Royal Natal National Park

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Royal Natal National Park boasts some of the most splendid mountain scenery in Africa. The main feature is the world famous Amphitheatre, a rock wall approximately five km in length, and 500m high. Above the amphitheatre is Mont-aux-Sources peak where, as its name implies, the Orange river starts its long journey to the Atlantic ocean and Thukela river cascades down the face of the amphitheatre, in one of the highest waterfalls in the world, on its way to the Indian ocean.

Royal Natal National Park - Tugela fallsThe most popular activity at Royal Natal National Park is undoubtedly hiking. A comprehensive hiking guide is available for purchase at the Visitor Centre, at Tendele camp office and at the main entrance gate. The brochure shows a map of the Royal Natal National Park and the network of hiking paths which visit every part of the park from the gentle walk to Fairy Glen to the challenging hike up the Crack and down the Mudslide.

Trout fishing at Royal Natal is available in two dams in the park and in the Mahai and Thukela rivers, and picnicking and swimming in the clear mountain streams are popular pastimes.

Royal Natal National Park - The AmphitheatreThe stables at Rugged Glen provide opportunities to ride into the mountains for unique views and sightings of mountain reedbuck and grey rhebuck that seem to have no fear of people on horse back.

Accommodation in Royal Natal National Park

Hiking Trails in Royal Natal National Park

  • Cascades and McKinlay's Pool: Take the campsite road to the casual car park. Walk along the road past the campsite. Fifteen minutes' walk brings you to the Queen's Causeway and the Cascades. From there a good path leads to McKinlay's Pool at which point the Gudu stream meets the Mahai. (Round trip 5 km : 1 hour). To make a round trip, though the going is very steep, a footpath leads up towards Dooley from the boulders near McKinlay's pool, joining the Tiger Falls/Gudu Bush path. Return via Tiger Falls or Gudu Bush. (Whole trip 8 km : 1 hour 45 minutes).
  • Fairy Glen: Start down the main road and cross the bridge opposite the Visitor Centre. Then take the path to the left leading through the bush to the Broome Hill stream. Cross and re-cross this, then follow up through the bush to the waterfall. This glen is well named and is a delightful picnic spot on a hot day. (1,6 km : 20 minutes). To make a round trip from Fairy Glen: continue along the bridle path, turning left back to the hotel at the fIrst crossroads, or left just beyond these crossroads, along a path which leads to the main campground. (Whole trip 4 km : 45 minutes).
  • Otto's Walk: This walk starts at the far side of the Visitor Centre car park. It is a self-guided trail of some three kilometres and takes about 45 minutes to complete. A booklet providing information on the walk is obtainable from the Visitor Centre. Many trees are identified and the walk is signposted all the way.
  • Tendele Camp: The hutted camp established at the back of Dooley, high up on the side of the mountain, commands a wonderful view of the Amphitheatre with the Policeman's Helmet and Vemvaan Valley in the foreground. There is a road to the camp but only residents may take their cars beyond the signposted Gorge parking area. This makes a nice morning's walk from the hotel area, travelling along the motor road. (5 km : 1 hour 30 minutes). Proceed back to the hotel or camping area along the path which starts on the Thendele road below the Lodge and passes below the camp extension to the eastern end of the natural forest and on to meet the hotel/Tiger Falls path. (Whole trip 10 kIn : 2 hours 30 minutes).
  • Gudu Falls: From Thendele take the path past Tiger Falls to the Gudu Bush. Soon after the stream is crossed a path to the left will be seen which leads to these magnificent falls. From the hotel, cross the Mahai below the casual car park and proceed up the hill to the four-way junction, turning left. Here the path for those starting from the main campground will be met. Continue on past the turn to the Mudslide and into the forest. Turn right at the signpost and follow the steep path above and out of sight of the stream for about I 600 metres, when the Gudu Falls will be reached. (4 km : 2 hours). (Whole trip 9 km : 3 hours 30 minutes).
  • Doolev Waters and the Mahai Valley: Proceed to the upper end of the Gudu Bush (see Walks Nos 8 and 11). Continue up the valley on the main bridle path overlooking the Mahai stream for about 2,5 km. Cross the Mahai stream, a very attractive picnic spot, and continue up the north-facing slope until a path junction is reached. Turn left up the Dooley Waters path, or alternatively right to continue further up the Mahai valley to Basuto Gate. Campsite via Cascades path junction 7 km : 2 hours, 30 minutes). NOTE: The Nek and the path from the Nek to the Basuto Gate path are closed. The Dooley Waters path is therefore a cul-de-sac.
