Tugela Falls in Royal Natal National Park, uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, KwaZulu-Natal
Thukela means sudden or startling - a very apt description!
The Tugela Falls is said to be the second highest water fall in the world but the debate is still ongoing as to whether it is in fact higher than present record holder, the Angel falls in Venezuela.
The Tugela Falls is situated in the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal and falls under the category of World Heritage Sites as is it located in the Royal Natal Nature Reserve which in turn is one of the 12 protected areas of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.
The name Tugela comes from the word 'Thukela' that means sudden, or startling, and this is a very apt name indeed as the falls are formed where the Tugela river encounters the sheer drop of the massive Amphitheatre escarpment that interrupts its tranquil flow. The duration of the flow is only 4 months on average, however in heavy rainfall, the falls are spectacular and they sometimes freeze over completely to form a magnificent impression.
The Tugela River falls over the escarpment in 5 distinctive stages to a total drop of 948 m:
- First tier is a 182 m drop
- Second tier is a 411 m drop
- Last 3 tiers together make up the rest at 355 m drop
- Average width 15 m
Course of the Tugela River
The Tugela River originates in the Mont-aux-sources plateaux, a few kilometres away from the Amphitheatre escarpment and flows east on its way to the sea. Eight other rivers also originate at this plateaux. From the source of the river to the escarpment, the water is pure and safe to drink.
Five tiered plunges to the bottom of the escarpment creates a scenic wonder that has enchanted many a visitor to the Royal Natal Nature Reserve with all the accommodation facilities positioned to face this beautiful scene.
Trails to the Falls
There are 2 official trails to the Tugela falls:
The Sentinal Trail
This trail is only 4 km long takes 4.5 to 8 hours round trip depending on fitness and leaves the Sentinal Parking area and climbs to a height of 3048 m where air is rather thin. This is the only day hiking trail that leads to the top of the escarpment.
The last section of the hike has to be traversed on a 2 tier chain ladder that takes you over a rock formation. Not for the faint hearted or people with height phobias!
Directions from various points to the Sentinal Parking area
- Phuthaditjhaba on the R57
- Harrismith via the R712
- Royal Natal National Park via the R74
- Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Trail to the foot of the Falls
This trail starts from the Royal Natal National Park and is a relatively tranquil walk of 7k through the indigenous forests of the Tugela Gorge. Last part of the trail is a boulder hop with a little chain ladder that leads the visitor to the full view of the falls cascading over the escarpment.
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