Route 6: Sentinel to Cathedral Peak Traverse

Sentinel to Cathedral Peak Traverse (Northern Traverse)

This route wasn’t previously rated by the National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 best hikes for nothing. That is right, it is that good! This route is also known as the Mini Traverse because it features the first five days of the ultimate Drakensberg hike, the Grand Traverse. It features many of the Drakensberg’s most well-known landmarks, like the Amphitheatre, Tugela Waterfall and Madonna and Her Worshippers. This route is hands down a Drakensberg ultra-classic.

Day 1 – Sentinel Car Park to Tugela Waterfall

Day 1 is fairly relaxed. Highlights of the day are Sentinel Peak followed fairly quickly by an ascent of the escarpment summit either via the well-known Chain Ladders or the Gully. Once you’re up there soak up the sights of the world-famous Amphitheatre. And don’t forget about the Tugela Waterfall, where you will be standing atop the highest waterfall in the world (948m).

  • Distance: 6km
  • Height gain: 540m

Day 2 – Tugela Waterfall to Madonna and Her Worshippers

Starting the day the route takes a turn inland. Here you get a real feel for the ruggedness of the Kingdom of Lesotho. The end of the day’s hike is undoubtedly the highlight. The descent from the Mbundini Abbey provides great vistas of the Mnweni area and beyond. Madonna and Her Worshippers, where the day’s campsite is, are unique rock spires carved out by years of weathering. At sunrise, beautiful views and colours can be captured on camera in this spot.

  • Distance: 13km
  • Height gain: 460m

Day 3 – Madonna and Her Worshippers to the Orange River

Another big and beautiful day. Shortly after departure ascending the Hanging Valleys you will be greeted by arguably the most beautiful view of the Mnweni Cutback. Shortly after follows a long contour path to the source of Orange River, South Afirca’s longest river (2432km). The latter part of this trail is particularly good. It follows a path along the escarpment edge you would almost think only the Basotho know, it is kind of hidden. Peaks of the area are legendary, like the Inner and Outer Mnweni Pinnacles and Needles and of course Mponjwane, or the Rockeries Tower. If you have that little bit left in the tank you might as well push for the Mponjwane Cave. The view from this spot is on another level, especially at sunrise.

  • Distance: 12km
  • Height gain: 470m

Day 4 – Orange River Source to Twins Cave

Straight away the views keep coming. Moving past the Rockeries you get some perspective of the smallness and isolation of your position. Cape Vulture colonies nesting on the cliffs is a definite highlight. As soon as you move past the bulk of the Saddle you are nearing Cathedral Peak territory. Before descending the last bit to Twins Cave have a look at what you are up against on day 4. Spend the night in the ever-popular Twins Cave, a Berg hotel.

  • Distance: 14km
  • Height gain: 400

Day 5 – Twins Cave to Cathedral Peak Hotel

The Bell Traverse on its own is nothing less than world-class. This is the last place where you thought you would have walked. The views are unbeatable. It is a high contour path meandering around huge features like Mitre, Chessman, the Horns, the Bell, and of course Cathedral Peak itself. If the Bell Traverse is not for you the descent down the Mlambonja Pass is short, a lot more direct and easier.

  • Distance: 18km
  • Height loss: 1530m

More information

Core activity: Mountain walking (hiking).
Region: Northern Drakensberg.
Duration: 5 days.
Variation: This hike can be shortened to four days by combining days 1 and 2.
When to go: All year. Best from April to July.
Itinerary rating: Moderate to hard.
Other information: No experience is required. All the relevant information will be provided once an enquiry has been made.
Departure time (hiking): Around 10:00.
Arrival time (hiking): Around 16:00.