Giant's Cup Trail

Underberg, Kwazulu Natal

Forming part of the Drakensberg National Hiking Way, this trail has all the regular attractions you'd expect from a hike in the mountains: panoramic views galore, varying terrain, steep climbs, weathered rock formations, streams, caves and pools a' plenty. Some of the caves even have San paintings. This is a 5-day hike with cabins usually situated in the valleys. The trail starts from the Sani Pass (in the North) and ends (59,3km later) at Bushman's Nek (in the South). Although there are quite a few steep climbs it's not strenuous, as the distances between huts are not overly long. So you may take the trail slowly and enjoy the scenery at leisure. It's even recommended for children, so near anyone may enjoy this trail. Just ensure your bookings are correct, as we had booked the first day at the wrong hut on the wrong date. This made for an early start, driving to Sani Pass and doing 2 days worth of hiking in one – making the 5 day trail into 4.

It's not a round route, so it would be advised to either arrange transport or park a few vehicles at the end-point. Described here is the 5-day backpacking option. Although we did it slightly differently, I'll try to split it to the correct days.

Day 1 – 6 hours, 13.3km
 Starting from the foot of the well known Sani Pass (the highest mountain pass in South Africa). We overnighted at Pholela hut and drove the next morning to the Sani Pass start point. It starts through a river valley, lunch at the Ngenwa pool. There's also a cave a bit further along. Then climbs into the scenic Pholela valley. The end of day 1 is marked with the crossing of a suspension bridge. Overnight at Pholela hut (Cobham reserve), is an original farmhouse altered as little as possible.

Day 2 – 3.5 hours, 9km

After ascending a long slope past some tortoise shaped rocks it drops into a river valley. The Bathplug cave (named after the hole in the floor through witch water pours) is a suitable lunch spot. This cave also contains some Bushman art. Some of the indigenous flora along the trail include Cape Holly, Yellowwood, Cabbage Tree, Proteas, Tree ferns, Watsonias and Gladioli. Overnight at Mzimkhulwana hut (Cobham reserve) snuggled between the trees next to the river. We continued past and took lunch at this hut. 

Day 3 – 5.5 hours, 12.2km

As you climb towards the Little Bamboo mountain (named for the local form of bamboo) some spectacular vistas open. You may spot some Blue Cranes as you pass Crane Tarn. Most of the Scottish settler's farms have typical Scottish names, such as Inverness and Stormness. The Killiecrankie pools make for a nice lunch & cool-down spot. A portion of this walk is on tarred road - just before your reach the hut. Overnight at Winterhoek hut (Garden Castle) after walking between the farms. We met a gaggle of geese at the huts.


Day 4 – 6 hours, 12.8km

As you climb steeply towards Garden Castle, you have a view of the rock formations which give it its name. This section has few streams in the dry season, so ensure you've taken enough water at Winterhoek. Then a sharp drop to the plain (Mzimunde valley) and continue past the Drakensberg Gardens Sun golf course. Level terrain towards the overnight at Swiman hut (Garden Castle), nestled in a clump of pines.


Day 5 – 4 hours, 12km

Cross through the Mzimunde valley and climb again towards the fire lookout post. Along the way you pass the Langalibalele cave with more Bushman paintings. After crossing the saddle (just below the lookout point) a drop towards the Bushmans Nek hut. This section was burnt just before our walk and resembled a desolate dead wasteland. You may bypass the hut if not sleeping over, a short-cut leads towards the parking area close to the reserve's entry point. After crossing the dead landscape an eagle circled me, I wonder what it had in mind.

The trail is well defined and marked with cairns at strategic points. It changes with the seasons, as can be expected, so timing may affect your perception. Make sure to find out about burning schedules, as the area is annually burnt at the start of spring – making for a bleak moonscape in places. It would be possible to start from most of the huts and there is even a slackpacking version available. Each of the huts can accommodate 30 people and has basic facilities including showers, toilets, bunk beds with mattresses, benches and tables. Firewood is not included, but is available at Pholela and Swiman huts. No fires are allowed at Mzimkhulwana, Winterhoek and Bushmans Nek huts.

Thanks to Raoule Barnard for the content of this page

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