Tugela Gorge Hiking Trail

Tugela Gorge Hiking Trail

The Tugela Gorge hike is one of the longer hikes in Royal Natal National Park and is widely considered one of South Africa’s best one-day hikes. The Royal Natal National Park is home to the Tugela Falls (The world’s second highest waterfall).

To get to the start of the Tugela Gorge trail you drive into Royal Natal and park parking lot of Thendele Camp. At the parking lot there is a big board with a map showing all the trails in the Park. The start of the hike is marked with a sign and the trail is clearly defined.

The hike follows a path along the side of the mountain next to the river all the way to the Gorge – this same path is followed back to the starting point of the trail. Even though the hike is about 17 kilometres in total, it’s not strenuous but relatively flat all way. The only thing that makes this hike a bit tough is the distance.

The only downside to the Tugela Gorge hike is how busy the trail is! Its pretty seldom that you have this trail to yourself unlike the hiking trails at Giants Castle.

About a kilometre after the start of the trail, there is a bridge that needs to be crossed. Shortly after that, the eroded sandstone pillar known as Policeman’s Helmet is in sight. Carry on walking along the path, which takes hikers in and out of lush forests and protea bushes. After about 6 kilometres, the trail takes you right into the riverbed of the Tugela, where you walk along the river for a couple of kilometres until you reach the Gorge.

This last end stretch before the Gorge is absolutely stunning with views of the bright and blue rock pools. At this point, you can either walk through the gorge or take the chain ladder on the right hand side and continue the trail to the base of the Tugela Falls. During rainy season, it is dangerous to wander through the gorge and it is highly recommended to take the chain ladder up the side of the gorge.

The hike takes about 4 and a half hours in total.

The hike is flat but long. Around every bend is a new landscape with more incredible scenes. Besides the amount of people on the trail that day, you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. Simply nature and yourself. If you like hiking enthusiast put this Drakensberg trail on your bucket list!

Central Drakensberg activities and attractions

Central Drakensberg activities and attractions

The Drakensberg offers a huge range of activities and attractions for your enjoyment. Its all about these unique experiences that make the Drakensberg Mountains the most interesting adventure activity destination in South Africa. Much of this can be attributed to the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains declared a World Heritage Site on two counts.

Gentle attractions and activities in the Drakensberg

  • Falcon Ride bird of prey show – Daily bird of prey demonstrations except closed on fridays.
  • Cathedral Peak Wine Estate. This is wine estate that was established in 2008 offers an excellent wine tasting experience
  • The Drakensberg Brewery, which is producing a range of exceptional beer types ranging from red Ales, blonde Ales, Indian Pale Ale, Pilsners and Stout. This brewery, which is open for light lunches and tasting, is a must visit.
  • The Drakensberg Boys choir – Sublime performances and should you find yourself in the Drakensberg on a wednesday afternoon this is something you should not miss. Start 15:30
  • The Champagne Valley also offers a Park Run, a 5 km experience from the Waffle Hut near Winterton. Guests are welcome to join this community spirit. Additionally, engage with locals over waffles and coffee on Saturday morning. The run starts at 08h00.
  • The Giants Castle Slack Packing Trail – This hike is a luxury trail and is perfect for those hikers who want to sleep in a comfortable bed each day, enjoy 3 course dinners, hearty breakfast, picnic lunches and tea and scones along the way. Its very much about taking things easy and at a leisurely pace enjoying the Lowlands Conservancy and Zulu Waters Private Game Reserve.
  • Day hiking trails through the Drakensberg Mountains – There is a lot to choose from here. easy half hour strolls right through to moderate half and full day trails for beginners. Giants Castle offers some of the most diverse day hiking options in the Drakensberg and the trails start 500m higher than the more popular Monks Cowl and Royal Natal just making things that much easier for yourself. Remember the higher you go the better the views.
  • Sandra se Winkel” Museum on the way to Ardmore Guest Farm is a fascinating trip into the past of frontier life of the Drakensberg. It is a genuine trading store from a by-gone era. Many of the goods in the museum are still in their original packaging!
  • Mandela Capture Site – An incredible sculpture reminding the world of an incredible personality. Nelson Mandel has left a mark on South Africa for us all to be be inspired from and  and thankful for.

