35 000 San rock art paintings in Drakensberg

South Africa’s uKhahlamba-Drakensberg houses a treasure trove of an estimated 35 000 examples of San rock paintings, is home to protected plant and animal species, and contains a high-altitude wetland system.

The Drakensberg. Photo: Tourism South Africa
The Drakensberg. Photo: Tourism South Africa

South Africa features many mountain ranges, none more impressive than KwaZulu-Natal’s 200 km long uKhahlamba-Drakensberg escarpment.

With peaks that exceed 3 000m, the Berg – as it’s more commonly known – forms the backbone of the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area between the Kingdom of Lesotho and South Africa.

The uKhahlamba (‘barrier of spears’ in Zulu) is a biodiverse wonderland of river valleys, mountain streams, rugged cliffs, hiking trails and stunning scenery that attracts thousands of holidaymakers every year, mainly during the hotter summer months: December to February.

In winter the mountains are sporadically dusted with snow, transforming designated slopes into a winter playground for snowboarders and skiing enthusiasts.

The rugged landscape, traversed by gorges and rivers, lends itself to numerous outdoor activities such as kayaking, tube-riding, horse riding, 4×4 trails, hiking, hang gliding, mountain climbing, swimming, canyoning, fly-fishing and more.

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Hundreds of caves lie hidden in valley folds and in the sandstone cliffs that typify the Drakensberg. It’s on the walls of these caves that a living legacy of the nomadic San people is recorded in the form of paintings.

An estimated 600 rock art sites feature in excess of 35 000 images depicting humans, animals and the complex spiritual life of the San over 4 000 years. Other 19th and 20th century paintings are attributable to the Bantu.

The Drakensberg is also acknowledged as a RAMSAR site for its high-altitude wetlands, which lie above 2 750 metres, and for its prolific bird life.

Worth looking out for are the endangered Cape vulture and bearded vulture, that can be seen soaring from the cliff tops near Sani Pass, Sloggett’s ice rat and the eland, a large antelope species successfully reintroduced to the region.

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