Giants Cup Hike - Drakensberg

Hi All.

Hope you all doing good.

I am new on this forum, and have read a few articles already.

I am planning on doing the Giants Cup Hike next year (2024).

When is the best time time to do this hike? (Month?)
This will be two of us - or is a bigger group recommended?
I plan to start at the Sani Pass section, and end at the Silverstreams. Would it be possible to leave my vehicle at Silverstreams, and is there a shuttle service that could take us to the start?

Which website is the best to find out what food etc to pack, and where would be the best place to buy decent hiking backpacks.

I do apologise for all the questions, I have done a few Hikes in the Drakensberg as we have camped twice at Mahai, and once at Monks Cowl.

Any suggestions, feedback would be really appreciated.


Welcome Vidor!

This article should answer quite a few of your questions: Giant’s Cup Hiking Trail - Hiking South Africa

March is generally a safe bet to experience a green Drakensberg without too much rain.

Here’s another comprehensive article series about what to pack on a multi-day hike: Packing for an overnight hike - Part 1 - Hiking South Africa

Drifters and City Rock are excellent outdoor stores with knowledgeable staff. Outdoor Warehouse is also an option, but I wouldn’t rely on their sales staff for the best advice. In terms of online options, Naturehike and Decathlon offer exceptional value for money with great returns policies, but again, you’ll need to know what you want because they’re online only.

Hope that helps

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Hi there. I’ve done the Giants Cup Trail 6 times, so I know a fair bit about it. Good route, worth doing! Happy to answer any questions you have.

Best month really depends on what you want. I like summer for it, mostly because there are good rock pools along the route, and those don’t help much in winter when they are barely above 0C! It is doable any time of the year, summer has thunderstorms, winter tends to be dry, windy and hazy but with more stable weather. As Arno says, March is often one of the better months as you get relatively stable weather and there are still some flowers out and the grass is still green. But you can do it any time of the year - just be prepared for bad weather, they don’t call it the Dragon’s Mountains for nothing! You can get snow any month of the year, although it rarely snows that far down. Hail and thunderstorms are usually in the warmer months. Rain can be any month.

Two should be fine. I’ve never heard of anyone having security issues on the route, and you have phone signal for a lot of it if something does go wrong.

Rather leave your car at the Bushman’s Nek offices. Silverstreams can be a bit funny about those kinds of things. You’ll need to sign the mountain register before you start anyway, which you can do at the office. Just take your paid invoice for booking the huts so they can see you don’t need to pay for hiking permits (hut fees include hiking permits, so you would be paying these twice otherwise).

Try Underberg Express, I’ve used them in the past.

Some notes on gear:

  1. Mzimkhulwana Hut doesn’t have mattresses, all other huts do. Make sure you have the combination for the door locks or you won’t be able to get the mattresses in Wintershoek Hut. The combination is the same for all 5 huts, although I don’t recall ever seeing Pholela or Mzimkhulwana Hut locked.
  2. On day 3 you’ll be very close to Castleburn Lake, going there for supper can be nice. You can also take a walk down the road to the Eland Trading Store if you need something urgently, assuming you have the energy, it is a few kms - you can also try to get a lift with someone driving by. The store is fairly comprehensive, with braai meat, snacks etc.
  3. You can also buy some basic supplies like matches at the Cobham offices (night 1) and Garden Castle (night 4).
  4. The huts usually have firewood provided for a braai or warmth, but don’t have matches or newspaper. You can usually find kindling around if you look.
  5. The only huts with hot water and electricity are Pholela (night 1) and Swiman (night 4).

If you’d like to read the story of the time I avoided the logistics of the trail by simply doing the hike twice - here it is back-to-back:

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Hi Arno and Ghaznavid

Thanks very much for your valid inputs, much appreciated :slight_smile:

I will have a look at those websites.

Regards, Doug

Hi there, instead of starting a new conversation I thought I would just ask it here (sorry if this is the wrong approach). We are also completely new to hiking and the Giants Cup will be our first hiking trip. We are part of a large group.

