Roughly translated, the Drakensberg means “dragon mountains” or “mountains of the dragon”. The mountain range stretches more than a 1000 km from the Eastern Cape Province in the South through Kwa-Zulu Natal, Lesotho, the Free State , through Mpumalanga Province and ends up North through Limpopo where it is known as” klein Drakensberge”.
Some of the peaks are mammoth in size and is on average 2900 meters high. The highest peak is Thabana Ntlenyana and reaches 3482 meters above sea level. The mountain is a dynamic wonderland and home to river valleys, foothills, stunning waterfalls, rock pools, mountain streams as well as caves. These majestic Drakensberg is over 180 million years old.
The Drakensberg is the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment which encloses the central Southern African plateau. It is within the borders of South Africa as well as Lesotho. In the summer it is very warm and many travellers will visit this region during December to February. During the winter the mountains are dusted with snow and is transformed into a winter wonderland.
Within the Drakensberg of Kwa-Zulu Natal lies the 243 000 hectare mountain region that is a world heritage site. It is known as Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park that has around 300 San rock art sites with over 35 000 paintings in caves all around the park depicting humans, animals and complex spiritual life of the San stretching over a period of 4000 years. It is also home to a huge diversity of plans and animal species.
The very high treeless peaks of the Drakensberg are the furthest South in Africa and farther away from the equator. Therefor this provides cooler habitats and lower elevations than most mountain ranges in Africa. High rainfall generates mountain streams and rivers. These rivers include the mighty Orange River as well as the Tugela River.
The mountains are very rich in plant life and includes 119 species listed as globally endangered. There are more than 2000 plant species and 98 of them are endemic. The flora of the high grasslands is mainly creeping plants as well small shrubs. Included in this is the rare Spiral Aloe which has a spiral shape. In the meantime, the lower slopes are home to conifers (Podocarpus) which are rare in Africa. It contains a great number of endemic plants and grasses found here includes oat and caterpillar grass to name just two. In the highest part of the mountains the flora depends on the slope and varies depending on the hardness of the rock clasts.
The Drakensberg area is home to 299 recorded bird species. This makes up 37% of all non-marine avian species in southern Africa. This is a wonderful place to visit for all bird lovers, you will probably not even have enough time to see even half of them on a visit. You will also find 24 species of snakes of which two are highly venomous. So be careful when you go for walks!
There is one bird that is endemic to the high peaks, the mountain pipit, and another six species are also found mainly in this area. Th endangered Cape vulture and lesser kestrel are two birds of pry that hunt in the mountains. There are also mammals found here including the klipspringer, eland and mountain reedbuck. These are all types of antelope. You will also be able to see three endemic species of frogs in the mountain streams. Fish are also found in many rivers and streams including the Maluti redfin.
The lower slopes of the Drakensberg support a lot of wildlife. Perhaps the most important of these are the rare southern white rhinoceros as well as the black wildebeest. It is also home to large herds of grazing flowers and antelopes. Endemic species include a large number of chameleons as well as other reptiles.
This is a wonderful are to visit, something you must see. The view is absolutely breath taking and you will not be disappointed in the beauty of the snow on the mountain tops or the wonderful grass cover in the summer. Go and visit, you will love it.
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Agriculture in South Africa contributes to around 10% of formal employment. Because of the aridity of the land, only 13.5% can be used for crop production.
South Africa has a very large agricultural sector and is a net exporter of farming products. Agriculture exports constitute around 8% of South Africa’s total exports. South Africa is the 8th largest producer of wine, 11th largest producer of sunflower seed and exports products as well as foodstuffs.
The largest items being exported are sugar, grapes, citrus, nectarines, wine and deciduous fruit. Diamonds, gold, platinum, machinery, equipment and other metals and minerals also makes up a big part of our exports.
The largest locally produced crop is maize with an estimated 9 million tons being produced every year, of which 7.4 million tons are being consumed in the country. This is the country’s dietary staple as well as a source of livestock feed. Other agricultural products include wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, mutton, wool and dairy products
Grains and cereals are South Africa’s most important crops, occupying more than 60 percent of hectare under cultivation in the 1990s.
Livestock is another very popular farming in South Africa. 85% of all meat consumed are produced locally on these farms. The dairy industry consists of more than 4 300 milk producers and provides employment for more than 60 000 farm workers.
The agricultural sector has introduced controversial reforms over the past years, which includes land reform. Farmers feel they are discriminated against (most farmers are white) and the people waiting for the land, feels that the reform is not developing quickly enough.
Two major challenges that the industry faces are the increase of foreign competition as well as crime. Crime against farmers are often (but not always) racially motivated.
More than 1 800 farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994 which caused farmers to flee to the cities. Due to this and other troubles, there are now only 25 000 commercial farmers as opposed to 85 000 in 1994. Productivity has decreased by 50%.
