!!!The Drakensberg - Dragon Mountains

by [Dmitry Moiseenko|https://www.facebook.com/dmitry.moiseenko],
member of the [AirPano Team|Geography/About/Consortium/AirPano,_Team] that is a member of the [global-geography Consortium|Geography/About/Consortium]. \\

26 July 2013

with kind permission of [AirPano|http://www.AirPano.com]

Packing for my first trip to the Republic of South Africa, I didn't
bother to research all of its sights beforehand. I thought it would be
enough to focus on the most famous ones, such as Kruger National Park,
Cape Town, Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, and, of course,
Victoria Falls easily accessible by plane, even though it's located
outside the Republic of South Africa on the border of Zambia and
Zimbabwe.

But, as it usually happens during trips, some things become clear only
on the spot. Back in Cape Town airport I noticed huge posters with
amazing mountain views entitled "The Drakensberg". I automatically
switched to my "adventure photographer" mode and started searching
Google for the name right away. 15 minutes later I knew that my
anticipated week-long vacation on Durban beaches at the end of the trip
would be cut short, because only 300 kilometers away from the ocean
there was the Drakensberg National Park. They also offered helicopter
tours there!

[{Image src='01_Helicopter above the Drakensberg.jpg' caption='Helicopter above the Drakensberg' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='622'}]

It's funny that most web pages dedicated to the Drakensberg have photos
of a very extreme Northern end of Drakensberg range called Blyde River
Canyon, which is not in the national park Kwazulu Natal. So pay
attention and don't try to find that view here.

[{Image src='02_At the age of Blyde River Canyon.jpg' caption='At the age of Blyde River Canyon' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='596'}]

I don't know about the exact origin of the name, but according to one
version, clouds and fog hanging over the slopes of the mountain are
reminiscent of a hot steam exhaled by a dragon. They were right about
the fog! Having woken up before dawn, I searched for a good shooting
spot only to find a thick veil of mist that practically hid the entire
mountain. The sun was rising, and the fog was slowly clearing up. It was
time to go to a heliport.

[{Image src='03_Fog at the mountains.jpg' caption='Fog at the mountains' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='503'}]

The most beautiful sights of the Drakensberg are located in the
uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (there is no spelling mistake here! It is
the ancient name of the mountains meaning "barrier of spears"). Some of
its parts are accessible by a helicopter, with the only exception of
Amphitheater, which is off-limits for some reason.

Flights are highly dependent on weather conditions. Having spent a few
hours at the computer looking for holes in heavy clouds over the
mountains (while it was bright and shiny at the foothills), the pilot
and I decided to try our luck anyway. The only thing that worried him
was accidentally crossing the border of Lesotho, a mysterious country
located entirely within the Republic of South Africa, with borders
running along the top of the mountains. However, it seemed that Lesotho
citizens were too lazy to monitor their border — I didn't see any border
patrol units or radar stations.

[{Image src='04_Preparation to take off.jpg' caption='Preparation to take off' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='600'}]

Looking for holes in heavy clouds, we took off. 10 minutes later we were
flying over the mountains, quickly passing cloud formations, while the
pilot was focusing on keeping the helicopter above the rocks in strong
wind conditions. The view was very beautiful, but scary at the same
time. Finally I realized why it was called the "Drakensberg" — located
opposite to each other, there were straight rows of vertical cliffs cut
by crevices. All together it looked like a huge beast's jaw with sharp
teeth. Clouds covered the sun, and I felt really uncomfortable, so I
took few panoramic photos and asked the pilot to leave this gloomy
place.

[{Image src='05_Dragon Teeth.jpg' caption='Dragon Teeth' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='613'}]

"If Amphitheater is off-limits, I'll just photograph something else," I
thought to myself and took a car to the part of the mountains that was
called Royal Natal National Park.

