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In Numbers

The Northern Drakensberg is a trans-boundary water source areas (shared with Lesotho) and the KwaZulu-Natal and Free State border. It supplies water to Gauteng, the Free State, parts of the North-West province and parts of KwaZulu-Natal. An important interbasin transfer system (Thukela to Vaal Basin) stems from this water source area.

Size: 896 529 ha

Main Rivers

The Caledon, Orange, Thukela, Vaal and Senqu rivers flow from the Northern Drakensberg water source area.

Did You Know?

  • The Orange River, South Africa’s longest river, has the largest dam – the Gariep Dam – with a capacity of 5 340 000 megalitres.
  • “Gariep” was a San name for the Orange River.
  • The Thukela River flows 900m down the escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg water source area, forming the second highest waterfall in the world.
  • 80% of Newcastle’s water is supplied by the Northern Drakensberg water source area.


Land Use (in %)

  • Mining 0.03%
  • Wetlands 1.60%
  • Urban 3.71%
  • Cultivation (irrigated) 1.78%
  • Waterbodies 0.84%
  • Plantation/Woodlot 2.63%
  • Cultivation (dryland) 8.81%
  • Natural 80.59%

8% Protected Areas

Only 8% of Northern Drakensberg is protected. This includes the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (Ramsar Site) and six provincial nature reserves.

  • 1
  • 6

Threat Status

  • River Ecosystems
  • Wetland Ecosystems

River Ecosystems

Up to 80% of the Northern Drakensberg is in natural condition.

  • 4% Critically Endangered
  • 3% Endangered
  • 42% Vulnerable
  • 51% Least Threatened

Wetland Ecosystems

Up to 34% of wetland ecosystems in Northern Drakensberg are critically endangered.

  • 34% Critically Endangered
  • 5% Endangered
  • 1% Vulnerable
  • 59% Least Threatened


Coal mining is a significant threat to this water source area. Nevertheless, only 8% is formally protected. What legal mechanism is available to restrict or prohibit mineral prospecting or mining in a specified area?

Interactive Map

South Africa has 22 water source areas spread across five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo). The total size of our water source areas is 12.32 million hectares. A number of these areas extend and are shared with Lesotho and Swaziland; approximately 1.91 million hectares in Lesotho and 0.93 million hectares in Swaziland.

The total volume of water supplied by these areas per year is approximately 2 457 million cubic metres. The greatest volume of recharge is generated by the Southern Drakensberg, followed by the Eastern Cape Drakensberg and the Boland Mountains.