South Africa’s natural resources include gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, tin, nickel, phosphates, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper, salt, natural gas and vanadium. Industries includes mining (world’s largest producer of platinum, gold and chromium), metalworking, machinery, automobile assembly, textile, iron and steel, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair as well as chemicals.
South Africa is situated just south of the tropic of Capricorn. This causes that the country is mostly dry and sunny, but the climate is moderated by its topography and surrounding oceans.
South Africa has a great variety of climates from the extreme desert of the Kalahari bordering Namibia to the subtropical climate along the border with Mozambique. There is a considerable variation in the climate. Take the North-West of the country, the Karoo along the Kalahari desert which is very dry and sparsely populated. It gets very warm in the summer while it is icy in the winter.
The South West is very similar to the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Much of South Africa’s wine is produced in this area. This region is also known for its wind that blows throughout the year, either from the south-east or the north-west.
The severity of this wind passes around the Cape of Good Hope, causing many problems for sailors and has caused many shipwrecks. Further east on the southern coast, rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year, producing green landscapes. This area is the garden route, a great attraction for many tourists.
The Highveld (Gauteng) does not experience subtropical extremes of heat. Johannesburg is at 1 740 m and has very cold winters. Snow in this area is very rare. To the north and east of Johannesburg the altitude drops and turns into the Lowveld. Particularly high temperatures are experienced here.
The Drakensberg mountains does have snow in the winter, but the coldest place in South Africa is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld mountains where midwinter temperatures can reach -15 degrees Celsius. The deep interior has the hottest temperatures. In 1948 a temperature of 51.7 degrees Celsius was recorded in the Northern Cape, Kalahari near Upington.
South Africa has more than 20 000 different plants. This is about 10% of all the known plant species on earth. Fynbos, one of the six floral kingdoms, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9 000 of those species, making it among the greenest places on earth.
A total of 1% of South Africa is forest and almost exclusively located in the humid coastal plain in KwaZulu-Natal (along the Indian Ocean). This part of South Africa is a stranger to frost.
The only two major rivers in South Africa is the Limpopo (which is shared with Zimbabwe) and the Orange river which runs across the central landscape from east to west, emptying into the Atlantic ocean. Because this is such a dry country, dams are extremely important. The largest dam is the Gariep on the Orange River.
Let’s have a look at the climate and expected temperatures of each province individually:
This lovely province enjoys hot summers and mild, green winters. It also has its rainfall in the winter months, the opposite to the rest of the country. This weather is ideal for the production of fruit, wine as well as grains. Average temperatures are around 26 degrees Celsius, but it can get cold in the winter, specially in the mornings.
The Northern cape is a semi-arid region with only a little rainfall in the summer. The weather is very extreme, cold and frosty in winter, while it has extremely high temperatures in the summer. Temperatures ranges between -6 degrees Celsius in the winter and anything from 30 degrees Celsius in the summer.
This area enjoys hot summers and moderate winters with a summer rainfall. Maximum summer temperatures on average are around 27 degrees Celsius while the minimum temperature in winter can be as low as 7 degrees Celsius or less.
Here you can enjoy hot summers with sunny days. Average temperatures varies between around 25 – 34 degrees Celsius. The winter days can be relatively warm, but during the evenings and early morning, it can be chilly. Rainfall is also during the summer.
This is a summer rainfall area and is warm in the summer but cold in the winter months. Temperatures drop to around 9 degrees Celsius or less. The areas to the west and south are semi-desert.
This province experiences eternal summer. It has a tropical climate with a very generous rainfall during the summer. During these summer months, it can get extremely hot and humid along the coastline. Average temperatures during the winter can be as high as 22 degrees Celsius.
This province has a hot summer with a summer rainfall and mild winters. It can become very cold in the highveld areas.
Gauteng province offers one of the world’s best climates. During the summer months, days are very warm, but mostly wind-free. In the winter, the days are crisp and clear. It has a summer-rainfall with hot summers and winters with frost. Hail is very common during the summer thunderstorms. Gauteng is also known for its electric storms where the lightning lights up the skies and the thunder is overwhelming, but no rain falls, leaving an amazing smell in the air. Snowfall rarely occurs during the winter, but is possible.
Limpopo has very hot, but yet pleasant summers and dry winters. It has almost year-round sunshine with a summer rainfall. Average summer temperatures are around 27 – 30 degrees Celsius (it can be higher).
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces. These provinces are the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Free State, KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North Western Province and the Limpopo.
You can reach these provinces by flying to one of the domestic or international airports. The other option you have is to rent a car and drive yourself. Remember that South Africa occupies 4% of the continent’s total land mass and covers an area of around 1 221 040 square kilometers.
South Africa measures around 1 600 km from North to South and again almost the same from East to West. South Africa is three times the size of Texas and five times larger than Great Britain. So make sure you have a map and a lot of time to see and experience everything 🙂
South Africa’s geographic co-ordinates are 29 00 S, 24 00 E and has 6 bordering counties and they are from the eastern to the western side, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by South Africa).
