We took a road trip through the South Africa’s largest mountain range… The mountain of dragons… The Drakensberg.
We loved it so much that we felt we needed to share it, but first, we need to ask you, what do you picture when you hear the words ‘road trip’?
The freedom of the open road… Window down, music playing, hand blowing in the warm summer breeze as you cruise along the highway? A chance to be spontaneous and create memories richer than any currency.
Well, that’s exactly what we made it.
To be specific, this road trip mission was all about exploring the Natal Midlands. We began our journey in Johannesberg, stopped off in the Central Drakensberg, made our way through the Midlands Meander to Howick and finally rounded it off in Southern Drakensberg.
Then we compiled a list of all the cool things you can do!
So if that’s all the reading you’d like to do, you’re in luck. We have created a complete video guide that does all of the planning for you. All attractions, all routes, all directions, all times and all the fun!
1. Stay In A Luxury Cave
Looking for something unique and different in terms of accommodation? Why not stay in a luxury cave? Now, you can definitely stay in a real-life natural cave on one of the many Drakensberg hiking trails (which we’ll get to), but this time we are opting for more of an opulent cave.
This is the perfect start to your Drakensberg road trip. You’re heading to the mountains, so you’re keen to take in some nature, but you’re still probably used to the comforts from home! There’s no better way to ease yourself in.
It’s also quite the talking point:
‘Yeah, we heading to the Drakensberg next week. Going to stay in a cave!’
‘No ways, you’d never do that.’
‘Haha, I’m telling you.’
2. Listen To African Folktales Under The Stars
I don’t imagine we really need to sell this one. Doesn’t it already sound dreamy?
The Drakensberg is known for its brilliant night skies, unobstructed by pollution or urbanisation. At Antbear Eco Lodge, you can spend an evening escorted through the stars by a man from the nearby local community, as he tells you traditional stories, folktales and legends told to him by his grandmother.
It’s important to double-check the weather before you go. Unfortunately, when we visited Antbear for the first time, all we had was huge storm clouds and evening showers.
On our second visit, we made sure we got to experience the Stargazing Hammock Camp. Something that really made it special for us was sitting in our hammocks and chatting away after all the stories had been told.
We made friends with the couple that accompanied us to the camp (a very friendly duo from Germany), as well as our gracious guide.
3. Fly High In A Hot Air Balloon
Why not explore the Drakensberg from above? There is something very romantic about watching the sunrise over the mountain range while drifting through the air.
Oftentimes your balloon adventure will first start with some coffee and rusks (South African biscuity delicacy) on the ground while you watch the pilot prepare for your flight and then you end off with some breakfast on the solid ground again.
However, this can be quite a pricy endeavour. So, if you are planning on doing this, you might want to save up as it can cost you a whopping R8000.00 for a small balloon (2 people).
4. Go Horse Riding
This was something I (Tammy) had never done before so I was initially quite nervous, but my word did we have fun! We had a few good laughs too.
My horse was called Spot and he was full of nonsense, but I believe we became good friends through our shared journey. I mean, by the end of it, he had stopped walking close enough to all of the trees that the branches would all but knock me off! And I call that growth.
Admiring the Drakensberg from a different vantage point was great too. It’s amazing to feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair while you fully put your trust in, and interact with, these magnificent creatures.
In fact, a large part of the horse riding experience, in my opinion, is the interaction with the horses. They all have such distinct personalities, it was so much fun trying to make friends!
➳ Horse Riding At Antbear Eco Lodge (we did it here)
➳ Horse Riding At Hartford House (another great option)
5. Have A 6-Course Meal
Dine among the stars at Hartford House. Hartford House has reached global acclaim as a world-class stud farm, luxury getaway and fine dining establishment and we highly recommend that you indulge in one of their 6-course meals.
Matthew Armbruster, the head chef at Hartford House, approaches every new day with a passion that is unrelenting; creating more than just meals, but a food experience mixed with some theatrics.
Another, less known fact (maybe it’s even a secret), is that you can have your fine dining experience in a private, romantic setting. The dinners are usually hosted in the Manor House, which is exquisite, but we opted to share our dinner in the private dining room.
So if your Drakensberg road trip is being planned as more of a romantic escape or celebration of an important occasion – this is the perfect add-on.
6. Try Your Hand At Camping
There are many camping grounds spread throughout the Drakensberg that can cater to pretty much any need. There are campsites with power, with no power, with ablution blocks, shared camping spots, private camping spots, even glamping versions or chalets are on offer at some.
Camping and hiking are more of the activities you’d expect on a Drakensberg road trip, but let me tell you, it’s not that easy to find them if you’re not “in the know”. After a lot of research, I (luckily) found the best campsite in the Drakensberg.
Of course that’s a matter of opinion, but I really think it is. You can find out more in the article linked below, but simply: it’s clean, it’s beautiful, it’s cheap and it’s got lots to do.
Not only is Injisuthi the best campsite, but it is a very good point from which to hike. There are short and long trips to trek and you can purchase a detailed map at the reception area. If you’d like to hike, but are not familiar with the mountains, we highly recommend Deon as your Drakensberg guide. He is excellent.
Alternatively, if you’re just in it for the camping, we suggest pitching a tent, roasting some marshmallows over the fire, drinking some wine and just being one with nature.
7. Take A Hike!
The Drakensberg is filled with so many hiking trails, predominantly located in the same vicinity as the campsites, so you can just zip up and go.
