Year in the Wild Blog

Day 1 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – The beginning!

I’m spending my first night of Year in the Wild 2013-14 in the Royal Natal National Park in uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site! I’ve got another 15 months of travel ahead of me, exploring about 50 of South Africa’s most special protected areas, as well as the transfrontier parks on the borders of the country.

It’s the middle of winter here, but it feels like summer! The Drakensberg mountains are often covered in snow at this time of year, but the sky is blue, the sun is out and the only indication of winter is the golden grass and the reduced flow of water in the rivers. (This part of the country has dry winters, and rain falls in summer).

The Royal Natal National Park isn’t a national park, despite its name. It just one of several Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal provincial reserves that protect South Africa’s biggest mountain range, and gets its regal tag from a visit from the British Royal family in 1947, which included the current Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by General Jan Smuts.

Without a doubt, the beautiful camp of Thendele has one of the best views in the country. The massive 4 km long amphitheatre of basalt cliffs looms large in front of every cottage, climbing 1 500 metres to 3 282 metres at Mont aux Sources, the highest peak. This is the source of the Thukela River (meaning “startling” in Zulu), one of the most powerful in South Africa, with an appropriately high cascading waterfall of around 800 metres, although the single biggest vertical drop is around 150 metres.

The Drakensberg mountains supplies about 30% of all South Africa’s fresh water, and it’s conservation is critical for economic and social reasons. Not only do big cities like Joburg depend on these mountains’ rivers, but so do the local Zulu people, who live on its slopes. I loved driving through the little villages today, which have some of the most beautiful views in the country! When I arrived at Thendele I was greeted by a troop of baboons! I remember them from last time I was here, and its good to see wild animals again, even if these mountains don’t have the typical array of African wildlife. Check out the photos below…

Driving through the Mnweni area, on my way to Royal Natal National Park

The Mnweni Valley with mountains in the background

The rivers are running low, because it's winter, but there's always water Ford Everest has no problems with this little stream.

Shops on the way to Thendele

Baboons at Thendele

Baboons at Thendele

The famous amphitheatre, the view from Thendele campsite

The Western Buttress, which rises over 3 000 metres above sea level.

There are pockets of indigenous mist forest in the kloofs of the Drakensberg. This one is just behind cabin 25 at Thendele.

An Outeniqua Yellowwood tree growing just behind my cabin at Thendele. It's quite a small one compared to the 50 metre high giants at Tsitsikamma in the Southern Cape, but its good to see them growing here. They're such great trees!

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as EeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.


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