The Drakensberg: Hiking, Biking and Everything Else
January 1, 1970
by Samantha Stroebel
The Drakensberg in the province of KwaZulu Natal may not appear on your radar when researching for places to visit in South Africa, but it’s magnificence is not something to be missed. The Drakensberg range itself stretches over 200kms, but the central region which boasts Champagne Castle and other peaks is a place which happened to be my dream destination, and just might be yours too, especially if you’re someone who loves being among nature. This stunning area is filled with hike trails, bike trails, horse trails, waterfalls, birds and adventure businesses. You can do everything from river rafting to bird of prey viewings to golf to helicopter flights to listening to the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir.
The hike trails in this area are stunning. Around the Champagne Castle Hotel there are several hike trails, ranging from quick and easy walks to a multi-day trip to the top of Champagne Castle itself. If you are feeling adventurous enough, you can earn your name on the Champagne Castle Hotel’s honour board by completing the five peaks in the area; Matterhorn, Gatburg, Amphlett, Sterkhorn and Champagne Castle, though I would recommend not trying to do all five in one trip. Then you also have a fantastic reason to keep returning to this beautiful area! You receive a certificate from the Hotel for each peak you conquer, but the real reward is the hike itself.
Matterhorn is the easiest peak, can be done unguided and should only take half a day or so max.
Gatburg is also an easier hike, and conquering the peak can be achieved even as you explore other wonders in the range such as Zulu cave.
Be warned, the Amphlett is where it starts to get more difficult. Rocky and more challenging, the climb to this peak is more of what the locals refer to as a ‘berg scramble’ than a hike. If new to the area, you can get more information about locally guided hikes at the Hotel or at Drakensberg Tourism in Winterton, which is 35km from Champagne Castle Hotel.
Sterkhorn is also more of a challenge, the path itself is difficult to follow and in rocky areas disappears completely. The summit of Sterkhorn requires scaling a rock-face, and as such is more for mountaineers and rock climbers than hikers. If you aren’t interesting in laying claim to all five summits however, don’t let this put you off hiking as far up as you would like to go, for the views are breathtaking.
Champagne Castle peak is realistically a multi-day hike. It can be done in a day by experienced hikers, but that requires you to be fantastically fit and you miss out on the best part of the hike- the views.
For Mountain Bikers
Now I’ll be honest, I’m not one for mountain biking (also known as MTB). Give me pack and my hiking boots and I’ll walk all day, but bikes are not my thing. However, if biking is your thing- mountain biking the Champagne Valley is massive. The first of many popular routes is Paisley-Peakview-Heartsease, which is an 8km route that takes you through the heart of the Champagne Valley. Another is the 20km Mountain Splendour link to Dragon Peaks, which has more of a reputation for getting the adrenaline going. Both of these are free trails, you simply report to The Nest Drakensberg Hotel before leaving and away you go. Bike hire is even available if you get caught in the area without your own.
Dragon Peaks Mountain Resort
Another alternative is the purpose built MTB tracks at Dragon Peaks Mountain Resort, which boasts five loops of different lengths which feature wooden bridges, cut backs and downhill sections. A MTB tag and map can be obtained from the adventure office with your day pass- costing R75pp and under 16’s ride for free.
For the Artsy Soul
If hiking or biking is not your thing there’s plenty else to do! You can simply relax at one of many resorts and hotels or do a chocolate tasting at The Drakensberg Chocolate Memories in Cathkin Park.
Champagne Sports Resort
If golf is more what you’re in to, the Champagne Sports Resort boasts an 18 hole Championship golf course which has been rated as South Africa’s most beautiful gold course.
Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre and Dragon Rock Reptile and Nature Park
There’s also the Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre which has received a TripAdvisor ‘Badge of Excellence’ and is only closed on Fridays. Nearby to the Bird of Prey Centre is the Dragon Rock Reptile and Nature Park which is open from Tuesday to Sunday.
Drakensberg Boys’ Choir
The Drakensberg Boys’ Choir, which has been operating for 50 years, hosts a free concert every Wednesday afternoon during the school term and is a moving experience.
Didima San Rock Art Gallery
About an hour’s drive from Champagne Valley is the Didima San Rock Art Centre, which provides insight into and celebrates the art of the San people. The Centre is open daily and the surrounding area of Cathedral Peak has many places where rock art can be found.
Based at Cathedral Peak and Dragons Peak, Sky Adventures offers multiple packages to those wanting to see the sights from a helicopter, and you can even opt to stop and have a glass of champagne at 7000 ft.
For the Adventurer
If you are looking for a little more adrenaline you can go river rafting with Four Rivers Rafting and Adventures, who also offer white water rafting and multi-day trips. If you are chasing something a little more of a high you can do canopy tours with the Drakensberg Canopy Tour which lasts 2-3 hours and offers light refreshments on your completion of their tour. If you want to explore by horseback, most of the hotels in the area offer guided horse rides.
Champagne Castle Adventure Centre
The Champagne Castle Adventure Centre has everything else you could possibly think of- paintball, more MTB trails, abseiling, zip-lining, white water tubing, ‘kiddie adventures’ and Scootours and are open Tuesday through to Sunday, unless a public holiday falls on a Monday, then they are open then too!
No matter how you decide to enjoy Champagne Castle and Champagne Valley, it is an unforgettable experience! Enjoy the wondrous beauty of this area and I can guarantee you’ll always be wanting to go back for more.