On 30 November 2000, the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park was added to the World Heritage Site list, and is described by UNESCO as having “exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts…” The Park is an important haven for many threatened and endemic species, and for its wealth of rock paintings made by the San people thousands of years ago – some even as far back as 25,000 plus years. The Bushman or San paintings are one of the Drakensberg’s greatest cultural treasures and have been recorded at 500 different cave and overhang sites between Royal National Park in the north and Bushman’s Nek in the south. When Europeans first encountered this rock art in southern Africa some 350 years ago, they considered the drawings primitive and crude, just ‘Bushman paintings’, two-dimensional accounts of hunting and fighting and daily life. Today, however, we know that for the San, rock paintings weren’t just representations of life, they were a record of the past. Subjects of the Bushman and San paintings range from animals (mainly eland) and humans, to ox-wagons and mounted men with rifles – when shamans painted an eland, they didn’t just pay respect to a sacred animal they also harnessed its essence.
For history of a different kind, visit one (or all) of the Trappist Missions located in the Southern Drakensberg founded by Abbot Francis Pfanner in the late 1880s. Centocow near Creighton is the largest and is named after the famous Polish Shrine of our Lady of Czestochowa… later simplified to Centocow. It is also home to an Art Gallery featuring the works of Gerard Bhengu, an internationally renowned artist as well as a Museum of local culture and the missionary work in the area. Emmaus, in Umzimkulu, was Abbot Francis Pfanner’s last home and reflects his commitment to the faith – climb the Stations of the Cross, a steep set of stairs which he built, to the silver statue of the crucified Christ; and Reichenau Mission near Underberg – well known for its impressive murals and stained glass windows.
The Sisonke Stimela (stimela is Zulu for ‘steam train’), operates at various times of the year, taking passengers on a historic journey past Trappist Missions, local communities and aloe clad hillsides that are spectacular during their flowering period in the winter months. To experience the world of Alan Paton’s ‘Cry the Beloved Country’, a steam train journey on the Paton Express will delight historians and steam train enthusiasts alike.
whats on on the drakensberg
did you know
There is a cave in the Northern Drakensberg known as the Cannibal Cave. In the past the cave would likely have been occupied by San Bushmen, but in more recent years it was the refuge of a local tribe fleeing the wrath of Shaka Zulu as he purged the Drakensberg of his enemies. It is said that these people had to resort to cannibalism to survive while hiding in the cave.