According to the census of 2011, South Africa has a population of nearly 52 million of which 79% are black (African), 9% white, 9% coloured, 2.5% Indian/Asian and 0.5% other. Around 75% are Christian, 2% Muslim and 1.5% Hindu.
Gauteng is the highest populated province with 23.7% of the population, followed by KwaZulu Natal with 19.8%. Eastern Cape has 12.7%, Western Cape 11.3%, Limpopo 10.4%, North West 6.8% and Free State 5.3%. Although the Northern Cape is the largest province covering around a third of the whole of South Africa, it is an arid land area and the population is only 2.2%.
Around 21% of the population are living with aids and the life expectancy is 43. The unemployment rate is close to 26% and around 50% are living under the poverty line (data from 2003).
The time in South Africa operates two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (standard time +02:00 UTC/GMT) throughout the year. Therefor it is an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time and 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time.
Protea – National Flower
The King (or giant) Protea is the national flower of South Africa and is widely distributed in the South-western and Southern areas of the Western Cape. This is a beautiful pink flower that can be found in the Fynbos area. There are over 114 species in Africa, of which 82 occur in Southern Africa. Of these, 69 are found in the coastal region of the Cape Province. The genus is part of the Proteacaeae and is confined to the Southern Hemisphere. The Protea also lends its name to the national cricket team of South Africa.
Springbok – National Animal
The Springbok is a small brown and white antelope that stands about 80 cm high. The male can weigh anything up to 50 kg while the females can weigh up to 38 kg. Typical of this species is the jumping display, which leads to its common name. “Spring” is the Afrikaans word for jump and “bok” means antelope or deer. The springbok lives in the dry inland areas of central Africa. They used to be very common, but the numbers have been declining, due to increased hunting and more land being fenced off as farms. They do remain common though on privately owned land and in national parks. The Springbok is also the name of the national rugby team.
From time to time the Springbok goes into repeated high leaps of up to 4 meters into the air. This is known as “pronking”. “Pronk” is the Afrikaans word for showing off. While the Springbok does this, he leaps back into the air as soon as it lands again, with his back bowed and the white fan lifted. Springboks show this behaviour when they are nervous or otherwise excited. One of the theories why they “pronk”, is to show off their strength and fitness to their predators so they can go focus a weaker member of the group. Another theory is that this indicates to the predator that they have been spotted. When they try and flee from a predator, the Springbok doesn’t “pronk”, but they run at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour.
Galjoen – National Fish – Native to South Africa
The Galjoen (known as black bream or black fish in KwaZulu-Natal) is a game fish that is only found along the South African coast. It keeps to shallow water, often found in rough surf or sometimes right next to the shore, known to every angler. The Galjoen is almost completely black when near the rocks, while its colour is silver-bronze when in sandy areas.
This fish can be over 50 cm in length and 6 kg in weight, but the average fish is a little smaller. Its fins are well-developed with a prominent spine and the scales are very firmly attached. The Galjoen mainly eats red bait and small mussels.
Blue Crane – National Bird – Native to South Africa
The Blue Crane (bloukraanvoël) is very elegant, stands about one meter high and is almost entirely restricted to South Africa. It is pale blue-grey in colour with a white crown, a pink bill and a long and very dark grey wing tip feathers which trail to the ground. They live of the dry, grassy uplands and feed on seeds and insects. They are altitude migrants, moving down to lower altitudes for the winter.
The Blue Crane is the most restricted in its distribution of the 15 crane species. A sudden population decline from around the 1980 has caused for the Blue Crane to now be classified as critically endangered. The population in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Gauteng Provinces has declined by 90% in the last two decades and has largely disappeared from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and Swaziland. A small number still remains in Namibia and isolated breeding pairs are found in the bordering countries. The 2 biggest reasons for the decline are human population growth and deliberate poisoning to protect crops. The government has stepped up legal protection and conservation measures are taken to protect this endangered bird.
Real Yellowwood – National Tree – Native to South Africa
The real Yellowwood has been present in this part of Africa for more than 100 millions years. This is a very large, slow-growing, evergreen tree that grows up to 40m high with a trunk diameter of around 3m. The leaves are strap-shaped and can be around 25 mm long on mature trees or even 100 mm on larger trees. The cones are berry like and have a single seed that is around 10 mm. The aril is edible and nice and sweet. The bark is a khaki colour when young, but can turn greyish when it is old. Only a little of these trees are being cut down today.
The real Yellowwood is native to the moister southern areas of the country. It is widespread and can be found from Table Mountain in the Western Cape, along the Drakensberg in the KwaZulu-Natal province (in the east) up to the Soutpansberg and Blouberg in the Limpopo Province, up north.