Adventure attractions and activities in the Drakensberg

  • Scootours – A group of 6 adults going down a hill with scooters …. at first thought a NO NO . But is a great experience and fun going down on narrow pathways with a scooter. Great views, great fun and a great guide.
  • Drakensberg Canopy Tours, Situated in an indigenous forest of the Central Drakensberg, in the shadow of the towering Cathkin Peak, the Drakensberg Canopy Tour® awaits you. Boasting Africa’s first elevated rock face walkway with a good mix of both cliff face and treetop platforms, and cable slides over the forest up to 60 metres high, the Drakensberg Canopy Tour® must automatically go to the top of your “must do” list.
  • White Water Rafting – Zingela Safaris offers some lovely white water rafting options on the Tugela River.
  • Hot Air Ballooning Hot air ballooning should be on your bucket list and there are few places in the world to fly in that’s as spectacular as the Drakensberg Mountains.
  • Hiking the high DrakensbergThere can be few more inspiring places on earth than looking out at the view from the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment. Getting up there is a slog and hiring a hiking guide that knows the places to camp and caves to sleep in can help alot
  • Cathkin Trails – Valley is becoming increasingly popular for mountain bikers and trail runners. The community of this area has seen the potential of those sporting pursuits and as a result, established has an extensive mountain biking and trail running trails.

Tugela Falls

Tugela Falls

Tugela Falls is the second highest waterfall in the world. The total drop in five free-leaping falls is 3,110 feet (947 meters). They are located in the in the Royal Natal National Park in the Northern Drakensberg.  The Tugela Falls are easily viewed after a heavy rain from the main travel road into the park, glistening from the reflection of the late afternoon sun.

Tugela FallsThe source of the Tugela River (Zulu for ‘sudden’) is at Mont-Aux-Sources several kilometers from the escarpment from which the falls drop. The water is pure and safe to drink above the falls.

Hiking Trails to the Tugela Falls

  • The Gorge Walk to the base of the Tugela Falls: From Tendele Camp, proceed down to the Tugela river, where the main Gorge path will be reached. From here the route is obvious. There is no more popular nor picturesque walk than the Gorge walk; it should not be missed, and to enable you to make the most of the trip, take a full day over it. (Return trip 22,5 km : 6 hours 30 minutes).
  • Sentinel Peak car park to the top of the amphitheatre via the chain ladder. 5 hour return hike. This is the only day hiking trail that will get you to the top of the Drakensberg escarpment in a reasonable day. The path ends at the top of the Tugela Falls.

 

Accommodation near Tugela Falls

Royal Natal National Park

Royal Natal National Park

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.

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

With trails carved through forests, along cliff tops and across rivers in this serene pocket of nature, hiking is easily the main attraction in Royal Natal National Park with some of the best Drakensberg hiking on offer. While the most spectacular walks are also the most challenging, there are hiking trails to suit all abilities.
  • 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.

 

Cavern Resort and Spa

Cavern Resort and Spa

The Cavern Resort & Spa, named after the infamous Cannibal Cavern, is nestled in the foothills of the Northern Drakensberg in the Amphitheatre World Heritage Site area. A place of captivating beauty, it is surrounded by majestic, lush indigenous forests and clear ‘berg streams. Once a humble homestead, rustic and simple, today The Cavern is a comfortable home-from-home for many families who holiday in these majestic Drakensberg Mountains.

The Carte family has owned the Cavern for 75 years and from the outset have given guests memorable family holidays – not just a stay at a good hotel. At The Cavern we appreciate that it is people who make your holiday – people with whom to laugh, share a drink, and participate in all the many fun activities. Without obliging anyone to do anything, we encourage our guests to mix on outings and activities. Friendships form here and folk come back time and again – hence the slogan originated by our guests in 1958: “The resort of many happy returns”

The Cavern is a Drakensberg holiday resort offering two types of accommodation – standard and superior.

Rooms are set in landscaped gardens where a vibrant mix of indigenous plants attracts hundreds of birds that fill the days with birdsong and the evenings with the sounds of crickets, frogs and other friendly creatures. Superior suites overlook an ancient fern forest and each unit has its own private patio where you can relax in the sun, listen to the forest streams and unwind in the peace of untouched mountain wilderness.

Family-friendly Drakensberg Hiking Guide

Family-friendly Drakensberg Hiking Guide

Hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains is one of the top activities in South Africa. So whether you’re an international traveler or a local South African make sure the Drakensberg Mountains are part of your holiday plans. Actually you should just add them to you bucket list for planning future holidays. The Drakensberg is a must do once in a lifetime experience experience if you’re a nature lover or outdoor enthusiast. Its a remote wilderness isn’t always the easiest choice when you have a family with young toddlers.  This non-camping and children-friendly Drakensberg hiking guide will change all of that

It’s easy to see why the Drakensberg is a natural heritage site, but why cultural? It is estimated that there are over 20,000 San rock paintings hidden across the Drakensberg Mountains. And these should be included in your Drakensberg holiday. It is the highest mountain range in South Africa at a maximum height of 3,482 metres above sea level.

