Royal Natal National Park is one of the most popular icon attractions of the Drakensberg Mountains. Its little wonder with the craggy peaks, countryside painted in forest greens, impressive rock formations that flush red in the afternoon light. The Central and Northern Drakensberg all show these characteristics but nowhere else will you find a feature like the Amphitheatre where the vertical rock face surrounds you in Royal Natal National Park.
It is here in Royal Natal National park that you also find one of South Africa’s highest peaks, Mont-aux-Sources, and the world’s second highest waterfall, Tugela Falls, though some controversially believe it deserves the highest waterfall in the world. Royal Natal National Park offers numerous hiking trails navigating the lush forests and many a babbling brook carved through the park. Royal Natal is not a place to just come and relax. Though an afternoon spent idly in the shadow of the cliffs would not be a wasted one.
If you have the time you could easily spend weeks exploring this beautiful part of the Drakensberg mountains.
ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK HIKING TRAILS
- The Amphitheater trail to the top of Mont aux Sourses. – Ths trail to the top of Tugela Falls is perhaps one of the most spectacular in the Drakensberg The views aare incredible with a valley ridged in textures of mossy greens rising into the folds and furrows of the cliff face and upward to the escarpment blanketed in sheaths of golden grass. If you do just one hike in the area, make it this one. Though it is demanding and weather is a major factor to consider.
- The Tugela Gorge hike. One of the more popular walks in Royal Natal National Park, the Tugela Gorge Trail takes in the sights from below, passing through lush forest and zigzagging across the Tugela River in the shadow of the cliff face.The main hiking trail ends at the tunnel, a narrow section of undulating rock that delivers the crystal clear waters further downstream. Getting here requires some rock hopping and it seems many turn back before reaching this point. For the more intrepid hikers though, a small and rarely used trail continues onward via a chain ladder to the right. This path is far more overgrown, you’ll probably take a few spider webs to the face and if your feet aren’t already wet they soon will be as the now very vague ‘trail’ frequently crosses the river and eventually leads towards the base of Tugela Falls. Rock hop as close as you dare.
- The Cascades. One of Royal Natal National Park’s more relaxed hiking trails, the Cascades is flat and easy walk alongside the Mahai River where bushbuck congregate in the grassy clearings and the delicate arched bridges are straight from a fairy tale. If you’re looking to take the pace down a few notches, but not quite resolved to spending the afternoon curled up in a rocking chair with a warm beverage, this meandering trail is a good option. The Cascades trail continues on to McKinlay’s Pools for those looking to wander a little further.
ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK ACCOMMODATION
- Inside the park is the perfectly situated Thendele Camp has a number of fully-equipped self-catering chalets (starting at R800 (US$60) per person) with panoramic views over the Amphitheatre cliff face – easily the best breakfast view around.
- Camping in Royal Natal National Park is also possible with two campgrounds in the park: the spacious Mahai Campground which sits alongside the river, and the smaller and more secluded Rugged Glen Campsite. There are a combined 140 campsites available with barbecue and ablution facilities and a limited number of powered spots at each camp.
- Just a thirty-minute drive from Royal Natal National Park’s entrance gate we found the Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge. Set in a large grassy area with views of the mountains, this is a great budget option with quirky decorations throughout the property, wide variety of accommodations options on offer and excellent facilities including several guest kitchens, a barbecue area, pool, jacuzzi, bar and restaurant.
- Closer to the park entrance, Berghouse and Cottages is a slightly more upmarket option with a gorgeous location looking directly onto the Amphitheatre. Lodgings are in beautiful private chalets with meals available on site.
- Another budget-friendly option is Karma Backpackers. Located in Kestell, this lovely hostel is the ideal base for the Amphitheatre Hike sitting a little over an hour from the trailhead. Bright, colourful rooms are set around a garden with natural products sourced from the surrounding region made available for guests.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK
- The Royal Natal National Park entrance fee costs R45 per person, per day payable at the gate. Closing times are signposted at the entrance gate so be sure to leave enough time to drive back to the gate after your walk, unless of course you are staying at Thendele Camp of camping within the park.
- The visitor centre has a miniature model of the park showing all the Royal Natal hiking trails and individual brochures outlining each hike which can be purchased for R3 each.
- If you’re planning to self-cater at your accommodation, we would recommend that you stock up on food and supplies on your way in, either at Bergville or Harrismith, as there are no large shops nearby the park. There’s a small souvenir shop and only limited basic supplies available at both the visitor centre and Thendele Camp.