Did you know?
The Zulu name uKhahlamba means 'barrier of spears', while Drakensberg means 'dragon mountain'.
While guided tours and porters now make it possible for those of average fitness to tackle the Amphitheatre Heritage Trail, you’ll still need plenty of perseverance and stamina to conquer the 1 200m ascent, where you'll be on the Roof of Africa.
'This is one of the most popular of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg hikes,' says Sarah Drew, who specialises in guided hikes in the area.
The Amphitheatre, she explains, is a massive rock wall, creating one of the most dramatic features in the Drakensberg range: 'It rises 1000m from the Tugela Valley, extending across for 5km across, from the Eastern Buttress to Sentinel Peak.'
The Amphitheatre Heritage Trail spans the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho, and the most popular option is to do 25km to 30km over three days.
Hiking through grasslands and indigenous yellowwood forests, visitors have the chance to see plenty of wildlife, including eland, mountain reedbuck, baboons and endemic birds such as the Drakensberg rockjumper.
The route includes the famous chain ladders – two sections, of 40m and 20m, solidly bolted into the rock – which visitors climb to get to the top of the escarpment, also known as the Roof of Africa.
Here you will find the source of the Tugela Falls, which plunge 948m over the face of the Amphitheatre down to Royal Natal Park below. If the chain ladders are not for you, there is an alternative option of hiking up a gully to get to the top.
If you’re fit you can carry your own backpack; if you prefer a porter, this can be organised. Experienced trail guides pace the hike according to fitness levels, with refuel and rest stops along the way.
For those who want to rough it, guides can organise an alternative route with caves where visitors can stay overnight.
For those who prefer comfort, there are inviting tented camps and lodges along the hike, offering delicious food, a hot bath and a comfortable bed at the end of each day.