I visited Namibia for the first time in November 2013. What I experienced was far beyond my expectations. I found it to be a land of contradictions. It is a place where you can experience daily fog in the desert. Where you may have to wear a coat in the tropics. It has some of the oldest land and human artifacts on Earth, yet it is one of the youngest countries in the world.
It is also a spectacular place for photography. You could almost throw your camera in the air and be guaranteed a great photo.
This collection is the result of a five day trip I took into the Namib Desert and a shorter two day trip to Damaraland to visit the ancient rock carvings of Twyfelfontein. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Vredefort Dome, approximately 120 km south-west of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure (astrobleme). Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme found on Earth so far. With a radius of 190 km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy-release event, which caused devastating global change, including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes. It provides critical evidence of the Earth’s geological history and is crucial to our understanding of the evolution of the planet. Despite this, geological activity on the Earth’s surface has led to the disappearance of evidence from most impact sites and Vredefort is the only example to provide a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor, allowing research into the genesis and development of an astrobleme immediately post-impact.
The site contains high quality and accessible geological (outcrop) sites that demonstrate a range of geological evidences of a complex meteorite impact structure. The rural and natural landscapes of the serial property help to portray the magnitude of the ring structures resulting from the impact.
This is one of the oddest world heritage site visits I’ve ever had.
For natural sites such as these, there is normally a national park or something which is associated with the site. Visiting the site usually means visiting the park. It is so straightforward that I usually never even have to think about it.
The Vredefort Dome was a totally different experience.
The dome is very interesting from a geological standpoint. It is a very unique place and offers geologists a glimpse at something which they can’t see anywhere else in the world. If you look at the area from a satellite image, you can clearly see the crescent of hills which make up the crater. (Click to see how it looks from space)
From a visitor standpoint, the dome leaves something to be desired.
For starters, the visitors center is closed. It looks abandoned actually. From the comments I’ve read on Trip Advisor, it seems to have been closed for over a year and it was closed due to safety standards.
Then, I found out that there is no park. In fact, all of the land is privately owned. This left me scratching my head as to what it actually was I was visiting. It was basically some hills in a large, grassy region.
Eventually, I found a road where you can drive through the hills, which is the best way to experience the site beyond taking a private tour.
To do the drive, head to the town of Parys and take the R500 out of town. Turn left on the R53 until you see a brown road sign on the left side of the road with the World Heritage logo. This is a gravel road which will loop around and back into Parys. You should roughly be following the Vaal River along most of the road.
A GPS enabled map will be a huge help when taking this drive. DO NOT put “Vredefort Dome” into Google Maps as it will take you to the middle of a farm field.
Hopefully the visitor center will reopen at some point in the future.
The Vredefort Dome is located approximately 2 hours south of Johannesburg by car.
The Vredefort Dome is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa. It was inscribed in 2005 and is known as the largest verified impact crater on Earth. In fact, the crater is about 300 kilometers across in size when it was formed. The current site is what remains of that crater. It is located in Free State, South Africa.
The crater and the dome that formed thereafter were named after the town of Vredefort. This town is located near the center of the crater. Over several years, the crater has suffered from erosion but the remaining geological structure is known as Vredefort Dome.
About Vredefort Dome
Aside from being the largest meteorite impact site, it is also the oldest of this type of site in the world. The site was believed to have been formed 2000 million years ago after a meteorite hit the Earth and came into contact with the town of Vredefort. Due to the impact, this has resulted in the crater forming at the surface of the earth. Over the years, the natural transformation of the land had altered the site’s landscape. In fact, large dome shape structures had formed creating valleys in between them. This has resulted in what is now recognized by UNESCO as the Vredefort Dome.
Among the hills that are known as the Vredefort Dome, there are also granitic gneiss rock that were found on the site. Due to the force of the impact, it had caused fractures onto the rocks at the site.
Since the Vredefort Dome was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has been under serious property development in an effort to preserve what is left of the site (especially since natural factors had altered its landscape). The center portion f the Vredefort Dome is part of four different towns in Free State province of South Africa: Parys, Koppies, Venterskroon, and Vredefort. Of these four towns, Parys is known as the tourist hub and is also the largest town of the four. Meanwhile, Vredefort and Koppies are known for its agricultural activity.
