When planning an extended climb, traverse and descent of the high Drakensberg, trekkers have historically been drawn to the northern section of the Drakensberg. This is probably because the Amphitheatre is so iconic and features heavily in tourism marketing literature. What we can be sure about though, is that the Central Drakensberg Traverse is equally outstanding, taking you through continuously fine scenery. There’s no reason why first-time visitors to the Drakensberg, who are seeking a week long trek through classic Drakensberg scenery, should not head here first. For those who’ve completed the northern trek previously, this trek makes a logical next step – it begins where the northern trek ends and extends your horizons southwards.
- Classic Drakensberg scenery throughout the trek
- A strong sense of wilderness off marked paths – you are unlikely to encounter other trekkers
- Get close to a vulture colony near the top of Grays Pass
- Pass through an attractive gorge within Lesotho and a Basotho kraal
- Not as well-known as the Northern Traverse, but just as good
- Opportunity to ascend Champagne Castle, South Africa’s 3rd highest summit
- Lovely descent below Monk’s Cowl
Route and time required
A choice of starting points exist for this trek, so there is flexibility in route planning; a start is usually made in either the Cathedral Peak valley, where there is a good hotel, or at Mnweni, the next catchment system to the north, where there is good, though more basic accommodation. The trek ends at Monk’s Cowl, otherwise referred to as the Champagne Castle area. When starting at Cathedral Peak, 6 days are usually allocated, although fast groups seeking longer days on foot can do it in 5. If a start is made at Mnweni, 7 days are usually allocated.
Cathedral Peak to Monk's Cowl
Commencing at the well-known Cathedral Peak Hotel, which make a good base for this trek, Organ Pipes Pass is used to ascend to the top of the escarpment and the route takes you along the African watershed above the Mdedelelo Wilderness Area, before dropping down Grays Pass to the Monk’s Cowl trailhead. Camp is usually made below Organ Pipes Pass at the end of the first day’s walking and the top of the escarpment is reached on the second day. The next three nights are then spent high on the escarpment – the first in a beautiful gorge within Lesotho and the third on a stepped plateau close to a vulture colony – before dropping down to a final night in tents at Keith Bush Camp ready for a final walk out to the Monk’s Cowl gate. An alternative descent can be made via Ship’s Prow Pass, one of the more difficult passes in the Drakensberg. Champagne Castle (3,377m) is an optional ascent from camp above Grays Pass.
Commencing at Mnweni
For those who have more time, commencing the trek a little further north at Mnweni has a special draw as the valley is home to the Amangwane Community, a Zulu tribal faction, and you are likely to meet few outsiders here. The valley is particularly beautiful, especially when you reach the upper reaches of the settlement areas. A pre-trek-night is usually spent at the Mwneni Cultural and Hiking Centre, but it is also possible to arrange a homestay in a traditional Zulu kraal and enjoy some Zulu dancing – this is a very genuine, personal experience that’s worlds away from the canned cultural tours that can be found just outside Durban. You’ll start your trek by ascending the Rockeries Pass to the source of the Orange River (which eventually flows into the Atlantic) before heading south. You can take in Cleft Peak (3,281m) for wonderful views above the Cathedral Peak area, or this can be skirted.