Tugela Gorge Trail, South Africa
The hike up to the Tugela Gorge to the base of the Amphitheatre is a Drakensberg favourite. It’s a long walk but is relatively flat, so it’s not very strenuous and the views are absolutely breathtaking.
There are several ways to get onto the path to the gorge but the easiest is from the car park just below Thendele camp, in Royal Natal National Park. Walk past the ablution block onto a path that eventually cuts through a patch of indigenous bush. Just beyond the bush, about a kilometre from the start, turn left onto a path that crosses a bridge over the Vemvaan River, from where you have a stunning view of the dramatically eroded sandstone pillar known as the Policeman’s Helmet. The path cuts back towards the Tugela River and contours above it, meandering in and out of lush forests and protea veld at a gradual gradient.
After about six kilometres, the trail descends into the Tugela River and the start of the gorge section, with its wonderful rock pools and beautiful curved walls. Carry on walking along the path on the right bank through the indigenous forest for a short distance, passing several large and very tempting crystal-clear rock pools, until you literally pop out into the river bed.
You now have about a kilometre of easy rock hopping up to the start of the mouth of The Tunnel. Look left at this point and you’ll get a glimpse of another Drakensberg icon – the Devil’s Tooth.
Hikers must pay the entrance fee to the park and sign the mountain register before setting out. If the water level is low, it’s fun to wade through the 65-metre tunnel – otherwise bypass it by climbing the chain ladders on the right. Roughly 50 metres on the other side of the tunnel, a magnificent view of the imposing basalt walls of the Amphitheatre and Tugela falls opens up.