The Drakensberg uKhahlamba National Park comprises a number of individual conservation areas that collectively embrace the Drakensberg Escarpment under state protection as areas of supreme natural beauty, a fact which also exists under the purview of the United Nations as an International Heritage site. Giant’s Castle is not regarded as the most outstanding of the family of preserves that make up the park, but it is certainly one of the most accessible from the Midlands, and is without doubt a stunningly beautiful place.
The most practical access to the park is via the small town of Mooi River, from where it is well signposted. The entrance gate lies some thirty-five miles from Mooi River, on a relatively good secondary road that undulates over a tract of typically expansive KwaZulu/Natal hill country. The road skirts the lovely Bushman’s River for the last few miles, a tract of water wonderfully out of character in Africa, seeming, at a glance, to be better suited to run through the valley’s of the Cotswold, or the fenlands of East Anglia. It is the diversity of plant and riverine life that betrays the fact that this is the tropics (nearly), and of course the proximity of indigenous rural communal settlement, with its haphazard, ramshackle and slightly disreputable flavor, that gives it away completely.
The park itself, as is typical of South African national parks, is clean, well ordered and efficient, always a source of pleasant surprise if one is used to traveling further north where budgets have tended to diminish the national park infrastructure to a bare minimum. The gate procedure was quickly expedited, after which I enjoyed a five mile meander along the edge of the Bushman’s River to the main camp complex.
It is also worth pointing out that the cottage accommodation available at the main camp is again of an extremely high standard. The complex comprises twenty or so detached cottages, some self catering, others not, amid neatly tended gardens, and overhanging the Bushman’s River Valley. All are linked by a central reception area that includes a bar and a dining room. This is not five star accommodation, it is South African National Parks (SAPS) standard, which is two-star, rarely more, but extremely comfortable, affordable and accessible.
There are two basic activities, walking and walking, with variations thereof being birding, botany or simple exercise (horse-rides can be arranged). All species of walker are to be frequently found on the trails. A large cave a mile or so distant from the camp is a popular short walk, containing superb bushman’s paintings and a museum of the early San culture of the Drakensberg – which incidentally only began to diminish at pace with the arrival of the white man – so very recently indeed.
The topography of the park is simple. The main Bushman’s River Valley cuts through the park, with smaller tributaries joining it here and there, each having sculpted its own gully or gorge from the mountain. Above the river valley softly undulating grass clad hills unfurl gradually towards the base of the escarpment, which rises abruptly out its foothills to the full height of its ramparts.
The character of the land is typical of the region. Soft hill crowned by hard edged mesa type kranzes, home to baboons, klipspringer and many birds of prey, with usually a river of a watercourse draining the valley floor. As a consequence walking or hiking this portion of the Drakensberg uKhahlamba National Park is relatively easy, with well contoured and signposted trails throughout the park.
Again this is not the most highly rated of the Drakensberg uKhahlamba National Park areas, and as a consequence it is often refreshingly untrammeled. For the self drive tourist it is an absolute must see.