Year in the Wild Blog

Day 2 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Thukela Gorge

The 14km walk up the Thukela Gorge is one of the most scenic in South Africa, that’s for sure. (It used to be spelt Tugela, but that’s the English corruption of the isiZulu spelling, which is Thukela).

Starting from Thendele Camp in  Royal Natal National Park, you can easily spend a whole day walking the gorge. In fact, you MUST not rush this walk…it’s like rushing through a really good piece of chocolate cake. Don’t do it, I tell you, don’t do it! Rather slow down, savour the experience, let your mind empty out and simply let yourself become one with the scene: the river, the forests, the grassy slopes, the sandstone cliffs of the lower Berg and the everpresent and unmissable Amphitheatre of basalt cliffs that lord over the entire wonderland from above.

In winter, the Thukela River is but a trickle of a stream compared to the raging torrent in summer, when the thunderstorms arrive. (At the moment, the famous Thukela Falls are not flowing because it’s been such a dry winter). But there is always flowing water lower down, even now, in the middle of a dry winter, and it emphasises for me how valuable the marshes and wetlands of the upper Berg are. They soak up all the water in summer, and release it slowly throughout the year, ensuring a consistent water supply.

The walk isn’t too strenuous if you go slowly, and allows plenty of opportunity for taking photos. Once you’re at the top of the valley, the gorge narrows and you can walk up some ladders to get even higher up the gorge, where eventually the path fizzles out, and you’re in true wildernees. Then, you’re confronted by the Amphitheatre in all its majesty, and a “booming silence” as David Bristow writes in his guide book to the Berg. Being alone in these mountains is humbling and enthralling at the same time.

The weather has been fantastic for winter – clear skies, mild temperatures and a gentle breeze. The locals are saying its one of the mildest winters in a few years. I got back down the gorge at sunset, and by then the clouds had come in, so maybe winter is finally on its way…we’re due for a big cold front, so let’s see if the dragon casts its icy spell on the mountains.

The view from the start of the Thukela Gorge walk

Looking down the valley...

The gorge narrows, and the Amphitheatre gets bigger and bigger!

There are pockets of dense montane forest, with beautiful yellowwood trees.

This photo was taken with a Lee Big Stopper and an ND grad filter to balance the light. There's no way I could take this photo in summer, because the river would be a raging torrent.

I'm fascinated by abstract light, like the reflections on the cool pools of clear water...

More abstractions on the surface...

Bubbles = oxygen = life

Check out those colours! I took these abstract photos with my Canon 100-400mm zoom.

I should have skinnydipped in this pool...but it's cold!

Climbing the chain ladders to get out of the gorge, and up into the higher Berg.

The top of the gorge, and the eastern cliffs of the Amphitheatre...

The power of water is extraordinary, don't you think? Over millions of years, the Thukela has cut its way through the basalt to form this beautiful tunnel.

No way I could take this photo in summer...I'd be washed away like a leaf.

The tunnel...

Walking west, above the gorge, and you soon in proper wilderness...

Looking east to the Amphitheatre...

These cliffs are basalt rock, left over from 250 million years ago, when a massive outpouring of lava across the southern continent of Gondwana land covered the entire area.

The indigenous forests in the kloofs have survived thousands of years of fires - both natural and man-made.

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.


  • Amazing Photos! The Drakensberg is an amazing place…and when you get to the Lesotho plateau the scenery totally changes… Awesome!

    • Thanks Walter! Amazing place indeed. Special for so many reasons, not only because it supplies 30% of SA’s fresh water!

  • Wow, what magnificent scenery. The photo of the pool is classic “Berg River” and a happy reminder of holidays past!

    Thank you for sharing your photos and information on how you shot them-very useful for us garden variety snappers. :)

  • Wow! beautiful pics. I want to go and the amphitheatre and the surrounding areas..

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