There are an unlimited number of hiking trails in the Drakensberg. You can hike the Drakensberg all year round. However, the best time to visit the Drakensberg is during Spring (September to November) and Autumn (March to May). The temperature is more moderate during these months. If you love flowers and plants, November is the best month to see South Africa’s indigenous fauna growth. Summer (December to February) is great if you fancy swimming after your hikes. The rivers are usually full this time of the year and wonderful for swimming. Just be wary that summer is the rainy season and afternoon thunder storms may interrupt your activities. In the winter months (June to August) you’ll be able to enjoy hiking under clear, sunny days. . If you’re lucky, you may even see some snow capped peaks at higher altitudes. The views are always incredible

Unfortunately there are no direct flights to the Drakensberg. The best option will be to fly into either Johannesburg or Durban and rent a car. That will likely be the cheapest option for a family or group larger than 3 people to get to the Drakensberg. Depending on which part of the Drakensberg you’re heading to, it will take 2 hours to 5 hours to drive there.The drive should be pleasant and pretty easy to do. The roads are  well maintained so you won’t need a 4X4 or 4 wheel drive to get to the Drakensberg. Just watch out for the occasional pot hole once you get onto the rural back roads.

Bus or public transport from Johannesburg and Durban to the Drakensberg is limited. There are Greyhound buses That will get you to the smaller towns. Uber does not exist here so you will then be reliant on the shared mini bus taxis and you might need to offer the taxi driver a little bit extra to get you all the way to the National Park Gate. There is also the Baz Bus which is a backpacker bus that drops off and picks up from a few of the backpacker establishments in the Drakensberg. The backpackers offer great options of tours to get out into the mountains.  Still the best recommendation is to have your own vehicle or hire a car. If you not able to stay overnight in the Drakensberg but keen to experience some day hikes, you can join full day hikes from Durban. This is a great option if you’re travelling solo because the tour includes transfers from Durban to the start of the hiking trail. Another plus is that these hikes are guided.

The most frequently asked question asked in South Africa is “Is it safe?”. Well the Drakensberg does come with some risks of you plan things a bit and are aware of the risks you will not have any issues. You will instead wonder what all the fuss was about. Simply don’t create temptation by wearing flashy and expensive jewelry, hang your camera or smartphone around your neck, carry large wads of cash on you, wander around alone at night or pick up random hitch hikers along the side of the road. Drakensberg is relatively safe because it is quite remote and far away from big cities and towns, but it may still be helpful to exercise normal caution anyway. Go on guided hiking tours if you’re extra cautious. If you are a solo traveler its best to hook up with others at hostel or backpackers. Its just silly to hike alone. You might fall and need help in remote places where cell reception is scarce and alone you simply are left to your own devices.

Family-friendly Drakensberg Accommodation Options

The best way to decide where to stay with your family, is to start off by deciding which hiking trails you would like to explore and finding accommodation around that area. The Drakensberg region is huge, so if you plan on doing hiking trails that are far apart from each other, then plan a route and book short stays at hotels close to these trails. Some hiking trails will be directly accessible from your accommodation, whilst others will require a short drive. Make sure that these hiking trails can be completed in a day unless you want to brave camping in the wilderness.

