Giants Castle Overnight Hike

drakensberg mountains, Giants Castle
Drakensberg Mountains, Giants Castle

We spent two short but beautiful days backpacking and wild camping on a fairly easy but magical hike in the Giants Castle section of the Drakensberg.

Drakensberg Mountains in the sunshine, Giants Castle region, South Africa

Location

This hike starts from Giant’s Castle Camp in the Central Drakensberg. It’s about 3 hours drive from Durban and 5½ hours from Johannesburg. We drove here from Cathedral Peak Hotel, 2 hours 45 mins away to the north. If you don’t have a car, check out the options for car hire from Johannesburg* or Durban*.

At Giant’s Castle Camp we got a permit for a night of camping on the mountains and signed the mountain register. We visited the Main Caves on the route out, spent the rest of the afternoon walking before setting up our tent, and returned to camp by around lunchtime the following day. This hike could alternatively be done in one long day.

Tips

  • Make sure to sign the mountain register at the camp reception before you leave.
  • Make sure to sign it again when you get back!
  • We used the Cicerone hiking guide: Walking in the Drakensberg*, to plan this hike. It also suggests other hikes both here and elsewhere in the Drakensberg.
  • In summer start hiking early to avoid the common summer afternoon thunderstorms, and in winter start early to use the day light.
  • We hiked in May when the weather was perfect though slightly cold at nighttime.
  • We hiked this as part of a 12-Day Drakensberg Trip, and went to Rhino Peak next.

Main Caves of Giants Castle

We bought tickets for the Main Caves Tour (45 Rand per person, on the hour every hour 9 am-4 pm) at the camp reception. The Main Caves are about 30 minutes walk from the Camp, along the route for this hike.

Hiking to the Main Cave in Giants Castle, Drakensberg
On the way to the Main Caves just after leaving the Rest Camp

The caves contain cave paintings, some very old and some as recent as a few hundred years. You buy your ticket at the reception but have to arrive at the caves in time for the tour which starts there, not directly from the reception, so allow 30 minutes for this easy walk.

Main Cave at Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa
Main Cave paintings at Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa
Main Cave paintings at Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

I would definitely recommend the tour as it’s very interesting and on the route anyway.

Afternoon Hike

After the cave tour we continued into the mountains, on the left-hand bank of Bushman’s River.

Golden grass of the Drakensberg hills, South Africa
Golden grass of the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

The path climbs gradually up a ridge, with easy walking, simple navigation and no technical difficulties.

Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

After about 10 km we reached the contour path, heading left (east) for a couple of fairly flat kilometres to the camping spot we’d been aiming for.

Camping Wild in Giants Castle

We pitched our tent at a ruined hut, previously a hut used by hikers that was damaged by weather. The hut sits by the path on flat grassland in a bit of a bowl, with fantastic views of the high escarpment behind.

Far away hut in Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa
The hut is at path-level in this lovely grassland
Hut in Giants Castle, Drakensberg, South Africa
View from the window of the ruined hut

It was a great place to camp with plenty of flat ground and water not too far away. This spot is also roughly half-way around the route, right in the middle of the Giants Castle area.

Camping in the Drakensberg Mountains and sunrise, South Africa
Sunrise

We were treated to an incredible sunrise the next morning, with the sky gradually turning from red, to orange, pink then yellow and finally brilliant blue. After breakfast we started hiking, flat at first and then downhill.

Sunrise with tent and hiker in the Drakensberg, South Africa
Sunrise from camp in the Drakensberg, South Africa
Sunrise with tent in the Drakensberg, South Africa

Morning hike back down

Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa
Looking back at the mountains before heading down

It was an easy 12 km hike back down to the rest camp with beautiful views and an easy, clear path.

Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

As we descended, the rest camp appeared in the valley below us and soon we arrived back, around lunchtime. We then set off on a 4-hour drive south to Garden Castle where we hiked Rhino Peak.

Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains
Leaving the hills
Giants Castle Camp, Drakensberg, South Africa
Almost back at the rest camp below

Geology – Dykes

Dykes are linear features made of hard rock that often stick out and cut straight through the landscape.

Dykes are formed when molten volcanic rock, under high pressure, cracks the surrounding rock and flows through it, gradually cooling down and solidifying. The rock that forms the dyke is often made of harder material that erodes less easily than the surrounding rock. This means that as the surroundings erode away, the dyke remains and becomes a prominent feature.

Basaltic dyke in Giants Castle, Drakensberg
A dyke cutting through the landscape
Basaltic dyke in Giants Castle, Drakensberg
Next to the dyke

The dykes in the Drakensberg are made of basalt and were formed about 180 million years ago, in the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs were roaming the earth. They can be easily spotted in the Giants Castle region, and this walk passes over a few of them.

Click to find out more about our 12 Day Trip to the Drakensberg, hiking up Rhino Peak in the southern Drakensberg or Camdeboo National Park where we went next.

Giants Castle, Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

2 comments

  1. Kindly advise on best possible route from Giants Camp to the Giants Castle Peak…
    Thank you

    1. Hi Vimal, the best route would be to head up Giant’s Ridge (heads up from Bushmans River just past the Main Caves) from Giants Castle Camp until the Contour Path. Hike 2 km west along the Contour Path, then you’ll reach the path that heads steeply up the escarpment to Giant’s Pass. From there, you can head towards Giant’s Castle Peak. It’s about 15 km each way to the top with roughly 1700 metres climb. It’s a serious hike that you shouldn’t attempt without a map, good navigational skills and a high level of fitness. Most people take two days to do this hike, wild camping on the way up.

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