KwaZulu Natal has two world heritage sites: the iSimangaliso wetlands and the Drakensberg Mountains. So here I am, back in the mountains, at Giants Castle taking the opportunity to view what is probably the most accessible ancient rock art in the region. Probably even the most accessible in South Africa?
UNESCO has many criteria for granting world heritage status. Using the areas full title, The Maloti-Drakensberg Park qualifies under several sections. To start it is a place of outstanding natural beauty. It has a wealth of flora & fauna and is home to many protected species. It also contains the highest concentration of ancient rock art in Africa south of the Sahara. One source claims that it’s the largest collection of such artwork to be found anywhere in the world.
The San people inhabited the area for over four thousand years until they were displaced by migrating tribes. It is believed they left behind between thirty five & forty thousand paintings. In around five hundred caves and overhangs over twenty thousand individual works of art have been recorded. The paintings give an insight into the San people day to day life and spiritual beliefs. The oldest date back two thousand four hundred years but paint chips have been discovered that pre-date the oldest of the paintings.
Giants Castle is in the central Drakensberg and is easily accessible from the main highway. There is an admission fee payable on the gate and it’s only a short drive from the gate to the day visitor’s car park. From there it’s a ten minute walk to the reception where you buy your ticket for the ‘Main Caves’. You will not be allowed to enter the caves if you have not purchased a ticket at reception. If you want more than a day in the reserve the accommodation is good, as is the bar and restaurant, if you do not want to self cater. There are many hikes to choose from within the reserve. Plus there is the vulture hide and restaurant where you have a chance of spotting the endangered bearded vulture. Again to use the hide you need to book in advance.
I took a casual stroll to the Main Caves stopping to admire the views, the plant life and take a few photographs. It took me about forty minutes on a narrow but well maintained footpath. Guided tours take place hourly but check when purchasing your ticket what time these are. On arrival the gate to the caves will be opened by your guide. The young lady who showed me round was from the local community and very informative.
Within the caves there are plaques carrying additional information and wax models depicting how the San people might have used the caves. This is the modern that accompanies plenty of original ancient art. The paintings contain human figures, some dancing and some clearly hunting and carrying bows. Along with mythical images there are animals such as the Eland that are clear to see. I found it hard to comprehend just how old these paintings are and how tough the life of the San people must have been.