If you were to visit the Vredefort Dome, you will have plenty of activities to enjoy or do while in the area. You can try mountain biking, river rafting, river tubing, horse riding, hiking/walking, and abseiling. There are various paved trails near the Vredefort Dome that you can explore if you want to see what else you can find around the UNESCO site.
The Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls is the world’s greatest sheet of falling water and significant worldwide for its exceptional geological and geomorphological features and active land formation processes with outstanding beauty attributed to the falls i.e. the spray, mist and rainbows. This transboundary property extends over 6860 ha and comprises 3779 ha of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Zambia), 2340 ha of Victoria Falls National Park (Zimbabwe), 741 ha of the riverine strip of Zambezi National Park (Zimbabwe). A riverine strip of the Zambezi National Park extending 9 km west along the right bank of the Zambezi and islands in the river are all within the Park as far as Palm and Kandahar Islands, with the Victoria Falls being one of the major attractions. The waterfall stands at an altitude of about 915 m above mean sea level (a.m.s.l.) and spans to about 1708 m wide with an average depth of 100 m and the deepest point being 108 m. Sprays from this giant waterfall can be seen from a distance of 30 km from the Lusaka road, Zambia and 50 km from Bulawayo road, Zimbabwe. Basalts have been cut by a river system producing a series of eightspectacular gorges that serve as breeding sites for four species of endangered birds. The basalts of the Victoria Falls World Heritage property are layered unlike those of the Giants Causeway World Heritage site which are vertical and columnar.
I’m sure most people are already aware of Victoria Falls. Widely considered one of the natural wonders of the world, the reality actually lives up to the hype.
Straddling the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, the falls are the largest waterfall in the world as measured by volume of water. If you visit when the water is high, like I did in February, the mist can be so great that it is often difficult to impossible to even see the falls.
If you visit during the wet season, expect to get drenched. The mist can be so strong that there is a perpetual rain nearby. My ability to take photos was seriously hampered by the mist many times.
Visiting the falls can be done from either side of the border. I’d recommend crossing the border to experience both sides, regardless of which side you come from. If you come in via Zimbabwe, they offer a dual entry visa for US$45 and you can get a day trip visa to Zambia for just US$20. Park fees are US$30 on the Zimbabwe side and $20 on the Zambian side.
Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Zambia. This falls is known simply as Victoria Falls worldwide. The falls is located along the Zambezi River that is located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Hence, this waterfall is attributed to both countries, along with the UNESCO site Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls.
The term “Mosia-oa-Tunya” originates from the Lozi language, which is used in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The national park that consists of the famous falls span 66 square kilometers in land area. It was inscribed by UNESCO in 1989 and is currently managed by the Zambia Wildlife Authority.
About Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls
The Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls UNESCO site is not just a World Heritage Site; it is also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The term Mosi-oa-Tunya literally translates to “The Smoke that Thunders”. This waterfall has earned its recognition despite the fact that it isn’t the widest or the highest waterfall in the world. It earns the recognition based on the combined width of the waterfall, which produces the largest sheet of falling water.
Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls is double the height of the Niagara Falls and twice the width of the Horseshoe Falls. Only the Iguazu Falls in Brazil and Argentina can compete with it in terms of height and width.
The water that flows through the falls is from the Zambezi River, which drops the entire flow of water onto a vertical wall where it descends into a narrow gorge. The volume of water that flows through Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls is estimated at around 300-3,000 cubic meters per second. In fact, this is such a high volume of water that passes through the falls that mists can be seen from several kilometers away from the mouth of the waterfalls itself.
Tourism in Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls
Even prior to it being named as a UNESCO site, Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls is already a tourism hot spot in Zambia and Zimbabwe. But the building of the Victoria Falls Bridge had initiated more tourism campaigns to the site. Prior to the construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge, the settlers to the area crossed the river via canoe or barge that is towed by a steel cable.
Since the bridge links two sides of the borders (to which the falls is a part of), there are border posts on the approach to the bridge. One end of the post is located at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe while the other end is located at Livingstone, Zambia.
