If South Africa had a coffee table book of quintessence, the three things that would fight for the cover would be the biological wonders of Kruger National Park, the iconic beauty of Table Mountain, and the quiet, hulking giant of the Drakensberg Amphitheater, home to the second tallest waterfall on Earth, and the Tugela River Gorge.
From afar, the Drakensberg Escarpment, notably the Amphitheater, lives up to it’s name ‘The Wall of Spears’. This view is from The Berghous Cottages.
If thinking about countries and what their ‘coffee table book’ images would be, South Africa’s would be Kruger National Park, Table Mountain of Cape Town, and this, The Drakensberg Amphitheater.
I wasn’t kidding when I said this hike will give you some of the most epic views, without really working for them. This was taken from the Tugela Gorge Trail Parking Lot.
From here, the Amphitheater looks like a solid wall, hence it’s name The Wall of Spears, but actually those shadowy areas on the face could be a quarter mile deep into the escarpment. It makes walking on top of the Amphitheater really amazing.
The Tugela River, South Africa’s second biggest river, and the main artery of KwaZulu Natal has very humble beginnings. From atop the Amphitheater, near Mont-aux-Sources, and falls off the 2nd tallest water fall in the world, Tugela Falls. So close to the source, the water is clear and clean, but the river seems more like a glorified creek. Down river, a powerful river resides.
The trail is well maintained, and very easy to follow. It makes its way gently upwards, following the Tugela River and eventually entering the Gorge.
Still in the low part of the trail, the path is relatively open on both sides. The views are staggering, with even cloudy skies providing world class sights.
Facing away from the Berg.
The trail begins to climbs upwards, eventually coming to a sharp ridge line. The right path follows Devil’s Hoek (Hook) towards a different area of the Berg. The left keeps the Tugela River on your left.
At the split between Devil’s Hoek and the Tugela Gorge is rock formation aptly named ‘The Policeman’s Helmet.’
A wide angle, go pro shot of the Tugela River Trail heading towards the Gorge and Amphitheater.
Never forget to look back on a hike, especially if you are not going to backtrack. There is a kinetic energy in looking at land you have traveled on your own power.
One of the steeper parts of the Tugela River Trail. This ‘steep’ sections were really not that steep at all, and would last a few hundred feet at hte most. For the majority of the trail, the hike is gently uphill.
If you are lucky, you will see a wide variety of wildlife.
Looking back again at the trail. You can see from here how gently the trail climbs.
Hiking the Tugela River Gorge.
The trail climbs steadily up, towards the gorge and the Amphitheater, as it traverses the ride of a sharp ridge line. As it winds it’s way in and out of the rippling sides of the mountain, the trail dips into verdant, lush, indigenous forests.
Getting closer to the Gorge and Amphitheater and the drop off to the river below is getting steeper.
You will see baboons in the Drakensberg. Don’t feed them please!
Just before the trail goes down in the Gorge. You come to a point where you must climb down, cross a small brook and enter the gorge.
The Tugela River Gorge in all of it’s glory. Be prepared to rock hope, and stream crossings.
Continuing into the Gorge.
At the end of the walkable Gorge, you come to a point where you can go a few directions. Firstly, right in front of you is a cave worth exploring. To the left are trails going a number of directions, and to the right, a rather treacherous looking chain ladder, bolted into the rock, and heading straight up. Choose your adventure my friends!
Darwin and mom in the Tugela River Gorge!
If you decide to climb the chain ladders like I did, you will get to this point. Continue as far as you want up the Tugela River from here, and enjoy the views of the Amphitheater. Unfortunately, the clouds only looked cool in person and did not make for especially cool pictures.
Still, the views are amazing if you can see anything at all. Take your time walking back to the trailhead. And don’t forget to look back.