Mountain ranges of South Africa
Did you know?
The Mensa star constellation (mensa means “table”) is the only one named after a terrestrial landmark, Table Mountain.
South Africa’s mountain ranges are among the world's most rugged and beautiful, and include the oldest, the Barberton Greenstone Belt, dating back 3600-million years.
Known for its rugged geography, South Africa is criss-crossed by many spectacular mountain ranges, which lend themselves to a diverse range of activities, from hiking and biking to rock climbing, caving, paragliding and abseiling. Then there’s the stunning flora and fauna, and simply enjoying the view from up top.
Cape Town’s Table Mountain is a biodiversity hotspot containing 2000 different fynbos species. Five minutes by cable car gets you to the top to enjoy a spectacular view over the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Hiking, climbing, abseiling and paragliding are enjoyed here.
KwaZulu-Natal’s uKhahlamba-Drakensberg is the country’s highest mountain range at around 3000m and spans more than 150km. Steep river valleys and sandstone cliffs support endemic flora and fauna and the largest collection of Bushman rock paintings in southern Africa, all of which have earned it World Heritage Site status. “Berg” rivers are popular for trout fishing, tubing and cooling off in summer, when visitors flock to the slopes for the holidays.
The Magaliesberg range north of Johannesburg stretches for 120km, separating the grasslands of the highveld from the northern bushveld. Sheer quartzite cliffs tower over deep gullies where perennial waterfalls tumble to clear pools below, attracting hikers, climbers and picnicking families.
For sheer iconic beauty alone the golden sandstone cliffs of Clarens in the Free State province – which form part of the Maluti range – are worth a visit.
The Baviaanskloof of the Eastern Cape province – 270 000 hectares of rugged mountains incorporating the Baviaanskloof Wilderness – is pristine countryside where many eco-friendly activities may be enjoyed.
The Helderberg and Hottentots Holland mountains of the Cape provide a dramatic backdrop to False Bay and the Winelands, while a nature reserve on the slopes houses an indigenous nursery.
There are many other mountains to be viewed, explored and enjoyed. Consult your local tourism office for province-specific information.
Travel tips & Planning info
Best time to visit
Winters are spectacular, with frequent dustings of snow. Summers, especially in the Drakesnberg, are green with afternoon thunderstorms.
Tours to do
Take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain.
In order to protect delicate floral ecosystems, Bushman paintings and fauna, large sections of mountain ranges fall within the boundaries of nature reserves or wildlife sanctuaries, notably those run by Cape Nature and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.
What will it cost
Some nature reserves require entry permits. Costs are nominal and funds go towards the upkeep of the area.
Length of stay
Since the country's mountains lie in different provinces spread over a wide area, it would be best to decide which province holds the most appeal in terms of your personal interests. A weekend at the minimum would be best.
What to pack
Pack sturdy boots, warm clothes, sunscreen, hats, binoculars, bird identification book, camera and swimming gear.
Where to stay
All the popular mountain regions offer accommodation ranging from rustic campsites to overnight chalets and lodges, while busier regions such as the Cape and Drakensberg have resorts and hotels.