On June 11, 2001, the Maloti-Drakensberg Park was formed by connecting the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Thaba Ntlenyana, at 3.482 metres, is the highest summit.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park, QwaQwa National Park, and Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve (Free State); uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and Royal Natal National Park (KwaZulu-Natal); and Sehlabathebe National Park (KwaZulu-Natal) are among the combined parks (Lesotho).
The park is located in the Drakensberg Mountains, which are the highest point in the sub-region and are home to distinct montane and sub-alpine ecosystems. With distinct habitats and high levels of endemism, these ecosystems contain globally significant plant and animal species. With hundreds of sites and thousands of figures painted by the Bushmen (San), the park is also home to the world’s largest exhibition of rock art.
The transfrontier conservation area was designed as a Peace park and spans around 8 113 km2, with 5 170 km2 (64%) in Lesotho and 2 943 km2 (36%) in KwaZulu-Natal.
The park protects some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Africa, a magnificent escarpment, sculpted by the erosive force of water over millennia, exposing an unrivalled complex of geological features and morphology. From the high plateau on the Lesotho side of the international border soaring basalt cliffs and buttresses mark the sheer, jagged edge of the escarpment which drops precipitously through dramatic cutbacks and, far below, golden sandstone ramparts. There are long grassy spurs, switchbacks and gorges through which waterfalls, pools and rivers flow. This landscape is covered by green grasslands, with displays of spring flowers, which turn to red in autumn and may be snow covered at times during the cold winter.
Why is Maloti Drakensberg Park a World Heritage?
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site connects the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa. Sehlabathebe National Park (6,500 hectares) in Lesotho and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (242,813 ha) in South Africa make up the property. The Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site is known for its beautiful natural terrain, importance as a home for many threatened and endemic species, and abundance of San rock paintings created over a 4,000-year span. The property is the largest Protected Area complex along the Great Escarpment of Southern Africa, covering 249,313 acres.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park range of mountains is Southern Africa’s primary water production area. The escarpment that forms the watershed for two of Southern Africa’s main drainage basins has a drainage divide along the international border between the two countries. The Thukela River flows eastward into the Indian Ocean from uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. The rivers of the southern Maloti-Drakensberg, including Sehlabathebe National Park, drain into the Senqu/Orange River, which flows westwards into the Atlantic Ocean. The extension of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site to include Sehlabathebe National Park gives the area unique hydrologic qualities.
With its beautiful steep-sided river basins and rocky gorges, the property features various caves and rock shelters hosting an estimated 690 rock art locations, with an estimated 35,000 distinct images. The pictures portray animals and humans and represent the San people’s spiritual life, expressing an unusually unified tradition that spans millennia and embodies their beliefs and cosmology. There are also rock art paintings attributed to Bantu speaking people from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The property, which runs the length of KwaZulu-south-western Natal’s border with Lesotho, is a key sanctuary for more than 250 indigenous plant species and their related wildlife. It also contains almost all of the province’s remaining subalpine and alpine vegetation, as well as significant high altitude wetlands over 2,750 metres, and is a RAMSAR site. The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a major element of the Lesotho Highlands Endemic Bird Area and has been designated as an Important Bird Area.
Maloti Drakensberg Park Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1999
Email: [email protected]
How to get there
A few hours inland from Durban lie the Drakensberg Mountains (which has an airport). You may also drive into Lesotho from Johannesburg or Pretoria via the stunning Sani Pass – it’s only suited for 4×4 cars at the moment, but there are plans to asphalt the road for conventional sedans soon.
Best time to visit
Every season has its own charms, and you may find yourself experiencing all four in the same day. Snow is common in the winter, and dramatic thunderstorms are common in the summer. Autumn and spring are very lovely. It is one of the best places to visit in South Africa.
Between November and February, the grasslands of the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area are often ablaze with flowers, including unusual fynbos proteas, orange African gladioli, red river lilies, the aptly named red-hot pokers (kniphofia), and the more subtle ground orchids.
You might even see the very uncommon spiral aloe, which is indigenous to the region, on the Lesotho side.
Things to do
Hiking, river rafting, mountain biking and bird watching.
What to pack
Winters are icy, so come prepared. In summer, bring a light raincoat. Don’t forget hat and sunscreen, and, of course, your camera.
Where to stay
On the South African side, you can choose between camping or self-catering chalets all the way up to luxury guesthouses and hotels. Lesotho’s accommodation is comfortable, but usually more rustic.