The bridge is made from steel and is 198 meters long. The main arch of the bridge spans 156 meters with a height of 128 meters. The bridge acts as a road, railway, and footway in one. This is the only rail link connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The undulating landscape containing the fossil hominid sites of South Africa comprises dolomitic limestone ridges with rocky outcrops and valley grasslands, wooded along watercourses and in areas of natural springs. Most sites are in caves or are associated with rocky outcrops or water sources. The serial listing includes the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, and the Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site. The Taung Skull, found in a limestone quarry at Dart Pinnacle amongst numerous archaeological and palaeontological sites south-west of the Sterkfontein Valley area, is a specimen of the species Australopithecus Africanus. Fossils found in the many archaeological caves of the Makapan Valley have enabled the identification of several specimens of early hominids, more particularly of Paranthropus, dating back between 4.5 million and 2.5 million years, as well as evidence of the domestication of fire 1.8 million to 1 million years ago. Collectively these sites have produced abundant scientific information on the evolution of modern humans over at least the past 3.5 million years. They constitute a vast reserve of scientific information, with enormous potential.
The sites contain within their deposits all of the key interrelated and interdependent elements in their palaeontological relationships. Alongside and predating the hominid period of occupation is a sequence of fossil mammals, micro-mammals and invertebrates which provide a window onto faunal evolution, palaeobiology and palaeoecology stretching back into the Pliocene. This record has come to play a crucial role in furthering our understanding of human evolution and the appearance of modern human behaviour .
The fossil evidence contained within these sites proves conclusively that the African continent is the undisputed Cradle of Humankind.
Before I even arrived, I knew I was in for trouble. Every other time I’ve visited a paleontology world heritage site, I’ve faced the same problem: there is nothing to photograph! What makes the site significant are the fossils which have been unearthed and put into museums. Usually my only options are the visitor center or the landscape surrounding it. As you can see, I went for one of the original skulls currently residing in the museum.
That being said, the Cradle of Civilization site in Gauteng Province was unlike any other world heritage site I have ever visited. It is what it would look like if Disney ran a world heritage site. The visitor center was more of a science museum. They actually had a boat ride and an artificial canal inside the building! It was easily the best, most elaborate visitor center I’ve seen in my years of traveling and visits to several hundred world heritage sites. It appears to have been designed to handle the many school trips for all the students in the greater Johannesburg area.
The site is actually a serial site with several locations scattered around an area the size of a large city. The Cradle of Civilization is the main site, but there are others which can be visited. In particular, the Sterkfontein Caves are only a few kilometers from the visitor center, but were closed due to flooding during my visit.
The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa is a cultural UNESCO site in South Africa that was inscribed in 1999. This site is comprised of three limestone caves that were the site of hominid fossils. These fossils that were uncovered at the site were believed to be crucial in the understanding of how humankind has evolved. Hence, the universal significance of this site cannot be over-emphasized.
The oldest fossils that were retrieved from the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa were around 3.5 million years old. There are also findings of two hominid species based on the evidence gathered at the site. These two species were: Australopithecus robustus and Australopithecus africanus.
About Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa
The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa was inscribed by UNESCO in 1999 but it was extended in 2006. The extension was to include the Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site. In 2013, it was changed from The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs to its current official UNESCO name – Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa.
The site is located 45 kilometers west from Johannesburg. The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa is a collection of 13 sites at 13 separate locations. All of these sites are characterized by a landscape filled with low hills and limestone ridges.
The now-UNESCO site Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa was discovered by accident, along with its cultural value. The fossils were discovered as part of quarry activities on the area. Since the discovery of the importance of the site in terms of culture and history, the quarrying had been ceased. Today, archaeologists and researchers are hard at work to excavate the site in search for more fossils and evidence linking it to the past.
The entire area – all 470 square kilometers of it – is under private ownership. Hence, only the archaeological researchers are granted access to the site and it is off-limits to the general public. In 2006, the site’s protected area was expanded to include two other sites from a distant location: Taung Skull Fossil Site and Makapan Valley.
