Drakensberg Tugela Gorge
The Drakensberg Tugela Gorge hike is one of the most popular hikes in the Drakensberg Mountains. It might be a good idea to try and avoid this hike during school holidays and other peak seasons. We have done the hike twice, in-and-out of peak season.
The first time we did the hike was in the month of September. The trail was relatively quiet and we could appreciate the beauty of the trail without a lot of distractions. The second time we did the hike was in March over an Easter long weekend. There were a lot more people on the trail and the hike was less intimate.
While the Sentinel Trail takes you to the top of the escarpment which is literally 1km higher, the Tugela Gorge gives you a different but beautiful perspective of the Tugela Falls from the valley below.
While the Tugela Gorge trail is mostly flat, the difficulty lies with the sheer length of this trail. You will be doing about 17kms in total for the day, as it is about 8.5kms one way to the gorge. The hike should therefore not be underestimated as many people will find the last few kilometers of the trail extremely difficult.
If you are not fit enough, fatigue will set in before you are back at the starting point of the trail. We are therefore of the opinion that people who are not experience hikers should take adequate refreshments with them and make sure they start early enough so they can have enough time for proper rests along the way.
Arriving At Thendele Car Park
The start of the Tugela Gorge trail is at the Thendele Car Park inside the Royal Natal National Park. Since you will want to start this hike early in the day, you can either overnight at Mahai or Thendele Camp, or stay at one of the hotels just outside the park.
Once you are inside the park, find your way to the Thendele Car Park where you can leave your car for the day. The start of the trail is clearly marked. If you are still unsure, there is a map that outlines the trail for you.
Forests And Grass Fields
The first kilometer is not very exciting, but it brings you to a bridge to cross. From this point onwards there are a few landmarks to look out for, including the “Policeman’s Helmet” on your right, which is an eroded sandstone pillar.
The trail takes you in and out of lush forests, with beautiful views of the Amphitheatre wall. Along the way you will most likely see wildlife, including deer, birds and baboons.
After about 6kms you will reach the riverbed of the Tugela. The riverbed itself becomes the remainder of the trail that will take you to the Tunnel of the gorge.
For the most part, this leg of the trail is not too difficult. Just push on for another few kilometers and you will get to the Tunnel. The gorge is also a great place for epic photos.
Although the river is seldom in flood, you should assess if it is safe to continue.
Well done, you have made it to one of the most remarkable spots in the Drakensberg. The gorge takes you to an impassable rock formation called the Tunnel.
The Tunnel is basically white sandstone that have formed rock pools. The water here is crystal clear, and the perfect place for a swim.
The water is cold, and you will be refreshed should you decide to go for a dip. You can also simply take off your shoes and let the cold water soothe your feet.
The pools and the tunnel is truly beautiful, and you will want to spend some time here.
On the one side of the gorge you will see a trail that will take you to higher ground on the opposite side of the Tugela. It is really worth getting up on that side for another incredible view of the Amphitheatre and the Tugela Falls.
Just before the Tunnel on your right, you will find a chain ladder that will take you to the top of the Gorge and Tunnel.
The ladder is not nearly as challenging as the one at Sentinel Peak, but the portion after the ladder can be extremely challenging if you haven’t done some basic rock climbing before.
The chain ladder takes you up and into a lush forest, with iron pegs that have been mounted for your convenience. Here you will have to be careful. We would certainly not recommend climbing this section if it is raining, as the path will be very slippery.
This was what we experienced the first time when we hiked the Tugela Gorge. We found the trail too slippery and decided to head back instead.
However, the second time the path was dry and we were able to get to the top without any problems.
View Of The Tugela Falls
Once you are on the top of the gorge, you will be able to look down in the tunnel from above. Continue on the trail, and after about half a kilometer you will be rewarded with an incredible view of the Tugela Falls and the wall of the Amphitheatre.
Experienced hikers can continue on this trail to get to the foot of the falls. Unfortunately we ran out of time and had to head back as mist started to set in.
We climbed down the ladder and increased our pace on our way back. Similar to our Sentinel Peak hike, clouds were coming in and we found ourselves in thick mist.
The first time the road back was extremely challenging. However, the second time we knew what to expect and were able to remain optimistic all the way to the end.