Drakensberg rock art
Did you know?
The ingredients that went into the paint that the San used to create rock art include blood, gall, egg white and ochre.
The Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal boast the greatest concentration of San Bushman rock art in South Africa, much of it in remote, supremely beautiful surroundings.
Subject matter includes animals like the revered eland antelope, human figures and therianthropes (metamorphosis from human to animal).
Among the most accessible Drakensberg rock art sites is the open-air Bushman Cave Museum in the Giant's Castle Reserve, established in 1903 and run by KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation. A short walk takes you to the cave, which features 500 rock paintings, some of which are estimated to be around 800 years old.
In Ndedema Gorge 3 900 paintings have been recorded at 17 sites, more than 1 000 in the Sebaayeni Cave.
In the Cathedral Peak-Mdelelelo Wilderness Area around 130 sites feature more than 8 800 individual paintings.
At Kamberg, in the Estcourt district, it's worth taking a guided hike to Shelter Cave – a return hike takes around four hours – but there is a small overnight chalet if needed.
Nearby Royal Natal National Park offers an easy walk along the upper reaches of the Tugela River, starting from the park visitors' centre and heading into the Sigubudu Valley, to reach some of the rarest San paintings in the Drakensberg.
In the Little Berg has many unmapped rock art sites, however the Bushman's Nek Hotel has its own rock art display and offers directions to some of the caves. A difficult four-day hike from Bushman's Nek police post traverses steep slopes, but finding caves adorned with long-hidden paintings is particularly rewarding.
Garden Castle is the southernmost region of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and incorporates the Bushman's Nek Valley. It is dominated by rhino peak at 1840 metres with magnificent views from Lesotho to East Griqualand. From the Garden Castle Natal Parks Board office a steepish walk of about 5km takes you to Bushman's Cave. Sleeping in any of the caves in this area is forbidden.
Some of the most striking Drakensberg Bushman paintings grace the walls of remote caves that are unfortunately out of bounds to hikers. Experts on rock paintings contend that San Bushman art is among the world's most sophisticated art forms.
Apart from its rich repository of Bushman art to be found in caves and overhangs, the Drakensberg is home to endemic wildlife including buck species, baboons and raptors.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Drakensberg Tourism Association
Tel: +27 (0)36 448 1557
How to get here
The Drakensberg is served by good tarred roads and is easily accessible by car.
Best time to visit
Summer or spring. Winters often see snow capping these mountains.
Around the area
There is lots to see and do aside from walking and hiking. The Drakensberg Boys' Choir performs at the Choir School in Champagne Valley. There's game viewing on horseback at Spionkop Nature Reserve, horse riding, mountain biking, trout fishing and golf at the Champagne Sports Resort. This is a paradise for adventure lovers.
Tours to do
Take a guided tour to the famous rock art sites of Didima Gorge or the Kamberg.
Drive to a site, then take a walking trail. There are countless to choose from.
What will it cost
Permits are required to access areas that fall under Parks Board protection. The fee is nominal and is used for maintenance costs.
Length of stay
A half-week or week.
What to pack
Hiking shoes and warm clothes. It gets cold even in summer.
Where to stay
The Drakensberg boasts a diverse choice of hotels, resorts and lodges.
What to eat
There are plenty of country restaurants with fine fare to suit any palate.
Consult the local Drakensberg newspapers for what's on.
A hand-made hiking pole sold at the roadside.