  • The Cavern Resort & Spa – Situated in a beautiful mountain location, this hidden gem is a popular getaway resort for  those seeking comfortable accommodation, great country cooking, outdoor adventure and  attractions. Because the resort is located within a valley, each of the beautifully decorated  rooms offer guests tranquil views of the surrounding nature and scenery. Families can  choose from many activities for all ages such as a playground, a games room, horse riding, a  bowling green as well as a swimming pool
  • Cathedral Peak Hotel –  Cathedral Peak Hotel is an all year-round destination in the Drakensberg, offering visitors an  experience of incredible summers to wonderful winter snow. The resort is extremely  popular to those who love nature and the outdoors. Situated against the breathtaking  Cathedral Peak mountain range, the 4* hotel attracts many travelers including families. Its  array of children activities make this an extremely sought after family friendly property.
  • Antbear Lodge – They understand the importance of making sure your children are well looked after so that adults can enjoy a well deserved break. Antbear Lodge welcome children of all ages into a wonderfully child-friendly, safe environment, and with a selection of child friendly activities. Its clear your children will be sure to have a fun- and variety-filled country holiday. Youngsters will be occupied for hours exploring the grounds, visiting the farm animals, watching a cow being milked and riding horses. And they can also arrange a baby-sitting service at a reasonable hourly rate.
  • The Nest Hotel – One of the few Resort Hotels offering a sumptuous Table d’Hote included in your tariff. Wholesome six-course traditional dinners, full hearty breakfasts, light country-style lunches and morning and afternoon teas. And all in a child friendly environment.
  • Ardmore Guest Farm – Situated in the heart of the scenic Champagne Valley in the central Drakensberg mountain range. Surrounded by breathtaking views and fantastic opportunities for hiking and exploring the local area. Wake up to a traditional farmhouse breakfast (full English) overlooking Ardmore’s extensive gardens. Child friendly with lots of tame farm animals on the guest farm.
  • Drakensberg Mountain Retreat – A stunning destination in the northern Drakensberg with breathtaking views. Accommodation at the Lodge is fully catered for breakfast and Dinner. Lunch can be ordered and can be enjoyed on the patio or a picnic basket for your walk in the mountains. The rooms range in quality and size so chat to the management if you want something specific. There are 2 luxurious rooms for romantic couples wanting a totally private retreat. Our pet friendly rooms have enclosed gardens and our large family rooms are wonderful for relaxing with the kids. There are no fixed entertainment activities for the kids
  • Alpine Heath Resort – Situated close to Bergville, this family friendly 4* hotel is the perfect location for those in  search of tranquility, relaxation and majestic views. For those who opt to  venture out a bit, there are options of outdoor activities and nearby attractions. Families  can enjoy their stay in one of the many luxury chalets with incredible views of the  mountains.
  • Dragon Peaks Mountain Resort  – Dragon Peaks Mountain Resort is a family resort situated in the heart of the Champagne Valley, Central Drakensberg. The resort offers a variety of accommodation types to suit the whole family. Our accommodation ranges from camping and caravan sites through to numerous self-catering options. We offer from our most affordable Drakensberg Park Homes which are 2* through to our newly built 4* Lakeside Suites.
  • Little Switzerland Resort – If you’re looking to bring family together from Durban and Johannesburg, then this holiday  haven is perfectly situated in the middle of the two major cities. This 4* resort offers guests  both peace and tranquility amongst the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains. Views of the  surrounding nature and wilderness, as well as nearby waterfalls, streams and forests, allows  for family to explore and enjoy the very best of nature. The resort is suitable for families and  friends to share self-catering chalets with the ultimate comfort as well as a choice of a  mountain, garden or pool view.
  • Drakensberg Sun Resort – This 4* resort in the Drakensberg, provides guests with the ultimate luxury and comfort. This also includes spectacular mountain views. Its great variety of both indoor and outdoor  activities includes canopy tours, mountain biking, boating, horse riding, volleyball and trout  fishing for families seeking adventure. Guests at the resort can also enjoy the views of a  beautiful private lake.
  • Champagne Castle Hotel – This 4*family friendly stay is situated within a world heritage site offers exciting activities  and attractions for the whole family to enjoy. This accommodation offers a window to some  of the most beautiful mountains in the world. The resort is not short of activity options, such as horse riding for the teenagers, pony rides and animal farm with a petting zoo for the  little ones, Trout fishing for mom and dad, tennis courts, bowls, volleyball, badminton, croquet, rounders, games room with table tennis, pool and football, board games, darts and hiking trails for the friends and extended family who have also been included in the family  holiday.
  • Dalmore Guest Farm – Perfect weekend getaway. Nestled in the heart of the Drakensberg, this working farm offers luxurious accommodations, hearty, home-cooked meals and tons of activities for the entire family. Zip line and children’s play area
  • Sani Valley Lodge – A private nature lodge only 2 hours from Durban. It sits within the dramatic Drakensberg mountain range, borders a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the closest luxury lodge to the famous Sani Pass.
  • Inkosana Berg Lodge – The lodge is “eco friendly” and sustains itself from using resources of the land such as mountain water, fresh vegetables and herbs from the herb garden, solar lighting and outdoor eco showers, gas cookers and wood fired pizza oven.
  • Penwarn Farm Lodge -An Unforgettable Farm Lodge Experience. Penwarn Farm Lodge, in the heart of the Underberg, provides guests with that authentic farm experience, but without sparing any of the luxuries you’d expect to enjoy on your holiday. There a range of accommodation options available at Penwarn Farm Lodge, with choices to suit couples, friends and families alike.
  • Injisuthi Camp – Hiking and camping in Drakensberg parks such as this will be a memorable experience for older children and teenagers.

