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Exploring the majestic Maloti Drakensberg route

If you love road tripping and gallivanting on the mountains, the Maloti Drakensberg Heritage Route is a never-ending adventure. There is so much to see on this extraordinary route of green grasslands, clear streams, exotic forests, and grand mountain slopes. You will discover an abundance of culture, craft, and art along this route, including over 22 000 San rock art paintings, 2 500 species of flora, the highest falls in southern Africa, and dinosaur remains.

The route covers 13 000 km of South Africa’s most breath taking mountain scenery, spanning over the best parts of the Drakensberg mountains within KwaZulu-Natal all the way to the north-eastern border with Lesotho.

The two best places to start the journey from are either Clarens in the Free State or Lady Grey and Tiffendell on the Eastern Cape side. It is best to use your own vehicle if you want full freedom to explore the most obscure hidden gems of paradise on the route. If you’re going in winter, make sure you pack your warmest clothe; for summer pack light clothing and a rain coat. And don’t forget your passport for Lesotho!

If you want to see most of the major attractions you’ll need to dedicate at least five to seven days for this trip. Starting from Clarens, the first major must-visit spot is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This unique reserve is a true highlands habitat, if you're lucky you could spot the rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the equally rare bald ibis, which breed on the ledges in the sandstone cliffs. Try to visit the Vulture Restaurant while you’re there!

Ribbokkop, the highest point in the park, reveals a breathtaking tapestry of red, yellow and purple hues as its warm shades merge with the cool mountain shadows towards the evening. Other stunning lookout points are the Zuluhoek lookout point, Generaalskop viewpoint which is the third highest point in the park, Oribi basin and Drakensberg view. At Glen Reenen Rest Camp Golden Gate Highlands SANParks you can choose to either stay in a rondavel, a longdavel, a cottage or go for the good old camping experience.

From there you can make your way to Lesotho and enter through the border post at Caledonspoort, which is only fifteen minutes from Clarens. Once you are in Lesotho, Tsehlanyane National Park is only a 45-minute drive from the border post and it is Lesotho's largest national park. Here you can explore the large indigenous forest, swim in the rivers and streams, and see a variety of birds, fauna and flora. There are a number of established hiking paths as well as pony rides which are an ideal way to venture in the natural surroundings. Maliba River Lodge offers excellent self-catering accommodation and is situated right on the crystal clear waters of the Ts’ehlanyane River.

Next you can head down to Bokong Nature Reserve, where you can see the Lepaqoa Waterfall. This is the highlight of the reserve in winter as it freezes to form a column of ice. There is an overnight trail camp available here, as well as local guides to show you some of the best viewing points within the reserve. Self-catering accommodation is available at St James Lodge located on the Thaba Tseka road in Mokhotlong. The lodge is nestled on the hillside within the Maloti Mountain range and is only an hour away from the infamous Sani Pass.

Don’t miss making the Maletsunyane Falls as part of your next stop. This is the highest waterfall in southern Africa, and nearly twice as high as Victoria Falls. You can stay in the village of Semonkong at Semonkong Lodge, where you will find places that offer abseiling down into the gorge alongside the falls. It’s a pretty extreme adventure, but definitely worth the adrenaline rush!

You will finally reach the San rock paintings and dinosaur footprints on your way out of Lesotho, before heading back to South Africa on the Eastern Cape side. They are located in the town of Quthing, which is also known as Moyeni. You can also make a short diversion at Mohale’s Hoek and see the cannibal caves of Motlejoa. If you like fishing, don’t miss the best trout experience along the Sebapala and Tsatsane Rivers.

You can end your road trip with the breath-taking Ben McDhui mountain which forms part of the Drakensberg range in the Eastern Cape Highlands. The sheer natural splendour of this mountain is perfect for revitalising your mind and body. Ben McDhui lies next to the small village of Rhodes, and is a paradise for all hikers and nature lovers. With over 2000 km of running water, fly-fishing is a must.

There are also various walking and hiking trails up the highest pass in the country, The Dragon’s Tail and Naudes Nek. Other attractions include rare birds such as the orange-breasted rockjumper and ground woodpeckers, as well as sub-alpine flora. Comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price is available at Dog's Folly, a quaint house offering four bedrooms and a lovely fireplace to keep you warm after a cold winter hike.

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