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The Drakensburg Mountains are the country’s highest range found in the KwaZulu Natal province. Their unique geological formation distinguishes them from most other mountain ranges in the world, although they’re sometimes said to be similar to the Ethiopian Simien Mountains.
Part of the original African plateau, the mountains were formed by a layering of different rocks which were then eroded over millions of years to give the unique patterns that have earned the mountains the name of “barrier of spears” in the Zulu language. The layering of the materials have given it a unique colouration, and the sheer cliffs are topped with scores of buttresses and ramparts that give it the jagged skyline.
The middle layer of the mountains is made of sandstone that was deposited by a huge lake around 500 million years ago; this has eroded to form caves, which attracted the Bushmen who left cave paintings here, documenting their history. This is the largest collection of Bushmen paintings in the world, with up to 40,000 works in the caves that are estimated to be up to 100,000 years old. The Damaraland in Namibia is another African location good for Bushman culture and history.
The game reserves, wilderness areas and national parks of the mountains do a good job of protecting the art in the caves, the animals and the vegetation. Hiking trails through the mountains are outstanding, and the central region offers the most exciting hiking and trekking in the range.
Much of this area is protected by the Natal Drakensburg Park, which is home to a large number of animals. These are mainly antelope, and range from the tiny duiker to the majestic eland. With lush and fertile soils, plants and flowers do well in the area, with the arrival of spring resulting in an explosion of colour of waist-high plants on the plain, with tree-ferns on the slopes of the mountains giving an air of the ancient to the place that is accentuated by the outstanding bushmen paintings that are found here.
The southern area of the mountain range is known for its alpine beauty, with plenty of crystal clear lakes and rivers to reflect the magnificent sights in the skies around them. This is a favourite haunt for anglers, especially those searching for trout. Fishers could combine the Drakensburg with Lake St Lucia for a fishing holiday, and Zanzibar also offers some very good big-game fishing trips if you want to make a dedicated trip of the sport. Another highlight of the area is the Sani Pass, which is the highest pass-road in the country, and has a large number of picnic spots and viewpoints from which you can fully appreciate the dramatic landscape.
Finally, the northern Drakensburg is the highest part of the range and the second highest waterfall in the world, the 950 m high Tugela Falls, can be found here. Another natural feature of the range is the Amphitheatre, an enormous cliff face that is considered one of the most majestic in the world with cliff walls that rise 4,000 m and have a horizontal length of 5 km. This is a popular hiking and picnic area, and like the central area of the mountains is protected by the Natal Drakensburg Park.