Family-friendly activities in the Drakensberg

  • Antbear Lodge horse trails – Ideal for beginners and children. The horses are very calm and rides are not about speed. For children the horses are led with someone walking with the horse or little children can get some exposure inside the round pen just to get used to things.
  • Falcon Ridge bird of prey show -Highly recommended (including a TripAdvisor Badge of Excellence), The Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Center is found in Champagne Valley in the Drakensberg. Open every day apart from Fridays, the “shows” are thrilling; highlighting the power, speed and intelligence of the birds. An insight into Falconry is included in the show and the public will learn how these birds of prey use their wings and sharp beaks and claws to their advantage.
  • Dragons Rock Reptile center – An exciting tour that is fun and educational. Come and feel the reptiles and learn all about them. Anything from snakes to hedgehogs. This really is a gem of an attraction for families and children.
  • Scootours and kidies adventures – Down hill scooters are lots of fun even for the adult kids. Here You will find zip lines, tree climbing, paintball, King Swing @ One Venue in Central Drakensberg
  • African Bird sanctuaryIncredibly informative, beautiful birds and the only place in the world that has Bearded Vultures in captivity (they’re part of a breeding program to try up their numbers) in Pietermaritzburg, and watch some awesome predators like owls, falcons and hawks in action in an open-air amphitheater and learn their stories. Don’t miss the vulture feeding sessions, on weekends and public holidays at 12:30. Afterwards, visit the Kestrel Cafe for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, while the kids burn off some extra energy at the jungle gyms or feeding the rabbits and guinea pigs.
  • All Out AdventuresAwesome activities to get the adrenaline pumping…nice coffee shop…safe…owner manages
  • Drakensberg Boys Choir – The Drakensberg Boys Choir School is one of the few South African Schools whose fame extends around the world. This school offers a unique educational opportunity for boys; it stimulates their spirit of adventure and exploration in our beautiful surroundings, while nurturing the development of the mind and expression in innate musical talent. Set on a 100Ha estate, the school draws its inspiration from the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, a World Heritage Site in KwaZulu-Natal, and is filled with the sound of boys singing, surely one of the purest of musical delights in the world. Don’t miss our popular Wednesday concerts at 15h30, every Wednesday during term time!
  • Piggly Wiggly Country Village – With various activities for the entire family, the Piggly Wiggly Country Village has something for everyone. The Candle Dipping Shop invites little piggies of all ages to create candle art by dipping their candles into different colours of wax while mom and dad shop or do some wine tasting at Meander Fine Wines. Kids can also play putt-putt at the Piggly Wiggly Putt Putt or get creative at the Zulu-Lulu Ceramic Boutique. Offering wholesome family fun and plenty of opportunities to bond with your kids, the Piggly Wiggly Country Village is a must visit this winter holiday. They also have great Kiddies’ Party Packages!
  • Karkloof and Drakensberg Canopy Tours – For an adventure activity that you and your kids will remember, go on a canopy tour with Karkloof Canopy Tours. Unleash your inner monkey by joining the Samango monkeys in the Karkloof forest canopy. Suitable for children from the age of seven, the two-hour eco-experience will afford you the opportunity to traverse from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended 35 meters from the forest floor. With nine platforms and eight cable slides, it’s a zig-zagging experience the whole family will enjoy.
  • Chocolate dipping at Cockolate Heaven – For a sweet experience that will certainly give you the parent-of-the-year award, go chocolate dipping at Chocolate Heaven. The chocolates are hand molded and are created with premium Belgian chocolate. It is an activity dunked in fun that will hopefully leave more chocolate in your belly than on your face.
  • Funtasy Toy Shop – After a term filled with learning and homework, don’t you think it’s time to reward your little bright spark? Funtasy Toy Shop offers a wide variety of different toys and games most of which are not found in commercial stores. The quaint toy store offers carefully handcrafted toys for both boys and girls. At Funtasy Toy Shop the kids can create their own special soft toy which has its own heart and passport. Hours of fun can be had with the unique bears.
  • Mandela Capture site – For an educational experience these holidays, why not visit the interesting Mandela Capture Site. Learn about how Mandela was captured on his return journey from Johannesburg and afterwards, have a snack at Truth Cafe. You can also visit the Impumelelo Bead Shop and sample the beaded artwork and jewelry produced by a group of women.
  • Hot Air Ballooning – This is one of the most romantic outings for adventurous couples. The ride takes you over the majestic mountains to have a bird’s eye view of the highest peak in SA. Breathtaking

Family-friendly day hikes in the Drakensberg

  • Main Caves at Giants Castle -This is a short and easy hike that leads to a site with reasonably good examples of bushman rock art. Whats particularly interesting for families with children is that they have setup an out door museum where children enjoy their exposure to lost culture.
  • Giants Castle Slack Packing Trail – A luxury slackpacking trail that runs between 3 lodges. You are accompanied by a professional hiking guide, all your meals are catered for and your luggage is transported to the next lodge. The trail is easy and children are welcome to accompany parents on the trail.
  • Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve – For a chance to see wildlife in the Natal Midlands, why not visit the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, a part of WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa). Your kids will have a field day spotting giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope in the reserve. With an indigenous tree trail surrounding the main Education Centre, self-guided walks enable mingling with the animals in the reserve. The largest part of the reserve is located in the stunning gorge below Howick Falls, guaranteeing impressive views.