The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa was recognized by UNESCO due to the extraordinary amount of wealth of fossils and other evidence that would explain the evolution of humankind. It is believed that these fossils can be traced back to 3.3 million years in history. Among the notable specimens that are found in the site are as follows:
In addition to the aforementioned specimens, there are also several clues that would indicate the domestication and use of fire. This was a critical evolutionary landmark for humans. The Taung Skull remains as the most important fossil that was unearthed at the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa. This fossil was discovered in 1924 at a limestone quarry. Over the years, there have been various animal, insect, and plant species that were found at the site.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape demonstrates the rise and fall of the first indigenous kingdom in Southern Africa between 900 and 1,300 AD. The core area covers nearly 30,000 ha and is supported by a suggested buffer zone of around 100,000 ha. Within the collectively known Zhizo sites are the remains of three capitals – Schroda; Leopard’s Kopje; and the final one located around Mapungubwe hill – and their satellite settlements and lands around the confluence of the Limpopo and the Shashe rivers whose fertility supported a large population within the kingdom.
Mapungubwe’s position at the crossing of the north/south and east/west routes in southern Africa also enabled it to control trade, through the East African ports to India and China, and throughout southern Africa. From its hinterland it harvested gold and ivory – commodities in scarce supply elsewhere – and this brought it great wealth as displayed through imports such as Chinese porcelain and Persian glass beads.
This international trade also created a society that was closely linked to ideological adjustments, and changes in architecture and settlement planning. Until its demise at the end of the 13th century AD, Mapungubwe was the most important inland settlement in the African subcontinent and the cultural landscape contains a wealth of information in archaeological sites that records its development. The evidence reveals how trade increased and developed in a pattern influenced by an elite class with a sacred leadership where the king was secluded from the commoners located in the surrounding settlements.
Mapungubwe’s demise was brought about by climatic change. During its final two millennia, periods of warmer and wetter conditions suitable for agriculture in the Limpopo/Shashe valley were interspersed with cooler and drier pulses. When rainfall decreased after 1300 AD, the land could no longer sustain a high population using traditional farming methods, and the inhabitants were obliged to disperse. Mapungubwe’s position as a power base shifted north to Great Zimbabwe and, later, Khami.
The remains of this famous kingdom, when viewed against the present day fauna and flora, and the geo-morphological formations of the Limpopo/Shashe confluence, create an impressive cultural landscape of universal significance.
Having visited hundreds of world heritage sites, the term ‘cultural landscape’ always throws up a red flag for me. It is a catch all term for places which don’t have obvious artifacts or ruins. Some make for an OK visit, others leave me scratching my head.
Mapungubwe is certainly important in terms of African history. There is a lot which happened there. There was one of the most significant kingdoms to have arisen in early Africa and many important artifacts have been found at the site.
As I suspected, you aren’t going to see ruins or the remains of ancient structures during your visit. The landscape is interesting in its own right, but the history of the site isn’t explicitly tangible on the ground.
To get a sense of the history of the place you need to stop in the museum/interpretative center to get the whole story. Many of the original artifacts where were found are on display, including the most famous piece, the gold rhino.
Getting to Mapungubwe is not easy. It is located at the extreme northern end of South Africa on the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe. It is at least a 6 hour drive from Johannesburg with little in the way of towns and cities surrounding it. The closest town is Musina, which is a 45 minute drive away.
While there are camping options available in the park, I found that most of the major attractions could be seen self-driving within 2 hours. There are also guided tours available several times a day.
One thing of interest can be seen in the image above. In it, you can see three different countries: South Africa (foreground), Botswana (the island and left side of the river), and Zimbabwe (the right side of the river).
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is one of the cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Africa. It was inscribed in 2003 as it is the site of most important inland settlement in South Africa. In addition to the ancient settlement on this site, it is also known for engaging in trade activity for ivory and gold among the Swahili towns at the shore of Indian Ocean.
According to archaeological findings at the site, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape has undergone three stages of development. In fact, the earlier history of settlement and human activity at the site can be dated back to circa 900-1300 AD. The settlement would move from one area to another. The historical and cultural value of this site is part of the reason why it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
About Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is located on South Africa’s extreme northern region – close to the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe. This site boasts of cultural and historical significance for up to 400 years. In fact, many believe this is the site of the greatest kingdom from southern Africa. It definitely served as an important trading port for Eastern Africa wherein gold and ivory were traded.
