Giants Castle Game Reserve, Drakensberg Ukhahlamba Park
Giant's Castle Game Reserve
Home of the eland and the majestic bearded vulture, lies in the Central Berg region of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, which is now a World Heritage Site. Giant's Castle camp is situated on a gassy plateau among the deep valleys running down from the face of the High Drakensberg, offering glorious views for hikers and mountain climbers. The area is steeped in history, and superb rock art is high among its special attractions. The renowned vulture restaurant is open in winter for visitors to watch bearded vultures and other endangered species feeding. Guests longing for more insight into the Giants Castle history can visit the Main Caves Museum for fascinating insights into the past lifestyle of the San people.
At Giants Castle reserve, there is a large sandstone cave containing prehistoric San rock art. This cave is one of the biggest and best preserved painted sites in southern Africa. This cave is an easy 30 minute walk from the camp office and regular guided tours are taken through this unique exhibition from 09h00 to 15h00 daily for a small fee. A visit to Giant's Castle offers the privilege of entering the world of the San as well as the opportunity to study a varied and exciting range of habitats. The San Art Museum ("Main Cave") is a gentle 30 minute walk from the main camp while the grasslands, marshy areas (vleis), indigenous forests and many other energy flow ecosystems are easily accessible.
Game populations in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park are kept at a level that can be sustained by winter grazing because with neighboring farms and fences, the wildlife is no longer able to migrate into lower more plentiful lands. As part of the grassland management programme, large areas of the park are burnt annually to improve and maintain quality grasslands. Eland antelope and chacma baboons are commonly seen. Mountain Reedbuck and the rare caracal are occasionally spotted. There is a "Vulture Restaurant" where one may watch the Bearded Vulture [Lammergeyer] as well as other raptors.
History Of The Region
The Drakensberg was once inhabited by the San people, formerly known as the Bushmen. They were hunters and gatherers who lived in caves and other suitable dwellings. They have left us many of their paintings on the sandstone cliffs and cave walls, depicting their way of life and the various animals and people they encountered. In due course, the Amazizi, a tribe of the Nguni race arrived, and occupied the river valleys and approaches to the Drakensberg mountains. They were pastoralists and agriculturalists, while the San people never tilled the soil or kept cattle. As there was no clash of interests, there was peace between the San and the Amazizi.
In the early 1800's due to a series of events in Zululand, the Amazizi were attacked by the Amangwane. The Amazizi sought refuge in the mountains which were occupied by the San people and they clashed, probably over cattle. The Amahlubi moved into the valleys now vacated by the Amazizi but they, in turn, were still fighting the Amangwane. The Amahlubi were thus forced into the mountains just as the Amazizi had been. For ten years the wars raged until the Amangwane eventually settled in the valleys, having disposed of the Amazizi and the Amahlubi. Four years later The Zulu King Shaka's troops attacked the Amangwane who fled westwards into the mountains.
After this period of slaughter and destruction, relative peace returned to the Drakensberg mountains and the survivors of the various tribes came down from the mountains and re-established themselves in the river valleys. This alleviated the pressure on the San people who had been badly affected by these wars. Respire was brief as within ten years the arrival of the Voortrekkers and the English settlers led to further troubles. The clash over hunting grounds, private ownership of land, and the arrival of cattle led to increasing numbers of cattle raids by the San people. Eventually the situation became so bad that the San themselves were hunted and decimated by the settlers.
In 1849, due to the failure of various attempts to prevent the cattle raids, a series of buffer "native locations" were established between the settlers and the Drakensberg mountains. For some years thereafter, raids, particularly in the Bushman's River area near Giant's Castle, ceased almost entirely. A brief resurgence in cattle raids followed in the late 1850's through to the 1870's after which the raids fell off sharply.The last sighting of San people in the Drakensberg mountains was in the early 1880's
During the end of 1873 and the beginning of 1874, Giant's Castle became internationally known as the site of the Langalibalele Rebellion. For some months a detachment of the 75th Regiment of the 1st Gordon Highlanders was encamped just below the Main Caves at the junction of the Bushman's River and the Two Dassie stream which rises in the Langalibalele Pass. The cook of the detachment carved the figure 75 on a very large sandstone boulder which can be seen to this day.