Tugela Falls via the Chain Ladders

Tugela Falls

Although this is by far one of the easiest routes to take to get on top of the escarpment, you should still be well prepared for severe mountain weather. It is known that storms can arrive without warning at any time of the year and it is not unknown to get snow in winter. Be well prepared with a warm jacket and rain wear even if it’s just a day outing.

This walk is a popular overnight trip as well and a tent will be needed if you choose to sleep over. Sleeping over will allow you to experience most probably one of the best sunrises in South Africa.

The path starts at the Witsieshoek Car Park and follows the contour path towards the Witches and then swings towards the zigzags, the path has been upgraded with paving stones to help curb erosion, so stay on the path and don’t take short cuts as this leads to erosion. The path will lead up to the base of the Sentinel and veering to the right it gently climbs on a contour path following the base of the basalt cliffs towering over you. Soon you will reach the chain ladders which is actually 4 ladders in total, that will lead you to the top of the escarpment. The first ladders were commissioned in 1930 by Otto Zunckel and later a second set was installed next to the old one to help speed up the process of going up and down. For those with a fear of heights there is a path up the Sentinel Gully that will bypass the ladders and take you to the top without adding too much extra on to your walk. The path will lead you to the top of the falls where you can find a number of vantage points to view the water tumbling down 614m into the basalt abyss below. Take care on a windy day as the wind can be very strong on this exposed plateau.

Blogging about the Drakensberg

Blogging about the Drakensberg
Monk's Cowl National Park
That silly idea I’ve always had about one blog per country unless I live there is becoming untenable. Finally the Drakensberg has done it. After three trips to South Africa I finally made it to the Drakensberg Mountains and if I would have known how stunning it is I would have been here sooner.Our favourite type of exploring involves mountains so in South Africa that had to involve the Drakensberg. The dilemma was whether to go on a couple of multiday hikes or numerous single day hikes. Multiday hikes would take us well off the beaten path but would mean taking camping and cooking equipment so lugging large bags – not just on the hikes but also for the rest of our time in the country.

The infamous Chain Ladders
The infamous Chain Ladders
We decided on choosing a few bases to do day hikes from, which also meant hiring a car would be more cost effective and we wouldn’t have problems of parking it in one place then somehow getting back to it after a multiday A to B trek.
There are a lot of potential hiking destinations in the Drakensberg and we chose three based on things like Google Images searches, an ancient Lonely Planet and reviews of places to stay. The accommodation inside the national parks can be really expensive whereas some of the other places to stay advertised as being in the Drakensberg are actually quite far away. The original plan was for one destination in the South African Drakensberg and the rest of the time in Lesotho but that had to change when we found out at the last minute that we needed a visa.Royal Natal National Park

Rather than stay down in the national park, we stayed up on the ridge at Witsieshoek. This was definitely a good idea. The views were great in all directions and especially across to the Amphitheatre. There are lots of hikes that could be done directly from the lodge without having to drive. However, we mostly chose it for its proximity to the Sentinel car park which was about 20-minutes away up a sometimes terrible dirt road (though we managed it in a little hire car). The Sentinel car park is the start of the lovely then scary then lovely hike up onto the top of the Amphitheatre and is reputed to be the easiest way up onto the High Berg plateau. The scary bit I’m talking about is the infamous chain ladders. I’d read about these and was looking forward to a bit of a via-ferrata style climb to add some excitement. However, they were higher, longer and wobblier than I expected. The AmphitheatreThe AmphitheatreIt never crossed our minds to not climb them, especially seeing as a very large group of teenagers with big rucksacks had recently passed us who must have come down them and because we had read they get easier as you get higher, but I occasionally had a bit of a shake going on in my hands and knees. Up on the top was a different world from the lush green gorges and high cliffs that we’d been walking among and looking down on. Above the ladders, it is a fairly flat rocky plateau with little vegetation. There should have been a great view off the Amphitheatre escarpment, including of Tugela Falls, the second highest in the world at 948 m, however, we could see precisely nowt. The clouds were blowing up the valley and sitting just off the escarpment, occasionally blowing over the top reducing visibility to just metres. Our plan was to hike up to Mont-aux-Sources and when the clouds came in we followed a compass bearing, when they cleared we realised we had done a pretty big loop and gone up the mountain the long way round. Although, Battle Cave, Injisuthiour route was much prettier than the shorter and direct route down. Going back down the chain ladders was again a little leg wobbly especially as there was a bit of a queue including several hysterical people who wouldn’t get onto the ladders. They may well be still up there… This ended up being the only hike we did in the Drakensberg when we actually saw any people. The following day we set off in thick fog towards Surprise Ridge and Cannibal Cave. When the fog eventually cleared, it was beautiful and we only saw three shepherds all day who tried to sell us some unidentifiable meat! I will point out that our map and route descriptions talked about paths down into the Royal Natal National Park valley from the ridge we hiked along somewhere near Cannibal Cave but we couldn’t find them. Every time we looked over the edge where the path should be there were just vertical drops so bear that in mind if you are out that way.

