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A Hiker’s Guide to Gxalingenwa Cave, Drakensberg

A Hiker’s Guide to Gxalingenwa Cave, Drakensberg

Gxalingenwa Cave, yep that’s a mouthful, so the locals lovingly refer to this popular lower-Drakensberg cave as ‘X-Cave’, for obvious reasons. 

Words and Images by Haidee Visser

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Located in the Southern Drakensberg, the hike to X-Cave bears some seriously spectacular scenery that you might think only the northern regions of the Drakensberg would be home to.

But if you’re looking for an adventurous way to explore KwaZulu-Natal and soak up the natural wonders of this region, the 29km round trip hike truly delivers.

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drakensberg hike

Ensure you are well prepared for the heat during a Drakensberg summer hike

As one of the Southern Drakensberg’s oldest caves, dating back to a time when the Koi San inhabited this area, there are few caves in this region which offer such homely seclusion.

Not only this but in the summer-time, you’ll have access to an overhang waterfall which cascades over the front of the cave, as if nature knew you’d be a little too tired to make the trek back down to the river for water rations!

Perfectly tucked away from the elements, X-Cave resembles a true cave – a far cry from most of the overhangs which dominate the Southern Drakensberg.

To add to this, the hike to get there is undoubtedly one of the most scenic in all the region. Beginning from Cobham campsite, there are two main routes to reach the cave – via Emerald Stream and Pinnacle Rock, or via Ngenwa Pool. You can take one route to get there, and the other route upon your return for a double-whammy of spectacular sights.

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drakensberg hiking

Towering rock formations at popular lunch spot, Pinnacle Rocks

While there are at least three – four small river crossings, the route itself follows a relatively flat contour path, with a few steep uphill’s to reach the stunning plateau of the lower Drakensberg.

A highly recommended stop for lunch along your trek is at Pinnacle Rocks – a flat, almost lunar-like landscape (if the moon had grass!), littered with tall, and sheer rocks the size of skyscrapers. From far it’s an impressive sight, and up-close and you are reminded of the tiny space we occupy on this planet. These impressive rock formations are also host to San rock art, depicting spiritual ceremonies of a bygone era.

Pushing on past Pinnacle Rocks as you make your way deeper into the valley, you are flanked on either side by towering, rocky outcrops bearing their own fascinating rock formations. Add to this the rolling thunder of a summer storm through the valley and it’s a landscape fit for any Lord of the Rings trilogy!

X-Cave makes for a great base from which to climb up through Masubsuba Pass, or as a base for a multi-day hike, descending into the neighbouring valley via Fingall’s Rock. Here you can find Gorge, Spectacle and Pholela Caves for overnighting.

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drakensberg hiking

The rock-strewn valley façade of the Southern Drakensberg

Sleeping 12 people quite comfortably, X-Cave is home to two caverns, one large and the other a little smaller. While your outlook view is a little shrouded by indigenous forest, the ascent and descent to and from the cave is truly wonderful, with panoramic views over the entire valley below.

 Distance: 14,5km one way (29km round trip).

Duration: Approximately 7 hours each way.

Difficulty: 7/10

GPS Co-ordinates: WG 84; S29 38.161; E29 21.746 at 2066 metres.


 A few tips for summer hiking in the Drakensberg:

  1. The weather changes in a hot-minute, make sure to pack a waterproof jacket in an easily accessible part of your backpack.
  2. Make sure your backpack has a rainproof cover – your belongings within could become soaked in minutes in a summer downpour.
  3. Re-apply sunscreen to exposed areas of skin every 1 – 1.5 hours. Don’t forget about the back of your neck, your ears and the back of your legs.
  4. Carry a camel-pack of water, mixed with some form of electrolyte replacement, such as Game. Great for energy and replacing electrolytes lost in your sweat.
  5. If you make the trip down to the river, don’t leave food unattended in the cave. Baboons have a habit of trailing hikers and will tuck into your rations if left unattended – especially your chocolate.

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