This out-and-back hike to the Amphitheatre and Tugela Gorge is the most classic hike in the Drakensberg, with amazing views of the Amphitheatre.
This hike starts at the car park 1.5 km before Thendele Hutted Camp and five kilometres from Mahai Campsite and the reception of Royal Natal National Park. Alternatively, you can hike directly from Thendele Hutted Camp itself. According to Google, it’s about 3 hours drive from Durban, and 4 from Johannesburg. However, the roads near the park itself are slow, and it could easily take 30 minutes longer.
First sign the mountain register in the car park (or at Thendele Hutted Camp). A clear path leads out of the car park, through a wooded area along the side of the Tugela River. After about 700m, you cross a tributary of this River. The path leading straight from Thendele Hutted Camp joins the main trail here.
- Make sure to sign the mountain register in the car park before you leave.
- Make sure to sign it again when you get back!
- We used the Cicerone hiking guide: Walking in the Drakensberg*, to plan this hike. It also suggests other hikes here, and elsewhere in the Drakensberg.
- This hike can get busy, so start early to avoid the crowds!
- If you don’t want to hike the entire way, you can turn around whenever you want since it’s an out-and-back trip.
- Take a picnic to enjoy at the pools at the far end.
- Why not try the nearby Plowman’s Kop Loop
- Read more about Royal Natal National Park, and our 12 Day Drakensberg Trip.
You will almost immediately see very fine views of the Amphitheatre stretched before you, one of the most impressive sights in the Drakensberg Mountains.
The path continues, with no significant climb, towards the Amphitheatre. You will see strange rock formations, including the Policeman’s Helmet. This is a funny shaped blob of rock higher on your right-hand side. You can also hike to it (see our Royal Natal National Park guide for more hiking ideas).
Remember to keep looking back, as the views of the views down the valley you’ve just walked up are beautiful.
As you get closer to the mountains, the Tugela River valley narrows, and more trees appear. This is the start of Tugela Gorge.
The trail eventually reaches the river bed. Here you need to boulder hop as the path is no longer clear. Continue upwards.
After a short while, you reach a more open area covered in boulders, at the confluence of another river. This is a great picnic spot and the endpoint for us. The entrance to the very narrow section of Tugela Gorge is just up ahead. We peered in through the beginning, walking a few meters before we found it was too wet to continue.
Another option to continue a bit further towards the mountains is to avoid the narrow gorge altogether. To do this, you would take the ladder up the rock face before the gorge. However, this way was closed when we visited (2019).
After having a break at the entrance of the gorge, we headed back the way we came. The views of the Amphitheatre were still lovely on the way back, one of the great sights of the Drakensberg.
When we reached the car park, we signed back in at the mountain register and set off back to Mahai campsite for lunch. That afternoon we did the Plowman’s Kop Loop, another beautiful half-day hike.
FAQS: Drakensberg Amphitheatre Hike
The Amphitheatre is a spectacular 5km-long near-vertical cliff over 1000 m tall. It forms an incredible arc shape and is one of the most famous sights in the Drakensberg mountains.
The Amphitheatre is towards the northern end of the Drakensberg mountain chain, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is just next to the Lesotho border.
The best views of the Amphitheatre are from the lower section of Royal Natal National Park. Specifically, fantastic views can be had either on the hike to Tugela Gorge, from Policeman’s Helmet Rock, or at Thendele Hutted Camp.
Tugela Gorge is part of a river valley in Royal Natal National Park, in KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa. It is reached by hiking 6 km from the car park near Thendele Hutted Camp.
You can start the Tugela Gorge hike either directly from Thendele Hutted Camp or from the small car park nearby. This car park is signed and about 1 km before Thendele in the middle of a fairly tight switchback in the road.