Year in the Wild Blog

Day 7 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Didima Valley and rock paintings

Although the Cathedral Peak area of the Drakensberg is very, very beautiful, it is probably more famous for it’s spectacular rock art paintings. The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains are a world heritage site, both for it’s natural diversity and beauty, and also because it is home to one of the largest collections of rock art in the world.

There are more than 30 000 individual paintings in these mountains, across more than 600 sandstone shelters and caves. And the Didima valley in the Cathedral Peak area hosts the most concentrated collection of rock art in the Drakensberg. There are thousands of paintings in this one valley!

Visitors should definitely visit the Didima Rock Art Centre for an excellent introduction to rock art in southern Africa, and its meaning and importance. Most paintings here are about 3 000 to 4 000 years old, but some are as old as 8 000 and the most recent are just a few hundred years old.

Painted by the Bushmen, the original inhabitants of South Africa, the figures on the sandstone walls have survived millennia, and it’s a great credit to the ancient artists who applied the paint mixture so carefully and delicately.

There are only a few sites in the Drakensberg open to the public, but we received permission from the heritage agency Amafa to visit one of the most special of these sandstone shelters in the Didima area.

Guided by accredited local guide Wiseman Mdluli, we spent a few hours hiking along a non-descript route, cresting a high, steep ridge, and eventually finding ourselves in a huge sandstone overhang. On the walls of this shelter are more than 1 600 figures, many of which are thousands of years old. According to experts, it’s one of the most special rock art sites globally.

It’s also a poignant place, because it was here in the 1920s that a local farmer found a Bushmen hunting kit, with a bow and some arrows. Clearly, this was one of the last places that the Drakensberg Bushmen had lived, hiding away in this remote valley of the rugged mountains. Of course, by the 1900s almost all the Bushmen – who had lived here for over 10 000 years – were either amalgamated into the local Zulu culture, or exterminated by colonial powers. Their rock paintings are the evidence of their existence – and their connectedness to nature. For me, the experience of standing in a shelter like this one is equivalent to being in th the Louvre gallery in Paris or the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Perhaps it’s even more impressive…after all, the Bushmen paintings are far older, and are probably equally metaphorical and symbolic in their design. What’s more, all these paintings are outside, on sandstone rock, in one of the more beautiful mountain ranges on Earth.

Visiting this particular cave is a superlative experience, and if you’re serious about rock art, then contact Celeste Rossouw at Amafa, the provincial heritage agency which controls access to the rock art sites. She’ll put you in touch with a guide who can take you there.

The sandstone shelter we visited has a setting befitting of all it's rock paintings...a waterfall tumbles over the entrance, and you have to walk behind it to see the rock art.

Lots of these butterflies flew out from the shelter when we arrived...Bushmen spirits perhaps?

The panel of about 70 eland antelope, the most impressive of a very impressive collection of rock art in this shelter

The eland antelope was the most commonly painted figure in the Drakensberg...and was obviously a very important creature to the Bushmen.

Rach and Wiseman next to one of the many sparkling, clear rivers of Didima.

View of Cathedral Peak behind a grassy ridge, on the way up to the shelter

Wiseman having a break...his long legs kept him well in front of us! That's Cathkin peak behind him

The view down the Mhlwazini valley, with the river of the same name...

Having a break...man, that camera backpack of mine sometimes feels heavy!

I'm fascinated by the way water plays with light, and the objects under the surface...were the Bushmen also intrigued and awed by the natural beauty of their surrounds? I'm sure they were.

For more, go to www.yearinthewild.com and www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Check out my Flickr photos at www.flickr.com/scottnramsay and my Instagram photos at www.instagram.com/wildscotty. Twitter on www.twitter.com/yearinthewild.

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as EeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

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