About Mariepskop Nature Reserve

Mariepskop Mountain is the highest peak in the northern Drakensberg. It stands tall on the eastern side of the Drakensberg Escarpment, its back to the Blyde River Canyon. Ascend the mountain and you will stand 1 945 metres above sea level, the Indian Ocean and even Maputo visible on a cloudless day. To reach the top there is a steep pass between Klaserie and the ridge of the Drakensberg.

Did you know? This wilderness is not only incredibly scenic but is also incredibly biodiverse.

Because of its height the mountain has a history of service to the military. On its summit is an SAAF radar station, a microwave tower and forestry fire look-out posts. As a result any development of the area has been kept to a minimum and the mountain and surrounding nature reserve remain a natural wilderness.

Whilst the foothills lie in Savannah, the mountain is also the source of the Klaserie River, which flows down through the valley below, and the slopes of Mariepskop are adorned with pristine montane forest, kloofs and crags.

At its summit the mountain is a mixture of tropical mist forest and fynbos with well over 2 000 plant species and 1 400 floral species. These botanical wonders result in an unusual collection of animals in the reserve, including the endemic Mariepskop dwarf chameleon and a flat gecko specific to the reserve, known as the three rondavels flat gecko. The samango monkey (South Africa's only forest monkey) too makes this remote wilderness its home.

Few people know about Mariepskop or the pass, so it is not unusual to have much of the indigenous forest to yourself. The department of Water Affairs and Forestry run the nature reserve and offer basic overnight camping or chalets, and you will need a permit from them to hike or bird here.

Hikes include the Bushpig, Loerie and Magi Day trails, best done with a guide (the forestry office will provide booklets and recommendations).

For birders the patches of fynbos high up on Mariepskop give rise to an extraordinary number of birds that are difficult to spot anywhere else, like Gurney's sugarbird, and the Cape canary. The combination of bushveld, montane forest and fynbos is infinitely rewarding to the birder, and raptors favour the peak. On the way up the pass look out for red-collared widowbird and Steppe buzzard.

Take note that the dirt road from the foot of the mountain to the forestry office necessitates a high clearance vehicle.

Need to Know

WhereNear Blyde River Canyon, Panorama Route, Mpumalanga, South Africa

OvernightStay in Panorama Route Accommodation, Mpumalanga

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