The Northern Drakensberg Traverse is arguably the most renowned trek in South Africa and is not undeserving of its classic status. Starting with a spectacular ascent onto the 3,000m escarpment behind Sentinel Peak, accessed via 25m chain ladders, this is a linear traverse of the northern section of the Drakensberg which takes in some of the range’s most notable landmarks, including the impossibly symmetrical Amphitheatre and the soaring pinnacles and buttresses that dominate the area around the Mnweni Cutback, before descending at Cathedral Peak. This section of the high ‘Berg is arguably at its most varied and its relative inaccessibility once beyond the Amphitheatre adds to its allure. This trek is fully supported with guide, catering, porters and all logistics.
northern drakensberg traverse highlights
- Ascent of the Amphitheatre via chain ladders and camp near the edge of the Tugela Falls
- Particularly fine scenery around the Mnweni Cutback and in the Cathedral Peak area
- A strong sense of wilderness – you are unlikely to encounter others
- Get close to a vulture colony above the Rockeries Pass, in a very dramatic setting
- Ascend Cathedral Peak if routed via the Bell Traverse (weather permitting)
- Competent, experienced support team with good equipment.
Route and time required
The traverse to Cathedral Peak is usually made over 6 days, although variants are possible for private parties. The descent into the Cathedral Peak area is usually either made via the Bell Traverse and Orange Peel Gap, which affords trekkers the chance to ascend Cathedral Peak itself, one of the Drakensberg’s most prominent free standing peaks which is separated from the main escarpment line and commands very fine views, or, via Organ Pipes Pass, which is a more straightforward routing used for less adventurous parties who may be less sure of their footing, or when the Bell Traverse is wet or visibility is poor. Although easier, the descent via Organ Pipes Pass is slightly longer and an enjoyable alternative featuring very fine scenery and positions. We try to avoid using the Mlambonja Pass, which is less enjoyable and is used by parties seeking to descend earlier, eg. in the event of bad weather.
We have deliberately included a final night at The Cavern after you descend to Cathedral Peak, rather than rush you on. This ensures that you are not pressured to descend quickly on your final day – if you opted for the Bell Traverse, you will then have a chance to ascend Cathedral Peak on day 6; if you opted to descend via Organ Pipes Pass, you will certainly need the time. Once down, you will have time to have a celebratory drink and some lunch if you choose on the terrace at the excellent Cathedral Peak Hotel, before returning to The Cavern by road in time for a hot bath, post-trek dinner and comfy bed. All of this will be well-earned!
We operate a fully tailor-made service for private groups, including couples and single travellers, and trek routings are flexible. We also offer occasional fixed date group treks. There are one of two variants to this trek that are well worth considering, including a descent into the Mnweni Valley, which lies just north of Cathedral Peak. It’s possible to complete a trek to Mnweni in just 4 days.
Descents into the Mnweni valley hold very strong appeal, even though this entails dropping off the escarpment earlier via either the Rockeries Pass or nTonjelana Pass – both offer impressive descents that bring you down between the spires into an ethereal world of soaring cliffs, tussock-strewn slopes, desert sandstone buttresses and tumbling brooks.
The valley is particularly beautiful and there is a strong cultural aspect to the walk-out through this area – the valley’s lower reaches are occupied by the Amangwane Community, a Zulu tribal faction, and you are likely to meet few outsiders here. You can opt to spend a night in a traditional Zulu kraal, where you can sample traditional food 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!