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Amphitheatre day-hikes

Walk into the arms of The Amphitheatre, the Drakensberg's most famous formation.


The Amphitheatre, a defining feature of South Africa's Royal Natal National Park, is a geological marvel that stuns both with its size and symmetry. This colossal, curved wall of basalt rock stretches for an impressive 5 kilometers (3 miles). At its highest point, the cliff face plunges a staggering 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) – a dizzying drop that makes even the most seasoned hiker pause for breath. Unlike many mountainous regions where erosion has created a jagged skyline, the Amphitheatre's near-perfect curvature is attributed to a massive dolerite intrusion that cooled in a giant, arching sheet millions of years ago. This unique geological formation has resulted in a dramatic semicircular, amphitheater-shaped cliff face, hence the name.

For backpackers seeking a challenging yet rewarding experience, hiking in the Amphitheatre offers two distinct routes: the Tugela Gorge hike and the Witsieshoek hike. The Tugela Gorge hike tackles the Amphitheatre from its base. This route provides a close-up perspective of the towering cliff face and the chance to witness the cascading splendor of Tugela Falls, the second-highest (unofficially, the highest) waterfall in the world. The hike follows a well-maintained path with some sections involving steep inclines. Hikers should be prepared for a total distance of 12-14 kilometers (7.5-8.7 miles). Proper fitness and a healthy respect for heights are essential for a safe and enjoyable experience.

For those seeking a different perspective, the Witsieshoek hike offers a thrilling descent from the top of the Amphitheatre. This route starts at the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge and skirts the Mont-aux-Sources plateau, a high grasslands region teeming with birdlife. Hikers are then rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the entire Amphitheatre before tackling a fairly gentle walk down into the Amphitheatre. The Witsieshoek hike is a longer and more challenging route compared to the Tugela Gorge hike, with a total distance of around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) and a significant elevation change. Overnight stays at secluded caves along the route are a popular option for those seeking a multi-day adventure. Regardless of the chosen route, the Amphitheatre never fails to impress with its sheer scale and geological wonder.

Witsieshoek Hike

Walk from the top of The Amphitheatre to its base

Witsieshoek hiking trail

If the hike to the top of Tugela Falls, with its scary 40 metre-high chain ladders, is not for you, you can walk from Witsieshoek, down towards Mahai in the Royal Natal National Park. From here you get a magnificent view of the northern Drakensberg Range.

The Tugela (Thukela) Gorge

Drive to Thendele Camp in The Amphitheatre and walk upriver.

Thukela  Gorge, also known as Tugela Gorge

From this point the hike takes 8 km on easy gradients to the base of the massive Amphitheatre. You will be walking through rainforest and will have magnificent views of the lower Berg. When you reach the point where the path meets the river, be prepared to boulder-hop across the river for another few hundred metres upstream, where you will find the confluence of two streams. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch and a dip in one of many champagne pools.

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