BEAUTY OF THE MOUNTAINS
UKhahlambi Drakensberg Park tells tale of early life in Africa through Bushman rock art spread across caves at World Heritage Site
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 30 000 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 huntergatherers.
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 ecotourist 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 1 000m to the Afro-alpine at more than 3 000m. The wealth of plant life in the Drakensberg is phenomenal, more than 1 500 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 2 000m. 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 30 000 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..