's a guarantee you'll return to the world 'down there' richly rewarded and rejuvenated.