Monk’s Cowl National Park

Unexpectedly the photos from Monk’s Cowl have turned out to be the most dramatic and, although it’s not that we didn’t appreciate

The infamous Chain Ladders

it at the time, there were parts of this hike that were a bit boring but looking back it appears to have been entirely spectacular. Monk’s Cowl has lots of short loops that are well marked and last a few hours each that could be pieced together into a lovely day. We decided to get up above the marked routes onto the lesser frequented paths. Unfortunately, these turned out to be much less frequented paths so, while easy to follow, they were a bit overgrown and scratchy on the legs. We saw a couple of people at the very beginning and a couple at the very end, otherwise nobody all day.

Injisuthi

It might look close to Monk’s Cowl, it is close to Monk’s Cowl, but the road in is a shocker. If I would have known it was that bad I wouldn’t have taken the little hire car in. But we made it, albeit going extremely slowly for the final 10 or so km weaving around boulders and stubborn cows. The setting is stunning and the hike up to Battle Cave was a nice change from our previous days’ hikes. There were no serious climbs, just little ups and downs along a river valley with a few stream-crossings thrown in though along a surprisingly overgrown path.

The clouds mark the edge of the AmphitheatreThe clouds mark the edge of the Amphitheatre We’d been in a few caves while in the Drakensberg to look for the San rock art and Battle Cave was by far the best we saw. The San Bushman are the earliest still-in-existence inhabitants of Africa, who used to inhabit these parts before being pushed out to continue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle now mostly in the Kalahari Desert. Their cave paintings are anything from a few hundred to a few thousand years old. Battle Cave is so called as, in addition to the cattle, rhinos, giraffes, and other animals as depicted elsewhere, there are a lot of people with bows and arrows seemingly having a big fight – though some reckon this is symbolism for something rather than representing an actual battle. Saw 5 people all day.

Sani Pass

Our final Drakensberg hMonk's Cowl National ParkMonk's Cowl National Parkike was up the pass from Sani Top so over the border in Lesotho. See the next blog for a tale of climbing Thabana Ntlenyana; Lesotho and Southern Africa’s highest mountain. Saw one person all day.

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The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg

1. The Amphitheater

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg - 1 - Experience the Drakensberg fd3c3903a1061d1995cc068abcbd0849 Royal NatalOne of the most impressive cliff faces on earth, this towering line of precipitous cliffs runs over 5km, at more 1 000 metres (3200 ft) high. This makes it 10 times the size of El Capitan’s most famous face in Yosemite in the USA. Just to see it is awe-inspiring.

The Amphitheater is within the Royal Natal Park, which is well run and easy to get to. Mont-Aux-Sources, South Africa’s highest peak at just over 3 254 metres (11 000 ft), is part of the same complex. In summer it’s verdantly green with spectacular thunderclouds gathering late in the afternoon, while in winter it’s often under snow, and the grasses make the landscape yellow under clear blue skies. It’s worth checking out in both seasons.

2. Hike to see the world’s 2nd highest waterfall

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg - 2 - Experience the Drakensberg 0fff077b5db232d312d9a8ecbafcdaf2 Royal NatalMany rate this as the best hike in KwaZulu Natal – a trek through The Royal Natal Park to the Tugela Falls, which plunges over 948 metres (3,100 ft) from the Amphitheatre’s clifftops. The hike is 3 hours up to the point where you look up at the falls and 2 then hours down, along pathways lined with ferns and wild flowers, passing through patches of yellowwood forest. It’s really not too strenuous, but take plenty of water as much of the way you’re hiking above the river.

You can pick up a map when you sign in at the park. There are lots of other hikes within the park, and the staff there can give you all the details.