You can do short day hikes, overnight hikes or one of the more famous ones like the Amphitheatre or Sentinel and gaze out upon the glory of the Drakensberg. You can walk down to a gorge and swim in the fresh mountain water or even organise a guide to take you to see some ancient bushman paintings. The options are endless!
Like we mentioned above, if you don’t already know, finding the right trail for you can be tricky and tedious. There are two ways around that: ask somebody who knows, like Deon, or start with something simple.
There is no better hiking trail to begin with than the Giant’s Castle Slackpacking trail. Your bags are transported for you, you sleep in in comfy beds and are treated to 3-course meals each night. Literally all you need to do is hike and enjoy the beautiful mountains.
8. Go Wine Tasting
Cape Town is not the only place where you can dance among the vineyards.
The Drakensberg also offers up some wine tasting options and cellar tours. Can you just imagine relaxing with some wine by a log fire, backdropped by the spectacular Drakensberg vistas?
9. Make Your Own Candle
Looking for something fun to do for the whole family or just a cute date idea? Why not make your own Candle?
This Drakensberg road trip can be tailored to any travelling team. Whether it’s a romantic getaway, friends expedition or family affair. One of the more light-hearted and fun things to do, came along in the Midlands Meander. As simple as it sounds, it was actually a delightful way to spend some time in the afternoon.
We were able to choose a candle (from many different shapes and styles), dip into our desired colours and then paint it. It’s also very reasonably priced!
P.S.: Please don’t judge my candle choice. I still had fun!
Both the candle dipping (number 9) and the chocolate fondue (number 10) are situated at a place called Piggly Wiggly Country Village. You can take a little sneak peek into Piggly Wiggly right here:
10. Indulge In A Chocolate Fondue
If you are as much of a chocolate fan as Byron is, you need to make your way down to Chocolate Heaven. They have so many different, ready-made chocolates to try as well as a chocolate fondue.
It is as delicious as it sounds and it comes in two sizes; aimed at two or four people sharing.
The first thing to do is to choose your chocolate: white, milk or dark. You then get to select all of your dipping ingredients based on weight. Then it’s just between you and that bowl of melted chocolate in front of you.
Don’t worry about forcing it all down. You’re given a mould to freeze all your extras to take home with you! Which Byron proceeded to eat in the car…
11. Chase Some Waterfalls
If you are a nature lover you have to go and see some waterfalls in the area. Now there are many natural waterfalls throughout the Drakensberg, most famously the Tugela Falls, but there are others too.
We, however, are now going to talk about two waterfalls near Howick.
This waterfall is kind of a “mandatory” stop for all road trips passing through Howick. Ask any South African who’s been in the area, they’ll tell you.
Howick Falls is still a stunning 95m high waterfall though, and it has a great legend attached to it.
Local legend says that a giant serpent creature lives at the bottom of the falls and only a sangoma may approach it, but only to pray and offer worship to the beast.
Something else we find fascinating is that they have a record of all the people who have fallen over the edge – the earliest being recorded in 1851.
(⚠ We have also heard that it is not so safe anymore. So we advise that you be careful and vigilant, but do encourage people to visit, it is still a stunning waterfall.)
Just on your way out of Howick, you will come across Karkloof Falls. This is a must if you love waterfalls! Entrance is free and when we visited, we had the place entirely to ourselves.
There are picnic and braai areas, viewing decks, hiking trails and the drive there through the forest is so beautiful! We highly recommend visiting.
It’s so sad that Karkloof Falls isn’t very widely known. So if you do make your way out there, please let us know! Share the love for this beautiful spot, tag us on Facebook or Instagram and we’ll build some hype!
12. Glamp In A Teepee Camp
Experience a taste of Neverland at Nguni Moon Tepee Camp in Underberg, in the Southern Drakensberg.
The teepee camp offered us a unique camping experience that had just the right amount of magic and comforts that we were looking for.
It awakened something within us that reminded us of the “lost boys” from Peter Pan. We got to run about the fields, walk down to the stream at the bottom of the mountain, skim stones and jump from rock to rock, play board games, laugh, swim in the dam and all of this while still being romantic and luxurious.
Nguni Moon became a bucket list experience we didn’t know we needed!
13. Visit Kenmo Lake
Kenmo lake is one of the most beautiful places that we have ever visited! It was the perfect way to end off our road trip through the Drakensberg.
It is actually on private property that the family has opened up to the public so that we can share in the magic with them. We totally recommend bringing along a picnic and just relaxing by the lake.
Kenmo Lake is actually most famous for its spectacular autumn displays. The leaves turn a variety of different colours and settle on the lake, creating the most gorgeous vistas. You know, we visited in summer and felt it was quite beautiful then too!
Also, don’t forget to sign the visitor’s book before you leave.
Ending Off The Drakensberg Road Trip
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, our intention was actually to do a combined road trip through the Drakensberg and Midlands Meander – so we highly recommend reading the Midlands Meander post before finalising your travel plans!
We also really hope that you enjoyed our list of “cool things to do” in the Drakensberg. We’d love to hear about your travel plans. Are you taking the road trip? Planning your own? Or have you already been? Let’s chat below!
If you make a trip through the Drakensberg and Midlands Meander and discover a hidden gem we missed, please let us know that too! We’d love a good excuse to go back!
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