Today, little remain of what was once a wealthy kingdom in Southern Africa. However, there are plenty of archaeological remains that had been preserved to tell the history of the site. In fact, the three palaces at the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape are still intact (or at least majority of its remains). There are also remains of a complex social structure, clay figurines, as well as copper and iron works.
The vast amount of remains in structure (such as palaces and other buildings linked to the reign of this kingdom) is a testament to the rise and fall of this kingdom. It was the archaeological team at University of Pretoria that did most of the excavations at the site to analyze evidence of its cultural and historical value. The excavations and studies were done since the site was discovered in 1932. Today, the university has an extensive collection of artifacts such as gold, human remains, and other materials that date back to this era. The archaeological team also managed to excavate up to 23 graves.
Since the 13th century, Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was abandoned. The change of climate and its declining role in the trading routes in the region contributed to the site being abandoned. As mentioned above, it was in the early 20th century when the site was re-discovered.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is part of a larger Mapungubwe National Park. Meanwhile, a bigger site known as Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area also encompasses this cultural landscape along with Limpopo-Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of the outstanding natural wetland and coastal sites of Africa. Covering an area of 239,566 ha, it includes a wide range of pristine marine, coastal, wetland, estuarine, and terrestrial environments which are scenically beautiful and basically unmodified by people. These include coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands, providing critical habitat for a wide range of species from Africa’s seas, wetlands and savannahs. The interaction of these environments with major floods and coastal storms in the Park’s transitional location has resulted in continuing speciation and exceptional species diversity. Its vivid natural spectacles include nesting turtles and large aggregations of flamingos and other waterfowl.
The property consists of 13 separate but contiguous conservation units totalling 239,566 ha including some 85,000 ha of marine reserves. Its history of conservation management dates back to 1895 when the first reserves were created by the Zululand Government, and later proposals for titanium sand mining were rejected. Ongoing integrity issues include the protection of catchment area and regional development (upstream water abstraction, agricultural practices and road construction); land claims (which may result in further boundary issues); resource harvesting and local community issues; and restoration of degraded habitats. A unified management system for all 13 components was also requested.
The park is not inhabited by people apart from six small townships in the Kosi Bay Coastal Forest Reserve (insert current number of inhabitants). There are also two villages (Makakatana and St Lucia Estuary) which are enclaves within the Park but not part of it. About 100,000 people from 48 tribal groups live in villages surrounding the Park and community conservation programmes are key to minimising conflicts and maximising benefits. A progressive neighbour-relations policy fosters good relations with communities who live near the Park to ensure that they derive direct benefits from the protected area such as free access, business and employment.
iSimangaliso was the first world heritage site in South Africa, having been inscribed to the list in 1999. Just a 2.5 hour drive north of Durban, it offers one of the best opportunities to view hippos in all of Africa. During my two days in St. Lucia, I saw hippos, cape buffalo, zebras, warthogs, eagles and antelope. The wildlife was abundant and in a very different environment than where you would normally take an African safari.
Even though most people (including myself) only visit the area around St. Lucia, the world heritage area extends all the way up to Mozambique, making it one of the largest protected areas in South Africa. Kruger National Park gets most of the attention in South Africa because it is an opportunity to view the big five, but iSimangaliso should be on everyone’s list as well. The animals and environment are different, but no less impressive. Given its close proximity to Durban, it should be considered part of your South African adventure.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa. It is located in KwaZulu-Natal and was established in 1895. However, it was inscribed in 1999 during the 23rd session of UNESCO. This park was once known as Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. This park is located about 275 kilometers from Durban, South Africa.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the third largest protected area in South Africa. The site spans 280 kilometers of coastline and consist of natural ecosystems. The park is currently governed and maintained by the iSimangaliso Authority.
About iSimangaliso Wetland Park
As of 2007, iSimangaliso Wetland Park was established as the new name for the South African park, which was once known as Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. The term “iSimangaliso” translates to “a miracle”. It is also composed of various natural features that include the following:
Lake St. Lucia
False Bay Park
St. Lucia Game Reserve
St. Lucia Marine Reserve
St. Lucia Marine Sanctuary
Mkuze Game Reserve
Lake Ertza Nature Reserve
Sodwana Bay National Park
Maputaland Marine Reserve
Mapelane Nature Reserve
iSimangaliso Wetland Park was recognized by UNESCO due to its rich biological diversity. It is a natural beauty and features unique ecosystems concentrated in a small area. The high level of diversity for the flora and fauna species is due to the different types of ecosystems that are present in the park. Some parts of the park feature coral reefs, while others consist of wetlands, savannas, and subtropical dune forests.
