The Drakensberg Range is an escarpment, a transition from relatively low ground averaging 1500m, to relatively high ground, averaging 3000m, running almost the entire length of South Africa. The escarpment, or line of large cliffs, also forms the continental divide between the rivers flowing into the Indian Ocean and the rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.
The most dramatic part, forming the eastern international border between Lesotho and the Province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa is protected as a World Heritage Site, and stretches some 250kms from one end to the other, with an average width of about 15kms to 20kms. However there are many other opportunities for wilderness hiking in the remaining parts of the Drakensberg and Maluti Ranges.
It is an area of stunning natural beauty, biodiversity, cultural history and scenic splendour, with many contrasts between the lower older sedimentary sandstone ‘Little Berg’ (1800m to 2500m), and the relatively ‘newer’ igneous or volcanic basalt and dolerite ‘High Berg’ (2500m to over 3400m). The Drakensberg Escarpment is also the natural boundary to the Lesotho Plateau forming the Maluti Mountains, the valleys of which have been carved by the action of water over the last 180 million years.
Contrasts are one of the main themes of a visit to the area. Contrasts between the lower ground and the high ground, contrasts between the weather on one side of the escarpment and the other, contrasts between the vegetation, birds and animals seen at lower altitude and high altitude, and contrasts between the cultures of South Africa and the mountain cultures of the Basotho people in Lesotho.
One of the many things that strike visitors to the Drakensberg and Malutis is the age of the mountains, and the sense of timelessness they induce, with some 250 million years of geological history clearly visible. Because few trees grow in the area, and the prevalent vegetation is grassland, views are spectacular and uninterrupted. At any time of the year, good clean water is plentiful in the mountain streams, and does not need to be purified.
In addition to some good examples of dinosaur footprints and fossilized wood, the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains are a repository of one of the largest and best preserved galleries of Stone Age San or Bushman Rock Art in the world. A visit to one or more of these spiritually significant sites is usually included in a trip
More about weather conditions in the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains
The weather in the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains is generally favourable for outdoor activities, but varies considerably between the seasons, and like all mountainous areas, can change rapidly on any given day. It is possible for snow to fall on the Malutis and ‘High Berg’ in any month of the year but is only usually experienced in winter. Winds can be extreme at times.
Summer (November to May) is wet and warm, with most rain possible between October and March. The mornings are usually clear and sunny with temperatures climbing to 25 or even 30 degrees C by midday. Rain falls mainly as afternoon thunderstorms that can be violent, with a significant drop in temperature. It is wise to make the most of the mornings, and presume that the afternoons will be wet. It is quite possible and advisable to be walking by 5.00am.
Winter (June to October) to is the dry season and consists of mainly dry, sunny, clear, crisp days with daytime temperatures around 15 to 20 degrees C, but temperatures often drop well below zero at night. Snow and ice is more common, but only remains for any length of time on the highest ground. Days are shorter, but because the weather is more stable, the whole day can usually be used for hiking.