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.
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Conservation partners BirdLife South Africa, Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, CapeNature, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Gorongosa National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.