The southern Drakensberg: your next hiking destination

Posted on 4 April 2024

The Lower Lotheni area in southern Drakensberg has some of South Africa’s most breathtaking views. Of the three hiking trails we walked, we saw only one other hiking party. I’m always overcautious to declare a place a ‘hidden gem,’ but I believe I have found true ‘hidden gems.’

You can access this part of the berg either by driving past Underberg, or via Nottingham Road. The roads aren’t the best, which is one of the reasons why it’s not as popular as the northern Drakensberg. However, we saw Polos and Suzuki Swifts make it over the road without any problems so it’s definitely accessible. In the same breath, it wouldn’t be South Africa without a few potholes strewn across the road, so drive slowly and enjoy the view.

ALSO READ: 5 easy hiking trails in Cape Town

Jacob’s Ladder in Lotheni Nature Reserve

Jacob’s Ladder Trail is a 5-kilometre out-and-back waterfall hike, with mountains around you and the Lotheni River alongside you. The trail takes you over a suspension bridge that’s good for your nerves. It’s marked quite well, but downloading a map on your cellphone isn’t a bad idea. Elevation remains stable for most of the hike, with a few minor water crossings.

The reward is the Jacob’s Ladder waterfall that crashes down into a natural pool, perfect for wild swimming. Enjoy some snacks along the water’s edge and a dip in the refreshing water before walking back to the reception building.

Also read: 5 easy hiking trails in Cape Town

Cypress Cave in uMkhomazi Nature Reserve

Naturally, this hike ended in us racing down the mountain to escape the berg storm aggressively building above us. Before that though, I absolutely loved this 8-kilometre out-and-back hike to Cypress Cave.

The trail begins with an ascent that literally takes your breath away, but it flattens out after about 1.5 kilometres. The path is overgrown in some areas, but it’s relatively easy to follow. There aren’t any trees or shady spots along the way, so starting early in the morning is advised.

Another wild swimming haven waits for you at the end of the trail, and a cave that’s a perfect reprieve from the sun. I love being able to fill my water bottle with fresh berg water, which you can do by the waterfall. Just give yourself enough time to return to your car before those afternoon mountain storms come rolling in.

If you’re in the mood for an overnight hike, the cave sleeps about six people and has fresh running water. Although, I’ve been told that the waterfall can get quite loud in the silence of the night.

Before we go on, if you’ll be in Gauteng soon, why not explore the top hiking trails in Pretoria?

Now, let’s continue.

Lotheni Nature Reserve to uMkhomazi Nature Reserve

This 3-day 2-night hike can be done over 4 days and 3 nights if you’re in the business of stopping often and snacking a lot (that’s me). If you complete the hike in 4 days, you’ll average about 8 kilometres a day, whereas in 3 days you’ll average around 11 kilometres.

The first day will have you questioning your life choices with a 1000-metre elevation over 10 kilometres. However, the rest of the hike takes you along a ridge and the elevation remains mostly stable.

Fill up your water bottle when you find fresh water as there aren’t many streams along the ridge. Keep your eyes peeled for eland, blesbok, jackal, and the elusive lammergeier (bearded vulture) as wildlife in the area is plentiful.

You can hike to McKenzie Cave, but it will add a few extra kilometres.

The hike is about 33 kilometres long, with old overgrown trails. Purchasing a map at the Lotheni Nature Reserve office is helpful, as is downloading the route on your phone. The field guide in Lotheni needs to be notified when you arrive safely in uMkhomazi, so you just need to give him a call at the end of your hike.

Pictures: Jordyn Johnson

Follow us on social media for more travel news, inspiration, and guides. You can also tag us to be featured. 

TikTok | Instagram Facebook Twitter

ALSO READ: Waterfalls of the Wild Coast

yoast-primary - 1004429
tcat - Travel ideas
tcat_slug - travel-ideas
tcat2 - Travel ideas
tcat2_slug - travel-ideas
tcat_final - travel