From verdant winelands to open savannas, dense forests to the pristine beaches along its 1,800-mile long coastline, the Republic of South Africa is a land of varied ecosystems occupying the southern tip of Africa. As for its terrain, it’s a tale of two levels.
The vast majority of South Africa’s landmass is made up of an elevated interior plateau. This is surrounded by low-lying land, with slopes and some smaller mountains up to the coast. And what divides the central high land from the low surrounding it is a dramatic set of cliffs known as the Great Escarpment.
So, what does this have to do with the highest mountains in South Africa? Well, it’s in the eastern part of the Great Escarpment that one finds them. And we’re going to explore the biggest ones.
The Drakensberg Mountains
The tallest mountains in South Africa are the Drakensberg or “Dragon” Mountains. The range’s Zulu name, uKhahlamba, means barrier of spears, referring to its rugged, jagged nature. Running for some 700 miles in parallel with the South African coast, it passes through several provinces, including the Eastern Cape, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal. It continues into Lesotho, becoming even higher. In fact, Mount Ntlenyana, the highest mountain in southern Africa at 11,424 feet, is part of this continuation.
In 2000, the Drakensberg Mountains became a UNESCO World Heritage site, cited as having outstanding universal value for numerous reasons. Not only are they the watershed for South Africa’s biggest river, but they’re also of historical importance, containing some 690 rock art sites of the San people, and their surroundings are areas of extreme natural importance.
At a height of 11,306 feet, Mafadi is top of the list of the highest mountains in South Africa itself. Located in KwaZulu-Natal, it straddles the country’s border with Lesotho.
At 11,181 feet above sea level, Njesuthi, also known as Injesuthi Dome, is second among the highest mountains in South Africa. Located less than a mile from Mafadi, it too is part of the Drakensberg range in KwaZulu-Natal.
Another of South Africa’s tallest mountains is Champagne Castle. Found in the central Drakensberg range, it rises to 11,079 feet.
Other peaks in the Drakensberg Mountains that rank among South Africa’s highest mountains are the 10,869-foot Giant’s Castle, Mont-Aux-Sources at 10,768 feet, and Cathedral Peak at 9,856 feet.
So far, we’ve looked at the highest mountains in South Africa based on elevation. But this is only one type of height measure, being the summit’s distance from sea level. The prominence of a peak is a measure of its independence as a mountain, based on the minimum height of climb to its summit from a route coming from a higher peak.
Du Toits Peak
The Du Toitskloof Mountains are a range in the Cape Fold Belt in the Western Cape Province. The highest point is Du Toits Peak which, at 6,545 feet above sea level, is the highest peak in the Western Cape within direct sight of the ocean. Located between Paarl and Worcester in the south-west of South Africa, to the north-east of the provincial capital of Cape Town, the mountains form a formidable barrier between Cape Town and the rest of Africa. It has a prominence of 5,675 feet.
Part of the Klein Swartberg range, Seweweekspoortpiek is the highest mountain in the Cape Fold Belt with an elevation of 7,628 feet, and the highest point in the Western Cape province. It’s also the second most prominent with a distinct height of 5,062 feet.
Beyond South Africa's Highest Mountains
While the tallest mountains in South Africa are undeniably impressive, many other mountains are lauded for their natural, cultural, symbolic, or historical significance. One of the best examples is the iconic Table Mountain.
Table Mountain, or Tafelberg in Afrikaans, might not compete with the biggest mountains of South Africa in terms of height, but its iconic flat-topped visage overlooking Cape Town is an emblem of the nation. This majestic plateau, rising to around 3,563 feet, is a living canvas of flora and fauna, with its unique vegetation and even a tribe of Himalayan goats, descendants of former zoo escapees.
The Biggest Mountains of South Africa
As we’ve seen, South Africa’s highest mountains are the embodiment of stories etched in stone and sky. From the jagged expanse of the Drakensberg range to the flat summit of Table Mountain, South Africa’s array of mountainous wonders not only showcase the country’s diverse topographical splendour but also weave tales of fascinating history and captivating culture.