  • Mahai Falls and Basuto Gate: At the Dooley Waters/Basuto Gate path junction (see Walk No 12) turn right to continue further up the Mahai Valley to the Mahai Falls. This is a popular picnic spot with an inspiring view down the valley. From this point the path up to Basuto GateIWitsieshoek Mountain Resort is obvious. On reaching Basuto Gate/Witsieshoek Mountain Resort it is a short walk over the ridge (the boundary of Qwa Qwa) where one gets magnificent views of the Malutis, often snowclad in the winter months. The word 'Mahai' is Sesuto for 'rocky krantz'. (11 km : 3 hours 45 minutes). To make the round trip, from Basuto Gate continue along the path on the near side of the fence for about three kilometres, crossing the source of the Gudu Stream on the way. Then continue to the Crack (Walk No 14) or to the top of Gudu Falls, and then back via the Mudslide. (Whole trip 24 km : 6 hours 30 minutes).
  • The Crack and the Mudlslide: From Gudu Bush (Walks Nos 8 and 11) continue up the valley for another 1 200 metres where a path will be seen leading towards the Crack. The climb is very steep but a short chain ladder helps one over the only difficult section. On reaching the top, bear right onto the high ground overlooking the Mahai valley and make straight for the top of the Gudu Falls, where an easy crossing of the Gudu stream can be made about 50 metres up. This is a favourite place for a swim, and a good picnic spot. Directions are hardly needed for scaling Plowman's Kop, from which point a magnificent view is obtained. Return down the Mudslide. This starts beyond the far corner of Plowman's Kop. The decent is very steep and loose and, after rain, slippery .The short chain ladder at the start is helpful. At the foot of the cleft, follow the main path round to the right until it joins up with the hotel path and turn left for home. (Whole trip 11 km : 4 hours 40 minutes). NOTE: The Mudslide is not suitable for young children or those suffering from fear of heights.
  • The Grotto: The route from Thendele is described above. From Rugged Glen proceed past the Camel, Surprise Ridge (Walks Nos 7 and 15) and on to the Grotto.
    From the hotel/main campground area proceed as for Sunday Falls (Walk No 4), but soon after passing the four-way junction and just short of the Fairy Glen Stream, turn left up the Broome Hill valley.
    Continue climbing steadily until the Grotto forest is reached.
    Eventually, the path comes to a dead end, but some ten metres before this a faint path can be seen leading upwards to the left, and a ten minute walk brings you to the Grotto.
    The Grotto is in two parts, consisting of two huge gorges cut through the sandstone, and both are worthy of exploration. (5 km : 2 hours). (Whole trip 10 km : 3 hours 30 minutes).
  • The Gorge Walk: From Thendele, proceed down to the Tugela river, where the main Gorge path will be reached. From here the route is obvious. From the hotel/campground area it is possible to save a three-kilometre walk by driving to the foot of the Thendele hill, where parking will be found and the Gorge path proper starts. If walking, a more interesting route, enabling one to avoid the road, is to go via Thendele camp. 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. For the first 6,5 kilometres beyond the foot of Thendele hill there is a very good path and no steep climb. No special directions are really needed. The path winds along, above and parallel with the Tugela river . Not long after crossing the intersection stream from Devil's Hoek, look out for the Policeman's Helmet on the high ground to the right overlooking Vemvaan Valley. The last 1 600 metres through the Gorge entails three crossings of the river (simple enough unless in flood). Many visitors to the Gorge turn back at the first crossing. This is a pity, as the most picturesque scenery at Royal Natal lies at the far end, and walking the additional 600 metres is rewarding. Cross the stream and re-cross, keeping to the path which is on the right-hand side of the Gorge, and keep on until you reach the chain ladder on the cliff on the right-hand side. The chain ladder is at the mouth of the tunnel. This tunnel is approximately 55 -65 metres long. Use the chain ladder to skirt the tunnel or scramble through the tunnel, though a ducking is likely, and so get into the Amphitheatre. Boulder-hop up the Tugela for about 800 metres, where each few metres gives you a complete change of scenery. A steep path up the left-hand bank of the Eastern Buttress Gully leads to the Tunnel Cave. If you stand with your back to the chain ladder, this path will be directly in front of you. From the cave there is a wonderful view of the Amphitheatre wall, with the Sentinel on your right, and you will be able to look over the Tunnel. If you proceed around the cave you will obtain an excellent view down the valley towards the hotel. Warning: keep a lookout for thunderstorms, as a heavy storm may bring down the river and delay your return trip by a few hours. The best spot to picnic is at the end of the path, (11 km : 3 hours). (Whole trip 22,5 km : 5 hours 30 minutes).
  • Devil's Hoek Valley: Start as for the Gorge Walk. Shortly after leaving the forest (10 minutes) a signpost points the way up the valley. Some ten minutes' walk from here, on the right, you will notice a large rock on which there are some Bushman paintings. Continue through a large patch of forest, uphill across an open section and into a second area of forest. At this point the path ends, and any further progress is hard going. (Whole trip from the Gorge car park 6 km : 2 hours). From Thendele camp Devil's Hoek Valley is within a thirty-minute walk.