Favourite Day Hikes in the Central Drakensberg
It's my favorite place in the Drakensberg. There are beautiful waterfalls, vistas of rolling hills and majestic peaks, and well cut paths to follow. Most hikes start from the Monks Cowl forestry station where you can obtain route info and hiking permits. Be sure to sign the hiking register as a safety precaution.
Cathedral Peak in Central Drakensberg - Photo by Fihliwe
A moderate and gentle undulating hike takes you from the Forestry station to the Sterkspruit Falls. This small mountain stream drops 30 metres into a rock pool below. The path takes you to the top of the falls where you can peer over the edge. Be cautious though as there are no railings. If you continue to the right there is a narrow and somewhat overgrown path that will take you to the base of the falls. It's a steep descent but the swim at the bottom makes it worthwhile. The route is out and back which means that you return on the same path. As a round trip including stops it should not take you longer than two hours walking at a slow to moderate pace.
A more challenging climb is up to the Sphinx. This natural rock formation, whilst much smaller in size, was named after the Egyptian monument because of it's similar shape. It sits high up on the hillside as though surveying the territory. The total ascent is a distance of just over 3km, the gradient is steep and it will take you at least an hour and a half to reach the top. En route is a beautiful waterfall where you can enjoy a refreshing snack stop.
A third route combines both of these hikes. Starting out on the Sphinx trail you go beyond the Sphinx lookout up Verkykerskop and past breakfast stream. You then hike across the saddle for a short way towards the big berg. A few hundred metres further you'll find a marked trail to your right that goes down the gorge. It's a stepped descend so can be quite hard on the knees but the scenery is beautiful. The trail takes you down to just above the Sterkspruit falls and then back to the forestry station. The route can take up to 5 hours including stops so it's best to set aside a full day to enjoy it.
The last on my list is the Grotto walk. This gently undulating walk starts out from the Drakensberg Sun Hotel. The concierge will point out the trail end to you if you unsure where to go. The route follows a small river and takes you through lush indigenous rainforest. You have to cross the stream several times but there are broad stepping stones so you should not get wet. There are beautiful waterfalls along the way and a large pool at the end. It's great for swimming if you don't mind the chilly water temperature. The hike takes 2-3 hours return at a moderate pace. I would suggest packing a picnic and headding out late morning to get to the grotto at midday. Hiking within the forest you will be protected from the sun and the swim will be a refreshing way to cool off.