For nature lovers, the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve in the Drakensberg has always been a special destination. Once the realm of the San (also known as Bushmen), who left their mark in the form of delicate cave art, it was also the site of major colonial friction between the British and the amaHlubi, once led by Chief Langalibalele.

Did you know?

Shortly after his release in from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela laid a wreath on Langalibalele’s grave near Estcourt.

Ah, Giant’s Castle at the end of a long winter. The russet-toned land is sleeping. There is a great silence, punctuated only by the distant call of an elusive bearded vulture.

These Drakensberg ridges are lined with snow, and the lower sandstone hills are a study in sepia. The air is cold, and there is a chill on your exposed cheeks.

This place, like most of the Drakensberg range, was once the domain of the San (also known as Bushmen). Their exquisite artwork adorns many caves and overhangs in these mountains, and is one of the major reasons, apart from its natural beauty, that the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park was declared a World Heritage Site.

Near Giant’s Castle is a passage once called the Bushman’s Pass, which the San used to cross back and forth from Lesotho. It has been renamed Langalibalele Pass.

Langalibalele (which means ‘the sun is boiling hot’ in Zulu) was chief of the amaHlubi, an Nguni group. Many of the Hlubi men worked in the diamond fields of Kimberley, and instead of being paid in cash, they were given firearms.

The British colonial government in the then-Natal ordered the Hlubi people to register their firearms. Langalibalele baulked at this directive and hostilities were declared.

He decided to take his people over the Bushman’s Pass into Lesotho.

Major Anthony Durnford led the colonial forces trying to prevent this passage. The skirmish that ensued on 3 November 1873 was chaotic, and left five colonial soldiers dead.

There were massive reprisals by the British, and on 11 December 1873, Langalibalele surrendered. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

In 1875 he was transferred to Uitvlug Farm near Pinelands in Cape Town and was held there for 12 years.

In 1887 he was sent to the Swartkop location near Pietermaritzburg and was held under house arrest for another two years until his death.

These days hikers make their way up from the Giant’s Castle Camp to the historic Langalibalele Pass.

On their way, they will encounter ‘Rock 75’, a large boulder with the number 75 painted on it by members of the 75th Regiment Royal Engineers involved in the so-called ‘Langalibalele Rebellion’.

Further on, they come to the Main Caves Bushman Museum, which has a reconstructed display of a San family going about their daily business. There are very good examples of San rock art in the area.

In the words of the late South African painter, Walter Battiss, who was one of the first to champion the importance of San rock art: ‘No artist has said more, saying less ...’

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Giant’s Castle)
Central reservations: +27 (0)33 845 1000
Email: bookings@kznwildlife.com

Midlands Meander
Tel: +27 (0)33 330 8195
Email: administration@midlandsmeander.co.za

How to get here

Visitors coming from the north should turn off the N3 into Estcourt. At the intersection of Conner and Lorne streets, turn on to the Ntabamhlope road and follow the signs to Giant's Castle.

Visitors from the south should turn off the N3 into Mooi River, go through the town and follow the Giant's Castle signs to the reserve 64km away.

Best time to visit

Giant’s Castle is superb all year round: fantastic snowfalls in winter (June to August) and a blooming landscape in summer (November to February). You might want to avoid both extremes, however. Check weather reports for blizzards and heat spikes.

Around the area

The lush KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are approx. 100km away – an excellent day-drive option. Enjoy lunch at one of the many fine restaurants on the Midlands Meander and pick a guest house or hotel to stay in.

Tours to do

Champagne breakfasts, barbeques and sundowners at the Lammergeyer Hide (vulture restaurant); visits to the Main Caves Bushman Museum and San rock-art shelter, with over 450 rock art paintings – the guided tour costs R30 per person; organised trips to Kamberg ‘Pass Shelter’, regarded as one of finest rock art shelters in the world.

Get around

The best way to get around the Drakensberg locations is by driving yourself or on a guided tour from centres such as Johannesburg or Durban.

What will it cost

Daily visitor entry to the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve: R30 for adults, R15 for children.

The reserve's chalet prices range from about R1100 for two people staying in a two-person unit to R3400 for a six-sleeper unit, depending on the size of the chalet.

Length of stay

Giant’s Castle warrants a three-day visit. Stay in the area for a week if you can, and visit the Midlands Meander and/or other destinations in the Drakensberg.

What to pack

Pack seasonally for the outdoors – and even if you come in summer, bring something warm for the odd chilly evening.

Where to stay

Giant’s Castle Camp has chalets of different sizes, including a ‘honeymoon unit’, which has a very private setting with a lovely view of the mountains. All units are equipped with satellite TV.

There are also a number of private lodges and guest houses outside the reserve.

What to eat

Giant’s Castle Camp has a restaurant providing full catering, and many guest houses in the area pride themselves on their menus, which are full and varied.

Best buys

Some exquisite craft objects like fine pottery or silverware along the Midlands Meander.