General Information on South Africa for hikers, climbers and mountaineers.
What you need to know
Getting to South Africa:
Airlines that fly to SA include South African Airways, British Airways , Lufthansa, Emirates, KLM, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Virgin and many others.
If you need to travel long distances within southern Africa, we suggest flying. All major cities are serviced by domestic airlines, including SAA,
British Airways operated by Comair and Nationwide Airlines. Smaller centres, such as Pietermaritzburg, Richards Bay and Kimberley, can be reached on SA Airlink.
All cities are also linked by luxury coach services such as Greyhound and Translux . If you prefer to be independent, car hire is widely available at very competitive prices (cheaper than in the rest of Africa). All the major car hire companies – Avis, Imperial, etc – are available in all major cities and towns.
The unit of currency is the South African Rand, with one hundred cents to the unit. Foreign currency may not be used, but Bureax de Change are available in the international airports – Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town – and in cities and banks. American Express and Thomas Cook travellers cheques are widely accepted and their depots are also available in all cities and many major towns.
It is worth bringing a cellular (mobile) phone with you or renting on arrival, as there is very good coverage throughout the country, and public telephones are frequently unreliable or in out of way places. There are 3 network providers, Vodacom, MTN and CellC and you can obtain air time easily.
About the Drakensberg:
Geography – The average height of the peaks is 3000m or 10 000 ft, but this belies the large altitudinal jump between base and summit and the precipitous slopes which make for spectacular scenery. The eastern face of the range forms a dramatic, steep escarpment, which runs north, south for 200 kilometers. To the west are large rolling mountains which form what are called the Lesotho Highlands. To the east, jutting into the KwaZulu-Natal Province are peaks which are free standing while others form part of the escarpment.
The highest point is a small peak called Thabana Ntlenyana and stands at 3482m (11 425ft) and is in fact the highest point in southern Africa. It is 10 kilometers inside Lesotho. The highest point in the Republic of SA is Mafadi Peak, 3450m. Both these points are “trekking peaks”.
The lower slopes are comprised of layers of soft Sandstone and covered by evergreen grasses while from approximately 1800 m there are layers of igneous Basalt rock laid down from between 160 to 140 million years ago.
Most of the Drakensberg range is in a protected conservation area of 250 000ha.
Fauna and Flora – Altitude and aspect play the biggest roll in determining the plant type and distribution in the range. The Drakensberg partly gained it’s World Heritage status due to its incredibly diverse flora and flora. Literally hundreds of plant , animal and insect species are found in this range. Of the 1800 known plant species, 350 are endemic to the Drakensberg.
From 1000m up to 1800m grasses of mainly the Fustuca and Themeda species are prevalent. South facing slopes which receive much shade also have deep groves of temperate forest containing Yellow Woods (Podocarpus sp.) Tree Ferns and Cycades. The hotter and drier north slopes often have spread out forests of Protea sp.
The upper layers of Basalt rock are covered by Alpine grasses and woody shrubs mainly of the Erica and Helichrysum sp. This upper area is a very rare ecosystem within southern Africa.
Hikers can expect to see baboons, several species of small and large antelope, porcupines, ice rates, rock Hyrax, birds, raptors and the rare Bearded Vulture (Lammergeyer). Even leopard and lynx exist throughout the range but are very seldom seen and are not a danger to hikers.
Water Conservation – A major reason why the Drakensberg is a protected area is due to the fact that most of the KwaZulu-Natal Province and Johannesberg industrial area receives it’s water from this vital catchment.
Security and safety – Hiking in the Drakensberg is a very safe environment with no problems associated with crime of the big cities. It is also a malaria free area.
Weather – The Drakensberg lies in the summer rainfall area of Southern Africa (October to March). This is the wetter time of year but does not stop hiking and trekking taking place. Indeed this is the best time for viewing flowers and animals. Thunder storms are common in the afternoons which are preceded by hot humid conditions.
Between April to September the weather is usually very stable with warm sunny days and cold and frosty nights. Note that snow can also occur during this time and adequate clothing is essential for hikers and climbers.
What if you need to be rescued? Medical emergencies in the Drakensberg fall under the authority of the Provincial Emergency Medical Rescue Service (EMRS). However, due to the hazards and technical difficulties encountered in the Drakensberg, rescues are carried out in conjunction with the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of South Africa. This highly efficient and well-equipped rescue team is supported by helicopters from the South African Air Force’s 15 Squadron. The cost of the rescue is covered in the permit you buy when you enter the park. Clients never the less need to carry medical insurance for medical care if they need to be hospitalized.
The guide, Gavin Raubenheimer is also the convenor of the rescue team.