The Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa is a magnificent sight to bear witness to. It holds deep magic within it that almost overpowers you the closer you get. Driving up to any point of The Berg, as it is affectionately known, you are overcome with excitement and awe. It truly captivates you with its majesty.
Thendele Camp, one of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife resorts, is possibly the most perfectly positioned camp in the whole of The Berg. My husband and I have been there a few times on our own to celebrate our anniversary. We finally took our kids there this here too. It is definitely as much a family-friendly spot as it is romantic.
The camp itself possibly has the most exquisite location in the whole of the Drakensberg. Small thatch chalets are dotted on either side of the concrete driveway. There are 2-sleepers, 4-sleepers and 6-sleepers, with the Mahai campsite located just down the road too. We stayed in the same 2-sleeper chalet when we came for our anniversary, and a beautiful 4-sleeper (with an extra mattress) when we brought our kids.
It is basic and a little bit rustic, but has everything you need. A small braai outside on the patio, an oven and hob. Cutlery, crockery and all the basic utensils, as well as glasses and coffee mugs. There is a bath and a shower in the bathroom, clean towels, and a comfortable bed. What more could you need? For those who can’t live without a little TV before bed, there is one hooked up to DStv in the living area.
Being a water baby, I initially thought that the only downside for me was that there is no swimming pool. But with so many mountain springs, waterfalls, rivers and pools to choose from, you really don’t miss it.
Thendele is nestled in a valley with views that lead up to the iconic Amphitheatre in all its grandeur. No matter where you are situated in the camp, you have an incredible, jaw-dropping view of this incredible expanse of mountain and can clearly see The Sentinel and the Eastern Buttress from your patio too. We have stayed in two different chalets on our three visits to the camp; a two-sleeper tucked up against the mountains, and a four-sleeper with the perfect view of the Ampitheatre front and centre.
But a visit to Thendele is all about the hikes. As beautiful as it is to soak up the environment of the camp, the hikes that lead out from the camp are unforgettable! We have done the following hikes straight from Thendele camp:
- The Tugela Gorge hike (once from the parking lot and once from the camp)
- The Tiger Falls hike (once in the dry season and once in the wet – two totally different experiences)
- The Cascades walk from Mahai Campsite (not really a hike)
- The Cascades hike from Tiger Falls, via Gudu Falls
- Devil’s Hoek hike from the camp
The Tugela Gorge Hike
7km outward trip, 14km round trip
This is hands down one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done, especially if the Ampitheatre is in full view. We have done it in the dry season and wet season, and they are completely different experiences. The second time we did it, there was cloud cover over the top of the Ampitheatre, so you didn’t have the same overwhelming sense of granduer.
It is really long, but as my eight-year-old son says: “The prize at the end is the view.” It is well worth being fully prepared to ensure you at least get to the pools near the end. If you do, it’s a 22km roundtrip. The route is direct and easy to follow, but it’s exposed a lot of the time. If you’re in full sun, you will need a lot of water and a lot of time.
During the wet season, the gorge below is completely flooded, so there are parts that differ from one season to the next. This little hidden cave pool was also so discreet during the dry season, hence the skinny dipping in the fresh, mountain water.
What you need to take with you:
- Plenty of water – as much as you can carry. We had about 5 litres between us and we finished it all before we finished. The bonus? You can refill your bottles with fresh mountain water from the springs
- Sun protection – both sunblock, hats, and sun shirts if you have them
- Hiking boots or strong, sturdy shoes – you don’t need hiking boots if you have a really decent pair of trail shoes, but hiking boots make it so much easier
- Loads of snack – energy bars, fruit, sandwiches, whatever it is that blowsd your hair back, but bring loads! We went through snacks almost as quickly as we did water
- Patience – make sure you give yourself enough time to complete it and then return too
It is suitable for children of about eight to ten years and older, unless your child has experience hiking. I had to hang back a bit with my youngest son as it was boiling hot the second time we did the hike.
Did you know it takes you 25% longer to hike in the heat? Always factor that in with your timings.
The Tiger Falls Hike
3km outward trip, 6km round trip
We did this hike in the dry season (end September) and were met with a tiny trickle of water dripping down the rockface. When we went in the wet season (beginning February) the volume of water was almost overpowering!
This hike is great for kids and once at the falls, you can also venture behind them. The second time we went, we started this hike in the rain knowing that it was close enough for us to return if we needed to. It turned out to be the most perfect day after we had left the falls and continued onwards towards Gudu Falls and the Cascades. The weather is 100% unpredictable. The weather app said thunderstorms all day and we had blue skies for most of it.
5km round trip from the Mahai parking lot
These beautiful pools are near the Mahai campsite, which is one of the most stunning campsites I’ve ever visited. I stayed there many moons ago with my family, and it was lush, green and had the most idyllic hikes straight out of the camp.
You can hike down from Thendele to the Cascades, or even drive to the campsite and walk from the Mahai carpark. We have done both, but on our last visit we walked down to the Cascades from Gudu Falls. All downhill, which is quite taxing on the toenails (interesting) and knees, but beautiful every step of the way. The path is concreted a lot of the way, which makes it very easy to follow.
As with Tiger Falls, the Cascades are very different in the dry and wet season. You almost lose the appeal in the wet season, and we walked straight past them not realising they were the same place we had been before. There is a lookout rock and plenty of places to take a dip. The walk from Mahai to Cascades is extremely kid-friendly and great for smaller children. In fact, I’d recommend camping at Mahai if you have small kids… it’s such a beautiful space for them to roam free.
Devil’s Hoek Hike
1.5km outward trip, 3km roundtrip
My husband and I did this hike the second time we visited Thendele. It’s another hike straight out of the camp that heads up to the right of the valley. You start off with the Ampitheatre in full view, as well as Policeman’s Helmet and all the other iconic rock features. It is fairly easy most of the way until you reach the climb. It is almost vertical up the side of the mountain, but the view at the top of worth every step.
After the vertical climb, which is through beautiful forest, you reach an incredible grassy plateau that feels like the top of the world. There was no one else around when we went, and we lay in the grass all day, looking at the blue sky and admiring the cliffs on the other side. It was truly magical.
Coming back down the vertical climb was a bit of a slide and stumble, but it was fun, quick, and easy. Just not really suitable for kids.
Things To Consider Before You Go Hiking
Don’t underestimate what you’re about to do. You’re heading out into the wild, even though paths are marked, people have died going out on hikes into the Berg. You need to be prepared, you need to take loads of water, you need snacks for sustenance, and you really and truly need a great pair of hiking shoes or boots.
Don’t forget to sign the hiking register before you leave. There is one located in the Thendele camp by the visitor’s centre. There is one in the car park, and one at Mahai campsite, and another in the campsite parking lot. Take the tear-off slip with you as it has emergency numbers on it in case you get into trouble. Don’t forget to sign back in too.
If you do get to do any of these Royal Natal National Park hikes, consider yourself well and truly fortunate. They are located in one of the most incredible expanses of nature that I have ever had the privilege of being in. Find out about booking into Thendele Camp here.