uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park

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uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park

Inscribed in 2000, the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is located in KwaZulu Natal. It is a mixed cultural and natural heritage site and was the fourth site in South Africa to be granted World Heritage status. The park has exceptional beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts.

Africa's highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro can be found here, as well as the largest and most concentrated series of rock art paintings in Africa, made by the San people over a period of 4000 years.

The rock paintings are outstanding in quality and diversity of subject in their depiction of animals and human beings. They represent the spiritual life of the indigenous San people who no longer live in this region. There are some 600 sites and 35 000 individual images in the Drakensberg.

The park lies in the west of KwaZulu Natal on the Lesotho border. It is 243 000 hectares in size, stretching 150 kilometres fro Royal Natal National Park in the north to Cobham Forest Station in the south.

Rolling high altitude grasslands, the pristine steep-sided river valley and rocky gorges also contribute to the beauty of the site. The site's diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants. This spectacular site also contains many caves and rock-shelters where the rock paintings can be found.

Both the Zulu name, uKhahlamba (barrier of spears) and the Afrikaans name Drakensberg (dragon mountain) fit the formidable horizon created by the range. A massive basaltic cap set on a broad base of sedimentary rocks belonging to the Stormberg series of 150 million years ago, the mountains are South Africa's main watershed.

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park has outstanding natural beauty, Africa's highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro, a fascinating and ancient geology, some of the rarest animals in the world, and the largest, richest and most concentrated series of rock art in Africa.

Some History - The Giant Lizard
The ox-wagons of Boer settlers had to negotiate the Drakensberg's steep passes in 1837 during the Great Trek from the Cape Colony. The apocryphal tale goes that, 40 years later, the name Drakensberg was coined when a Boer father and son reported seeing a dragon, a giant lizard with wings and a tail, flying above the cloud-covered mountain peaks.

The range is the highest in Africa south of Kilimanjaro. It is home to the world's second highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls, with a total drop of 947 metres. They are easily viewed after a heavy rain from the main road into the park.

The Rock Paintings
Originally roaming freely throughout southern Africa, the San were forced to take refuge in the mountains with the 13th century migration of the Bantu-speaking people into the region and later, European colonisation. San culture disappeared from the Drakensberg at the end of the 19th century. But the paintings remained. The artists used red, orange, yellow, black and white, derived from mixing clay, burnt wood and ochre oxides. The paintings have a documentary aspect, showing the San interacting with one another and their environment. Hunting scenes are common. The subject matter changed with the arrival of the settlers from the north and the colonisers from Europe. The oldest painting on a rock shelter wall in the Drakensberg dates back about 2400 years, but paint chips at least a thousand years older have also been found.

Flora and Fauna
98 of the 2153 plant species in the park are endemic or near-endemic. These include the extremely rare, Protea nubigena, a plant found nowhere on earth except on a high ridge in the Royal Natal section of the park. Part of the reason for the Drakensberg's rich biodiversity is its extremes of altitude, from 1000 metres above sea level to 3500 metres. It is home to aquatic, forest, scrub, fynbos, savannah, mountain grassland and heath plant families, including a large number of species listed in the Red Data Book of threatened plants, with 119 species listed as globally endangered.

A top tourist destination, the Drakenberg offers accommodation which caters for all tastes and budgets, from luxury resorts and hotels to guest houses, B&B's, caravan parks and cabins. Those who prefer to hike the mountains can get a list of huts and caves. Thousands of trails are marked across the Drakenberg, from short ambles through indigenous fern forests to more strenuous expeditions through the mountains' hills and passes.

You will also find four golf courses in the park, as well as horse trails, scenic self-drives, trout streams for fishing, and mountain climbing and abseiling activities.

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