The Drakensberg Traverse is a challenging hike that traverses the spectacular range of peaks known as the Dragon Mountains. At almost 130km in length, this hike is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. It will test your endurance and your navigation skills to the limit. The reward for completing this epic hike is a sense of accomplishment and views of this iconic mountain range like no other. The Dragon Mountains are home to some of South Africa’s most stunning natural scenery. This range of peaks straddles the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho and covers more than 25,000 hectares. The name ‘Dragon’ was given to these peaks by European settlers who first arrived here in search of gold – they thought the peaks resembled dragons guarding hidden treasure…
Drakensberg Traverse Route
The exact route of the Drakensberg Traverse hike is subject to change depending on the season in which you are hiking and the weather conditions for that day. This hike is not a guided tour so you will need to be prepared to navigate the route on your own. The route is most commonly done from south to north, beginning in the town of Underhill and finishing at the village of Tugela, just south of the border with Lesotho. Unlike many other hikes in South Africa, this route does not follow a well-defined path. Instead, it winds through valleys and up and around the many peaks that make up this beautiful mountain range. Due to the expansiveness of the Dragon Mountains, the route weaves through all three provinces of South Africa: KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
What to expect on the hike
After a relatively easy start, where you’ll gain a little height, the real climbing begins. From the third day onwards, the hike gets progressively harder as you gain altitude and cover large distances between the many points of support (known as ‘P-Points’ in hiking parlance). As the Dragon Mountains are completely exposed to the elements, this hike can get very cold as well as very hot. You will experience extremes of both rainfall and sunshine, so be prepared for all weather conditions. The hike also requires at least 30 river crossings, some of which can be quite tricky if there has been a lot of rainfall. It’s therefore important to come prepared to hike in wet conditions. The route passes over many stony ridges and is not always the easiest terrain on which to hike for extended periods of time.
When to hike the Drakensberg Traverse
The Drakensberg Traverse hike is best attempted from July to October when the weather and temperatures are more manageable. Due to its remote location, however, even in these months a sudden downpour (or even snowfall) is not out of the question. Be prepared by packing appropriate clothing and gear to deal with all weather conditions. Avoid hiking the Drakensberg Traverse during December to February, when heavy rains and poor weather conditions are most likely.
The difficulty of the Drakensberg Traverse
The Drakensberg Traverse is a strenuous hike with a relatively high level of risk. Due to its remote location and challenging terrain, the hike is not suitable for the inexperienced hiker. You should be physically fit enough to navigate the difficult terrain and be prepared to deal with all weather conditions. The hike is graded as a ‘Difficult’ route by the Kimberly Mountain Passes route grading system and is therefore not suitable for the faint-hearted.
Tips for hiking in the Drakens-Bergen Mountains
- Come prepared: Bring the right equipment (e.g. good hiking boots, warm clothes) and inform others of your expected arrival time.
- Come prepared to walk: It is not a hike to drive up to the trailhead and start with a quick stroll. The Drakensberg Traverse hike is an extended walk through mountainous terrain.
- Come prepared to leave the trail: Due to the large distance and number of obstacles on this route, it is almost impossible to hike the entire route in one go. You will need to hike in sections and therefore, leave the trail. When leaving the trail, make sure you mark the trail so that you can find it again.
The Drakensberg Traverse hike is a once-in-a-lifetime hike through the breathtaking Dragon Mountains. It is not for the faint-hearted and will test even the most experienced hiker. It is, however, an unforgettable adventure that all hikers should experience at least once in their lifetime. Whether this hike is something you’ve been dreaming of doing since childhood or the idea of hiking through one of the most iconic mountain ranges in the world has only just crossed your mind, the time to act is now. The best time to plan this hike is now.