If you love nature and wildlife, you might want to take advantage of the free entry week to most national parks in South Africa. Ezemvelo (Monks Cowl) are including free entry into their parks for SA visitors (you Must produce your ID) for all Fridays in September.

One of the access points to this park is the Monks Cowl Nature Reserve, which is named after the peak sandwiched between the towering Champagne Castle and Cathkin mountains. Monks Cowl is the gateway to some of the most magnificent mountain wilderness areas in Africa, where you can experience breathtaking vistas of sweeping grasslands, towering cliffs, and cascading waterfalls

Monk’s Cowl is a reserve managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and it is part of the Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, which is 242 318 ha in extent ( 200 km and approximately 30 km wide); divided into 12 management sections, proclaimed in the years from 1903 to 1973. The park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site on the 29th November 2000 and it qualified in both cultural and natural criteria because of its rich and unique biodiversity and its outstanding rock art history.  It is the largest continuous protected area on the Southern African escarpment. The park ranges in altitude from 1 480 to 3 446 meters above sea level and has a hiking path network of  1 680 km of trails. Monk’s Cowl has 2 Green Flag trails; Nandi’s Falls and the Hlatikhulu Forest Trail.

Gate times : open 6 am and locked at 6 pm

Hikers are advised to select a hike that suits the amount of time (daylight hours) available and that they have the required physical fitness to complete the walk.

Recommended Basic Equipment:

  • Cell phone (turned off but fully charged)
  • Warm waterproof jacket (even on a sunny day!)
  • Water bottle
  • Torch
  • Basic First Aid Kit
  • Food of at least one night out
  • Comfortable hiking boots
  • Walking stick / hiking poles
  • Sunscreen and hat

Hikers (day and overnight): Please remember to fill out the hiking register at the park’s entrance and sign out on your return. No dogs, drones or litter and leave only footprints. Scratching or writing on any rock face or boulder is a criminal offence.  Remember sunscreen and always carry a torch, even if you are just going on a day hike.  Please keep to the trails as erosion destroys delicate ecosystems in the area. It is advisable to hike in a group of no less than 3 people but no more than 12. Wear good hiking boots to prevent injury and hiking sticks or poles can be a great advantage when walking downhill. Enjoy the spectacular views of Champagne Castle, Monk’s Cowl (Nkosana, first climbed in 1942) and Cathkin Peak (Mdedelelo climbed in 1912 ) and Sterkhorn, the Turret and the Amphlett.

Special trees in our forests include 3 species of South Africa’s National Tree, the Yellowwood, and all 3 are specially protected. In Spring the dramatic red blossoms of the Natal Bottlebrush signal the end of the dry Winter season. Tree ferns grow along the banks of streams that flow downhill to join up with the Sterkspruit. The Drakensberg Cycad, also a protected species,is the only species of cycad growing in the park and is known as the “Fire and Ice” cycad as it can withstand the cold Winters and fires.

Birders can keep a look out for the Bush Blackcap in the forest patches and can scan the skies overhead for sightings of the critically endangered Bearded Vultures and the endemic and endangered Cape Vultures. In Summer the forests come alive with the calls of cuckoos; from the unmistakable Red-chested’s strident “Piet-my-vrou” , the insistant Klaas’s Cuckoo looking for his “meitjie, meitjie, meitjie” and the most mournful Black Cuckoo’s “I’m sooooo sad” cry that echos on misty days. The Diederick Cuckoo announces itself by calling its own name “di di diederick” over and over. 296 bird species have been recorded at Monk’s Cowl.

Mammals to look out for at Monk’s Cowl include Baboon, Bushbuck, Grey Duiker, Porcupine, Black-backed Jackal, Large-Spotted Genet, Caracal, Serval and very rarely Leopard. Perhaps you might see signs of the Cape Clawless Otter along trails next to the river and streams. Their dung is easily identified as it contains a lot of pieces of crushed crab.

Keep a lookout for snakes sunning themselves on paths. Generally, snakes will move out of the way as people approach. If a snake is seen, keep still and slowly move backwards, if the snake does not move off the path. Venomous snakes are the Puff adder, Rhinkals, Berg Adder and Night Adder.

On clear nights, stargazing is particularly rewarding as the major constellations are clearly visible in the night sky. Sometimes you can hear the calls of owls and nightjars.

Please do not make a noise anywhere in the park. Shouting to others further along the trail  or listening to your shouts echo disturbs other hikers and may result in unnecessary rescue efforts being launched, which you could be charged for.

If you are looking for a comfortable and affordable accommodation near Monks Cowl Nature Reserve, you might want to check out The Nest Hotel, which is a delightful family resort located in the Champagne Valley of the Central Drakensberg. The Nest Hotel is one of the few resort hotels in South Africa that offer table d’hote dining, which means that breakfast and dinner plus morning and afternoon teas are included in their tariff.