The second-highest falls in the world
Thukela Waterfall, KwaZulu-Natal
Hike up the stunningly beautiful Thukela Gorge to the waterfall at its head and take in some of the most stunning panoramic views from the plateau of KwaZulu-Natal's Drakensberg mountains, looking down into the hinterland – this is prime photography material.
Hiking along the mighty Thukela River.
© Thukela River
Did you know?
The Thukela Waterfall consists of 5 different tiers.
Second only to the Angel Falls in Venezuela, and the highest on the African continent, the Thukela Waterfall cascades 948m over the edge of the Drakensberg mountains, in a series of falls that cut through the Thukela Gorge and valley below en route to the Indian Ocean 502km away.
The home of the waterfall, in the uKhahlahamba-Drakensberg mountain range, is a World Heritage Site which offers the traveller climbing, hiking, camping, kayaking, paragliding, birding and numerous other activities, apart from the pleasure of appreciating its breathtaking scenery.
Royal National Park boasts some of the best mountain scenery in Africa, including the world-famous Amphitheatre, a 5km-long, 500m-high rock wall from where the Orange river flows to the Atlantic Ocean and the Thukela River cascades down towards the Indian Ocean.
The Thukela Waterfall – comprising a series of 5 cascades – was named by local Zulus. “Thukela” or “tugela” means “the startling one”, a testament to a truly awesome natural spectacle that’s located at the end of a long, uphill hike through the gorge of the same name.
To truly appreciate the waterfall, try the hike from the Sentinel car park at the base of the Amphitheatre to the summit at Mount-aux-Sources. This will take around 5 hours, but it’s not suitable for the unfit or for small children.
The second option leads hikers from the Royal National Park grounds up the Thukela Valley following a contour path flanking the river. It gradually ascends to the Thukela Gorge and the waterfall itself. On reaching the gorge, the final part of the hike is carried out by means of a chain ladder to the very top. This extra push is well worth the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains that only the Drakensberg can provide.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
From Johannesburg turn off at Harrismith onto the N5 to Kestell, then 2 km on, turn left onto the R74 to Qwa-Qwa. Continue toward Bergville, via the Oliviershoek Pass. At the bottom of the pass, turn right into Royal Natal National Park, where the gorge hike starts.
Around the area
Visit the Bushman paintings at Sigubudu Valley, Retief's Rock, the Upper Thukela Blockhouse, the historical town of Bergville and the Ladysmith Siege Museum to discover more about the Anglo-Boer war.
Tours to do
The Royal Natal National Park organises tours to the Thukela Falls and surrounds.
Trout fishing is available in a dam in the park and in the Mahai and Thukela rivers. Outdoor picnics and swimming in cold mountain streams are popular pastimes.
Designated parking lots provide access to a variety of signposted hikes. Make sufficient allowances for slower hikers, water stops and bad weather.
What will it cost
Entrance to the park is R25 per person.
Length of stay
When hiking in summer, be aware of potential thunderstorms, which may cause the river to run and might and delay your return trip by a few hours. The hike covers around 22,5 km and takes around 5 hours 30 minutes to complete).
What to pack
Take plenty of water, sunhats, suncream, backpack with windbreakers and make sure you complete the register before setting out from the starting point.
Where to stay
Accommodation is available inside the Royal Natal National Park in hutted camps, chalets, cottages and a lodge. The award-winning Thendele camp is situated in one of the most picturesque settings in the country, with views of the Amphitheatre from every bungalow.
What to eat
When hiking you need to pack your own provisions. Biscuits, fruit, cheese and chocolate are favourite hiking fare.
A comprehensive hiking guide is available for purchase at the Visitor Centre, at Thendele Camp office and at the main entrance gate. The brochure shows a map of the park and the network of hiking paths from the gentle walk to Fairy Glen to the challenging hike up the Crack and down the Mudslide.
The nearby town of Bergville features souvenir shops, craft outlets and roadside curio stalls selling locally produced goods.