All the families are taking their children, ours will also be joining (ages 7,10&12). We are really excited, but I am a bit concerned seeing that this is our first hike, that we might be saddling up a horse when we should start with a pony… We are active people and our kids as well, but I just wanted to know if anyone on the forum has done this with kids. I have tried to read most of the articles on the forum and could not pick up anything about kids. Sorry if I missed it, if so maybe someone can just direct me to that conversation.

Would anyone advise us not to start our “hiking career” as a family with the Giants Cup? If so why and what would be a better virgin hike as a family?

Thank you

The one really nice thing with the Giants Cup Trail is that you can easily bail at the end of day 1, near the end of day 3 and at the end of day 4. If you have a designated driver in your group who doesn’t do the hike (or the role can be switched out halfway) - they can meet the team along the way each day, take your overnight gear for you, head to Underberg to buy supplies as required etc. (aside from night 2, where the hut isn’t accessible by car). It also means if someone isn’t coping and wants to bail, they can easily just move to the support crew.

The route is generally marked by white painted footprints, as long as you make sure you follow these, navigation is relatively easy. There are some spots where losing the route is possible, though, so make sure you know where to go. Some notes:
Day 2: the first 1km is a bit confusing. From Pholela Hut, head towards the paddocks and turn left towards Lakes Cave. After the end of the fence you’ll see a clear trail to the left that you need to take - its very easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. The ablutions for this hut are hidden in the bushes - walk past the hut to find them. No hot water, but there is a shower and toilet. This hut also has a really nice rock pool next to it.
Day 3 has the most tricky navigation: from the hut, you will cross the suspension bridge over the river, and will soon hit a 4-way junction, go straight at this one - this will start you on the slog up Bamboo Mountain, one of the hardest ascents of the route. Once you are fairly far down the other side of Bamboo Mountain you’ll see a split to the left with a large cairn in the middle of the trail split - go left here. You’ll cross a stream almost immediately and then see a white footprint that tells you it was the correct split - a lot of people go wrong here. You’ll soon walk next to a fence for a while, and then have to cross a fence via a ladder and walk to the tarred road to Garden Castle. Turn right on the road and follow it for 2km - the spot you leave the road is below a windmill on a hill, the turnoff to leave the road is next to the Castleburn Lake sign, there are white footprints to mark it, but they aren’t on the road and are very easy to miss. You will probably lose the trail going past the windmill, but once you’re over the hill you can see the rondavels that are Wintershoek Hut, and if you aim for them, you’ll re-find the trail easily enough.
Day 4: there’s no water this day, so make sure you carry what you’ll need. The trail is mostly obvious, the T-junction near the end is signposted, you go right at this towards Swiman Hut.
Day 5: your first 1km is the last 1km of day 4, but backwards. The final downhill to the finish has a split at one point, left to the finish - right to Bushmans Nek Hut. If you get that split wrong, it adds 500m and doesn’t really matter.

As for whether or not an entirely inexperienced team should attempt this with children - it really depends on the team and the children. Don’t underestimate this trail, it has denied many experienced teams in the past. Weather could be anywhere from baking hot, thunderstorms, hail, mist, snow, wind etc. It also depends on how inexperienced - never even done a parkrun vs done plenty of day hikes but no overnight hikes would be completely different.

I used to take a youngster (11 when we first hiked together) hiking in the Drakensberg, he started hiking with me after his father picked up a back injury and couldn’t take him hiking any more. He first did the Giants Cup Trail with his father at 6, but his father was a very experienced hiker at the time. The ability of a youngster really varies from person to person, and he was definitely the exception, not the rule. He finished his first Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) at 14, and did two more over the space of 16 days at 15. When he was 13 he asked me to take him on a DGT, so I took him on a 7 day evaluation hike (which incidentally included the Giants Cup Trail as part of the loop), and he didn’t cope well. A 5 day hike is no joke, and finding the balance between putting someone off hiking forever and an experience they’ll remember fondly is not easy.

Incidentally a friend of mine has been taking his kids hiking for many years. Before his kids were 10, he managed to get the entire family to the top of Mafadi. His kids are insanely fit, though. His youngest almost beat me at a parkrun when he was 6 years old - and my time was sub 28 minutes, so I wasn’t exactly the slowest person there.