3. Bushman paintings

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg - 3 - Experience the Drakensberg 96fd07e4e416653ab78c72ab2bb1ce06 Royal NatalBushman or San people have left behind delicate galleries of their art in caves all over the ‘Berg. A short guided tour to a cave in the Royal Natal Park can be booked – call ahead to confirm the time. You’ll get a spectacular view of the Amphitheater from the path.

4. Cascades

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg - 4 - Experience the Drakensberg f7160bc7c8f875ff9d02057b277a3733 Royal NatalPack lunch & take an easy stroll from the car park in the Royal Natal Park to this series of cascading falls, with trees around for shade and comfy rock formations to lounge around on in the sun. The water’s perfect for drinking and there are several pools for swimming.

5. Adventure activities

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg - 5 - Experience the Drakensberg 7003bb11f50f4356abda51d4d91543f6 Royal NatalAll Out Adventures has an amazing collection of equipment in a clearing in a forest near Montusi Mountain Lodge and The Cavern Resort & Spa, offering cable tours, paintball, quad biking, bungee bounce, zip line, king swing and flying trapeze – if you’re into this mad stuff, you’ll be entertained for hours. If not, they do good very good cake and coffee, so it’s still worth checking out.

6. Running & MTB trails

Image result for drakensberg mountain bike trails

The area has a 100km network of mapped and marked trails for running or riding, at different levels of difficulty. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at Montusi Mountain Lodge, they can arrange mountain bike rental as well as show you all the trails. And they have fabulous stand-alone suites in beautiful grounds, with sweeping views to the mountains – perfect to recover afterwards. And book an extra night – you body will appreciate it.

7. It’s super-easy to get to

The top 7 reasons to visit the Northern Drakensberg - 6 - Experience the Drakensberg 7a6d29a57800e41c6cc711a5926dfacd Royal NatalFrom Joburg, take the N3 highway for 2.5 hours to Harrismith and turn right – and the scenery begins, with a beautiful drive past the Sterkfontein Dam (the R74 is now in great condition) and down the Oliviershoek Pass. From Durban it’s an even easier drive, via Bergville.

If you would like any suggestions on where to stay, what to do and what special offers are on please contact our DrakensbergExperience.co.za booking office today and we will help with pleasure

Solo Travelling in the Drakensberg

Giants Castle - Central Drakensberg

Most parts of South Africa are well suited to solo travel. Locals are very friendly, and will often go out of their way to make single travelers feel at home. The Drakensberg in particular is suited to those who relish hiking trails, spectacular views, raw wilderness and the great out doors. Private accommodation options are better suited to single travelers than the national parks and larger hotels, since they tend to offer a more hands-on personalised service.

The Drakensberg is a must for solo travelers, and a lodge like Antbear Lodge it is a good base for exploring the gorgeous mountains . Some solo travellers prefer not to self-drive, which makes it difficult to explore areas that are off the beaten track unless you join an organised tour. Amphitheater Backpackers caters for this niche very well. Private game reserves such as Zulu Waters and Nambiti are particularly well-suited to solo travelers.

An excellent way for single travellers to explore South Africa and the Drakensberg is by using the combination of the Baz Bus and the many backpacker hostels that are scattered around its cities and other main sites of interest. The Baz Bus is an affordable hop-on, hop-off bus service that connects Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and several other popular places of interest, and its clientele is dominated by single travellers who are receptive to making new friends and meeting like-minded travel companions on the road. Likewise, most backpacker hostels have lively communal areas where it is easy to meet other travellers, and they usually also offer affordable group tours to local sites of interest, as well as overnight tours further afield.

At a more luxurious level, most private reserves operate group game drives and many also encourage guests to dine together, which makes it easy for solo travelers to mingle.

In the middle range, solo travelers seeking personalised attention should consider booking into small B&Bs and other owner-managed lodges rather than larger and more institutional hotels.

There are no risks specific to solo travel in South Africa, but apply the usual common sense precautions.

Drakensberg Rock Art

Drakensberg rock art - Kamberg game pass shelter
The Drakensberg Range has between 35,000 and 40,000 works of Bushman rock art. These rock art sites constitute the largest collection of such rock art in the world. There are some 20,000 individual rock paintings that have been recorded at 500 different caves and over-hanging cliff sites between the Drakensberg Royal Natal National Park and Bushman’s Nek. Due to the materials used in their production, these paintings are difficult to date but there is now anthropological evidence, including many hunting implements, that suggest the San people existed in the Drakensberg at least 40,000 years ago, and possibly even as much as 100,000. The most easily accessible rock art site with some of the best preserved examples of bushman rock art is at Game Pass Shelter in the Central Drakensberg at Kamberg. Giants castle offers main caves which is just a short walk and there is a guide at the rock art site with tours every hour on the hour.
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