There are also several animals that have formed a habitat in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. These animals include black and southern white rhino, elephants, buffalo, and African leopard. In the water, there are plenty more animal species that inhabit the park such as marine turtles, whales, dolphins, and turtles. There are 800 hippopotami and 1,200 Nile crocodiles that call this park home. Meanwhile, the African lions were re-introduced to iSimangaliso Wetland Park in 2013.
Since being named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park has drawn tourists in. Thankfully, there is more than just natural beauty that is found in the area. There are several activities for tourists to do and enjoy while in the park. You can try boat cruises, game viewing, hiking, whale watching, kayaking, and fishing in this park.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a transboundary site composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. The site has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools. The site’s diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally important plants. The site harbors endangered species such as the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park also harbors the Maloti minnow (Pseudobarbus quathlambae), a critically endangered fish species only found in this park. This spectacular natural site contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. They represent the spiritual life of the San people, who lived in this area over a period of 4,000 years.
One of the pleasures of visiting World Heritage Sites is discovering great places you didn’t know about before hand. I had heard of the Drakensberg Mountains before I visited, but really knew nothing about them. I found them to be unlike anything I’ve seen South Africa. Mountainous and green, it was almost like driving through a well manicured lawn.
Maloti-Drakensberg is one of a small number of mixed world heritage sites which have been recognized for both their cultural and natural value. In addition to the stunning scenery, there are also Sani bushmen paintings scattered throughout the park. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of the paintings on my trip, but it would be the top priority on any return visits I make.
I did a day trip through the Drakensberg, up the Sani Pass, to Lesotho. The winding, gravel Sani Pass is the only road which connects the state of Kwazulu-Natal to the mountainous country of Lesotho. I wouldn’t attempt to drive up the Sani Pass yourself unless you have a sturdy 4×4 vehicle. It is probably easiest to join a tour for the Sani Pass. The rest of the park can be explored on your own.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lesotho and South Africa. It was inscribed in 2000 as a natural landscape and archaeological site known for its rock art. The massive collection of rock art in the site and the unique mountain landscape combine to earn the nod from UNESCO.
There are two components to the UNESCO site Maloti-Drakensberg Park. The first part is Ukhahalamba / Drakensberg Park in South Africa. The second component is located in Lesotho – Sehlabathebe National Park. This is Lesotho’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About the Maloti-Drakensberg Park
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park spans 2,493 square kilometers in land area, which is located on the mountains straddling the border of Lesotho and South Africa. Thus, this is a transboundary World Heritage Site.
The area protected by the UNESCO site Maloti-Drakensberg Park is known for its spectacular scenery. This park was established in June 2001. The highest peak rises to 3,482 meters, which is Thaba Ntleyana. Majority of the park constitutes the Drakensberg Mountains and it represents the highest point in this sub-region. The highest peak in the area along with the other natural features serves as an outdoor gallery for its exceptional natural beauty.
Maloti-Drakensberg Park is home to several endemic montane plant species. It is also known for its sub-alpine ecosystems. It is recognized globally for its animal and plant biodiversity. This is made possible with the unique habitat that has contributed to a high endemism level for the species that thrive in this region. This represents the natural value of this UNESCO site.
As for the cultural component, Maloti-Drakensberg Park is also home to a massive gallery of rock art. There are 600 known sites at the park that are believed to contain up to 40,000 images that were painted by the San people. The San people are reportedly the ancient settlers of this region about 4,000 years ago. The San People are hunter-gatherers lived in rock shelters and caves. The images that were depicted on these rock art sites show scenes of fighting, hunting, food gathering, human subjects, rituals, and more.
When you visit Maloti-Drakensberg Park, you can find a wide range of things to see or do. Hiking is the most popular activity at this UNESCO site. Recently, ‘wild camping’ has become a popular activity in the area among visitors.