Here’s the story of the time Mike did the Giants Cup Trail in a day at 16 years old:

Thanks for all the advice, really appreciate it. If we decide to go for it I will give some feedback once we back.

Hi guys. We are doing the Giants Cup trail beginning of May next year and just want to find out what type of weather we can expect.

Hi All.

I have booked my Giant’s cup hike for Feb 2024.

I am really having issues with the logistics etc.

Where exactly is the Bushman’s Nek office where I am allowed to leave my vehicle. I cannot find it on google maps, nor can I find any phone number for them.

I have tried calling the Ezemvelo Offices (KZN Wildlife) on 033-845-1001 but the number does not exist.

If anyone can assist me I’d greatly appreciate it.

EDIT: I am travelling from JHB, on friday 2nd Feb, and the plan is start the hike Sat 3rd Feb. What would be easier; to park my vehicle at Bushman’s Nek opffices, and have Underberg express drop me off at Sani Lodge Backpackers for the friday night, or book somewhere near Bushman’s Nek the Friday night, and have Underberg Express collect us the Sat morning?

From Underberg drive about 10km towards Kokstad. You’ll pass the Garden Castle/Drak Gardens turnoff, then drive over the Mzimkhulu River and the turnoff is immediately on your right (it is signposted). Follow this road for about 30km and you’ll reach Silverstreams, keep driving through it, and the offices will be on your right about 200m before the border post (passports aren’t required as you aren’t going into Lesotho).

I also used Underberg Express. They are the best service provider in the area that I’m aware of, and are reasonably priced.

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May is usually dry, dusty and windy. Off chance you’ll get snow. 5 days is a long time, so expect at least one day of bad weather.

Roughly what type of temperatures can we expect? Is August or September perhaps a better time to do the hike?

It depends on cold fronts, they are still sporadic in May - they eventually settle into a roughly every 7 day routine. August and September will be colder, and depends on the Kalahari High Pressure and how its behaving that year, as that blocks most cold fronts - September is often the best snowfall month of the year. Downside of August and September is that firebreaks have been burned and the rest of the grass has turned brown - so if you don’t get snow, its the least pretty time of the year. I’d personally stick with May.

If you have a good fleece and rain coat, plus maybe thermal base layers, and a sleeping bag rated for -2c comfort - you’ll probably be fine.

Thank you Jonathan, this helps a lot.

Hi Ghaznavid. Thank you very much, much appreciated.

Hi! I’m a solo traveler and I want to go hiking in Drakensberg, maybe the Giant’s Cup. I imagine it’s not something I can/want to do alone.
In your experience, what is the best way to find a group hike? Do I have to book it up front via the internet, find an operator in Cape Town for instance or just go to drakensberg and book it there?

There are a number of guiding companies that offer the Giants Cup Trail, most notably Paul Roth’s High Horizons.

I don’t think anyone has been attacked on the route, but obviously anything solo does carry a number of risks and you would need to be careful. Also make sure you know the route well enough beforehand as there are a few spots where people get lost - especially on day 3.

When I did the route twice in two days, I was on my own - but it was a long weekend and a number of groups were on the trail, so I did frequently see others. Most of the time there would be no one else on the trail. The other times I did the route I’ve always been in a group.

Re booking - you can book the huts via the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife bookings website or by phoning their main bookings office. The huts are rarely booked up, so you can usually arrange it at short notice.

Hi. I am really struggling to get hold of the Bushman’s Nek offices as that is where I will be needing to leave my vehicle.

I have 082-629-9338 that Ezemvelo gave me.

Does anyone have any other numbers, or will I be fine to just drive there and leave the vehicle parked there without any booking? Does one need to pay for this?

As long as you have booked the huts for the trail, and fill in the mountain register at Bushman’s Nek, you can leave your car there during the hike. They don’t have a phone at that office and signal there isn’t always great - so calling ahead doesn’t really work. They are open from 8 to 3:30 every day. You don’t need to pay extra to leave your car there - I’ve left my car there for 16 days before and it was fine (with following the above).

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Hi Ghaznavid

Thanks. O that sounds easy enough. If I get there after 3:30, will I still be able to park my car there?