Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tugela Gorge

One of the must do's when you are in the Drakensberg is the day hike up the Tugela Gorge.  On my matric (final year at school) tour nearly *mumble mumble* 20 years ago we did part of the hike and it was at the top of my list of things to do while we were in the Drakensberg.  The hike is about 5km long up to the actual gorge and runs parallel to the Tugela River below.  Another 1km of rock hopping takes you right up to the top of the gorge with superb views of the Tugela Waterfall and the Amphitheatre above.  From there you return to the parking area by following the route back over the same distance.

It rained the night before our planned hike and the Damselfly and Drama Princess decided that they rather wanted to relax around camp which meant that it was only me and Chaos Boy taking on the mighty gorge.  As we started Chaos Boy was still a bit unhappy that he had to go along, but as soon as he saw how the little streams flowed across the trail and he could hop from stone to stone all the moans were forgotten.  He may prefer lying in bed playing PlayStation over being outside, but offer him an adventure and he is game for it.

After a couple of hundred meters of ambling through a patch of indigenous forest we crossed a side tributary of the Tugela River on a wooden bridge.  Looking at the water rushing downhill I realised how much rain we actually had.  From this point I also realised that the low cloud may mean that we won't see the surrounding area in its full splendour.
One of the very distinctive landmarks you get after about 2,5km on the trail is the Policeman's Helmet.  Chaos Boy didn't really get why its called that until I explained to him the helmets worn by the British Police.  I did say that the helmet looked more like a head and even pointed out the face to me.  So far so good.

The path follows the contours of the mountain side.  It takes you around the open areas with mostly low mountain vegetation and into valleys covered with indigenous forest.  In the photo you can see a family that was a couple of hundred meters in front of us walking along the mountainside path.  The path is quite straight forward to follow with what must  be spectacular views on a clear day.  Not that it wasn't spectacular when we were doing it. Don't get me wrong.  Its was still breathtaking.

In each of the valleys as you walked through the forested parts there is a waterfall which, as Chaos Boy put it, looks like a shower.  The night's rain meant that these waterfalls were cascading down in all their glory and it made for a super sight.  We  also had to walk through the streams below the waterfalls as all the stepping stones were under water.  These streams gave us a perfect opportunity to keep our water bottles full with refreshingly cold mountain water.

Two hours and five kilometers after we started we reached the gorge itself and climbed down we where at the spot where all the rock hopping started.  Disappointment struck and it struck hard.  In the gorge you have to cross the river a couple of times before getting to the gorge's chain ladders which takes you up to the foot of the Tugela Waterfall.  Unfortunately all the rain meant that the river was in flood and too strong for us to get through and higher up.  This meant that we would not see the waterfall on this day as it is only visible once you round the corner.  We also couldn't see the Amphitheatre above us due to all the fog.  Oh well, it will have to wait for another time.  We had a quick picnic lunch on the rocks before returning back on our tracks to the car.

A couple of days later we moved on to Drakensville Holiday Resort about 30 km away from Mahai.  It was a nice clear day and driving along the road away from the mountain you could see the Tugela Waterfall cascading down the Amphitheatre in the distance.    It drops down in five free-leaping falls over a total of 948 meters making it the second highest waterfall in the world. Would have been nice to look up at it from from the foot of the Amphitheatre, but like I said, it would have to wait for another time.  I think next time we will come in winter when there is snow on the mountains and less rain.


  1. We have holidayed a couple of times in that area but I have never seen the falls. Diane

  2. Ahh!! That took me back to the time when Elaine was about 10 and we did that same trail - ended up at the same spot and turned back. She was too scared to cross the flowing river so hubby and two others waded through and I stayed with her. Got to bottom of chain ladder but because they were so wet didn't venture further.
    Like you ... next time !

  3. Ah, Zululand. Takes me back to my childhood when we lived in Eshowe and spent many happy an hour exploring the country side. Beautiful photographs...I can almost feel it, touch it, smell it, hear it... That 'buzz' in the quiet of a stinking hot Zululand summer's day.

  4. Nonetheless, you & your son had a grand time together, which is what matters. Cheers!

  5. I love the lush green of the Bergs. And it's truly a wonder when the waters flowing hard, but not good if you have to wade in it. I was amazed about filling our water bottles along the trail. You wouldn't want to do that here.

  6. I think your photography is fantastic - and with stories too about each one/place - brilliant site