But Dragons mocked me! Evening sky was very cloudy, and only a weak
sunray illuminated my path; and in the morning the sky was clear with
bright sun, and beautiful Amphitheater. Shining sun means that I can
safely fly over the mountains! A few hours later I was sitting beside an
open door of a helicopter. Illuminated "dragon's teeth" seemed not so
dangerous anymore, streams and waterfalls sparkled in the sun, and we
didn't expect any attack on our aircraft from Lesotho territory.

[{Image src='06_Amphitheater.jpg' caption='Amphitheater' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='501'}]

And here are few official facts about the Drakensberg.

AirPano team had previously photographed sights of the Republic of South
Africa, including the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Town. Now we want to
tell you about another outstanding monument of South Africa: the
Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains).

It's one of the highest mountain ranges in the country. It has an
average height of 2,000 meters; two of its highest peaks (Mafadi and
Thabana-Ntlenyana) are 3450 and 3482 meters high respectively. The
Drakensberg is situated on the territory of three countries: South
Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. The latter one deserves a special
mention — it is a unique enclave within the Republic of South Africa,
and it's surrounded by the Drakensberg Mountains in the east and south.
Moreover, local mountain trekking routes are considered to be the best
in Africa.

[{Image src='07_Drakensberg.jpg' caption='Drakensberg' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='388'}]

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the Drakensberg is a
beautiful mountain range cut by numerous rivers. You can also see Tugela
Falls that drops in five free-leaping falls from the eastern cliff. The
highest of them (411 meters) drops water with an average speed of 1
cubic meter per second. The total drop in five free-leaping falls is 948
meters, which makes Tugela Falls the second highest waterfall in the
world after Angel Falls in Venezuela. Tugela sometimes freezes and forms
dazzling ice columns. Over the waterfalls you can see the
Mont-aux-Sources Mountain, the source of Tugela River considered one of
the biggest in South Africa.

They say that these lands inspired Tolkien, who was born in South
Africa, to write his epic "Lord of the Rings" novel.

[{Image src='08_Local kids.jpg' caption='Local kids' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='600'}]

The Drakensberg Mountain in South Africa is not like any other mountain
range in the world. Here one can find peaks next to completely flat
tops, and rainforests next to meadows and savannas. Historically, this
area was inhabited by the Bushmen (a collective name for indigenous
African tribes). Little is known about the Bushmen of the Drakensberg.
Their last group was seen here in 1878, and then they disappeared,
leaving behind the only reminder of their existence — amazing rock
paintings. The paintings are unique not only because of their good
condition, but also because of the variety of subjects: hunting scenes,
religious ceremonies, and peaceful life depictions reveal every little
detail from the history of these mysterious ancient people.

Currently about 40,000 pieces of the Bushmen art were found in the
Drakensberg. This is the largest collection of its kind in the world.
20,000 individual rock paintings are located within five hundred
different caves and on the mountain slopes. It is hard to determine the
exact age of the paintings based on used pigment, so it is believed that
the oldest one was made about 2,400 years ago.

[{Image src='09_Drakensberg.jpg' caption='Drakensberg' alt='' width='900' popup='false' height='395'}]

The Drakensberg is rich in various minerals: coal, manganese ores, tin
ores, gold, and even platinum. Finally, nothing can compare to the
Drakensberg's flora and fauna. Of 2,153 plants 119 are listed as
endangered, and 98 are endemic, which means that they can't be found
anywhere outside these places. It is a home to 299 bird species; and
among unique animals there is endangered white rhino and white-tailed
gnu.

It's not surprising that two million tourists visit this natural
monument in South Africa every year. If for some reason you can't join
their ranks, you have an opportunity to take our virtual tour. It will
allow you to at least partially witness the beauty and grandeur of this
famous South African landmark.

\\ \\
[6 Panoramas of The Drakensberg - Dragon Mountains|Geography/Africa/South_Africa/Pictures/Panoramas_of_The_Drakensberg_-_Dragon_Mountains]










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