BEAUTY OF THE MOUN­TAINS

Khahlambi Drak­ens­berg Park tells tale of early life in Africa through Bush­man rock art spread across caves at World Her­itage Site

The New Age (Free State) - - FRONT PAGE - RUBINA PA­TEL

THE uKhahlamba Drak­ens­berg Park is one of South Africa’s most fa­mous and vis­ited moun­tain ranges, fre­quented by both lo­cal and for­eign tourists, hik­ers and bird and na­ture en­thu­si­asts.

This World Her­itage Site in KwaZu­luNatal is re­garded as an open-air moun­tain mu­seum and more than 30000 ex­am­ples of Bush­man rock art have been dis­cov­ered here and can to this day be viewed on the walls of caves through­out the re­gion.

The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion declared the uKhahlamba Drak­ens­berg Park a World Her­itage Site in 2000 be­cause it boasts the largest group of rock paint­ings south of the Sa­hara Desert and be­cause so many dif­fer­ent sub­jects ap­pear. It is one of 28 World Her­itage Sites that are of both cul­tural and nat­u­ral sig­nif­i­cance and the one of South Africa’s eight World Her­itage Sites that meet both cri­te­ria. The San, the ear­li­est hu­man in­hab­i­tants of the Drak­ens­berg, lived here as hunter-gather­ers.

Ev­i­dence of their time here is cap­tured in stun­ning rock art, which can be seen in 520 caves and rock shel­ters through­out the range. Most of the paint­ings date back 4 000 years and show dif­fer­ent an­i­mals, peo­ple and many other sub­jects, which rep­re­sent the spir­i­tual life of the San. The last records of San be­ing seen in the re­gion date from 1878 just be­fore the Natal gov­ern­ment be­gan auc­tion­ing plots of land at the base of the moun­tains them­selves.

The park cov­ers an area of 242 813ha and has an abun­dance of beau­ti­ful rivers, wet­lands, in­dige­nous forests, grass­lands, val­leys and cliffs. The park is made up of a num­ber of con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, in­clud­ing the Royal Natal Na­tional Park, the Cathe­dral Peak State For­est and Monks Cowl State For­est as well as Giant’s Cas­tle Na­ture Re­serve.

Many en­dan­gered an­i­mal and plant species in­habit the area. It is no sur­prise that it is one of South Africa’s prime eco-tourist des­ti­na­tions. The site’s di­ver­sity of habi­tats pro­tects a high level of en­demic and glob­ally threat­ened species, es­pe­cially birds and plants.

The Drak­ens­berg is di­vided into two ar­eas, High Berg and Lit­tle Berg. The High Berg refers to the area which rises steeply up to the plateau and fea­tures spec­tac­u­lar scenery of high peaks and cliffs. The top of the es­carp­ment av­er­ages an al­ti­tude of about 3 000m and forms the western bound­ary of the park along the wa­ter­shed be­tween KZN and Le­sotho.

The Lit­tle Berg can be found at lower al­ti­tude and con­sists of spurs of sand­stone mak­ing up a land­scape that is char­ac­terised by rolling hills and grass­land di­vided by forested ravines. The Lit­tle Berg is the most pop­u­lar area for hik­ing and many of the KZN Wildlife re­sorts are lo­cated there.

The dif­fer­ent wildlife habi­tats in the park vary ac­cord­ing to al­ti­tude, which can range from the sub­trop­i­cal at about 1000m to the Afro-alpine at more than 3 000m. The wealth of plant life in the Drak­ens­berg is phe­nom­e­nal, more than 1500 plant species have been iden­ti­fied here, among which 350 are en­demic. By far the best time of year to see the veldt is dur­ing the spring, when the grass is green and lush and many of the or­chids, irises and lilies are in flower. Plants on the high plateau are hardy, small alpine plants con­sist­ing mostly of grasses, shrubs and suc­cu­lents.

Bird life in the Drak­ens­berg is par­tic­u­larly rich, as it is pos­si­ble to visit sev­eral dif­fer­ent ecosys­tems within a rel­a­tively small area.

More than 300 species have been recorded here, most of which live be­low 2000m. The best time to see the birds is dur­ing the sum­mer when they are court­ing and nest­ing and in their breed­ing plumage. The most rare birds live at higher al­ti­tudes on the sum­mit plateau and in­clude the orange-breasted rock­jumper, the Drak­ens­berg siskin, the bald ibis, the Cape vul­ture and the lam­mergeyer.

Thou­sands of hik­ers flock to the re­gion’s many stun­ning hik­ing trails. The Am­phithe­atre is the most recog­nis­able and dra­mat­i­cally im­pos­ing fea­ture of the Drak­ens­berg moun­tain range. The Am­phithe­atre is a mighty wall of basalt, which rises more than 1 000m from the Tugela Val­ley to the Le­sotho plateau about 3 000m above sea level.

The uKhahlamba re­gion has a sig­nif­i­cant role in that it is the main wa­ter source for most of South Africa. Onethird of all of South Africa’s good qual­ity, fresh drink­ing wa­ter comes from uKhahlamba and some of the coun­try’s big­gest and most vo­lu­mi­nous rivers all have their sources in the re­gion.

CUL­TURAL SIG­NIF­I­CANCE: The Ukhahlamba Drak­ens­berg Park, a world her­itage site, is re­garded as an open-air moun­tain mu­seum and more than 30000 ex­am­ples of Bush­man rock art have been dis­cov­ered there. it is one of South Africa’s most fa­mous and vis­ited moun­tain ranges, fre­quented by both lo­cal and for­eign tourists..

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