Giant’s Cup Trail, Drakensberg – day 1

Trip report by site editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | day 2 | day 3

One of Lonely Planet’s South Africa’s top five multiday hikes:

The Drakensberg Mountains, rising to 3482m (11,423ft) on the Lesotho border, are one of Africa’s greatest hiking destinations.

Numerous day and overnight walks crisscross this World Heritage Site …

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Closest major city is Durban.

The famous path starts in appropriately grand fashion at the foot of Sani Pass, South Africa’s highest mountain pass. Passing through the Drakensberg foothills, the trail takes in the Bathplug Cave with San rock art, streams and pools for swimming and breathtaking mountain scenery.

The Giant’s Cup (3256m/10,682ft), from which the trail gets its name, overlooks the Cobham Nature Reserve’s shimmering expanses of grassland, upland lakes, rivers jumping with trout and slopes carpeted with pink proteas. At the southern tip of the Drakensberg, the Garden Castle Nature Reserve is overlooked by sandstone buttresses, caves and the 3051m (10,009ft) Rhino Peak.

The trail ends at Bushman’s Nek Pass, where you can continue into Lesotho on foot or horseback, or unlace your boots in nearby Underberg or Himeville.

The basic 30-person sleeping huts have bunk beds with mattresses, and waking among cairns and circling eagles is an uplifting wilderness experience. With daily distances ranging between 9km (5.6mi) and 13km (8mi), it’s not a strenuous hike and can be managed by younger walkers.

Russell Suchet, author of A Backpackers Guide to Lesotho, is owner of Sani Backpackers where I started.

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Russell and staff agreed that the Giant’s Cup was relatively “tame” for someone of my experience. With a tent.

But I loved it anyway. 🙂

Inexperienced in the Drakensberg, I took every precaution. I purchased maps #5 and #6 ($5ea at Sani Backpackers). And picked up the free “Giant’s Cup Trail Visitor’s Guide” trail description at the KZN Wildlife office at Pholela Hut.

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Hiking alone, it would have been nice to have a phone in case of emergencies. There is mobile service on most of the route. But I hadn’t bothered to pick up a SIM card for my Canadian phone. 😦

I paid about $8 / night to stay in the huts — even though I carried a tent.

Happy to support the KZN trail system, I wanted the OPTION to stay in the huts if necessary. If it poured rain, for example. It pours rain nearly every afternoon in January.

I carried too much food, adding home made cheese from Sani Backpackers.

I skipped the first 5km as I’d done it the previous day. Here are a few photos starting at Gxalingenwa Cave.

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These two ‘mericans had camped 2 nights in the overhang under a waterfall. Later I learned that you are not actually allowed to camp in that particular “cave”.

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Officially, the Giant’s Cup starts on the Sani Pass Road at Ezemvelo KZM Wildlife field ranger outpost at 2847m. I started instead by walking out the door of Sani Backpackers climbing up to intersect the route.

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That’s the Backpacker’s as seen from the parkland area fence.

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The trail is super well marked. You follow white footprints.

Some locals feel there is too much signage.

I missed paying for my trip & filling out the Mountain Rescue Register at the start. Russell advised me to — instead — do the paperwork at the KZN Wildlife Office near Pholela Hut. I arrived there about 1:30pm.

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Pholela Hut is a converted farmhouse offering 30 bunk beds in 4 rooms. Cold showers. Empty.

I carried on to the next hut.

Close to Pholela I saw my first herd of Eland.

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Close to that herd I caught a glimpse of an African dog. Most likely a jackal.

The bridges on this trail are not impressive.

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On the other hand, there’s no need to treat water in the Drakensberg.

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Green. Peaceful. Pretty.

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I arrived Mzimkhulwana Hut late and tired.

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Rather than sleep indoors, I set up my tent under protection.

Alone, I hid my passport, money and credit cards. Just in case some sneak thief arrived in the night. It was a bit spooky.

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Sipped wine. Ate my local cheese. Watched the night fall. Went to sleep early.

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more photos from this day

day 1 | day 2 | day 3

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One thought on “Giant’s Cup Trail, Drakensberg – day 1

  1. Pingback: Giant’s Cup, Drakensburg – RickMcCharles.com

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