The Tugela Gorge hike is one of the longer hikes in Royal Natal National Park and is widely considered one of South Africa’s best one-day hikes. The Royal Natal National Park is home to the Tugela Falls – the world’s highest waterfall at a height of 3,225 feet – and today we’re walking to the top, eek!!
We join a young German couple in the 7am bus from the hostel and our guide/driver informs us that it will take around 90 minutes drive to the Witsieshoek Lodge where we’ll then transfer to a 4×4 vehicle in order to reach the start of the hike below Sentinel Peak. Its cold in the bus and we’re regretting wearing shorts. In fact it’s so cold we spot snow on the ground as we get closer to the lodge – what’s possessed us to book this. We transfer to the rickety 4×4 and immediately can see why a car or bus couldn’t even attempt this road. Its off road for a start, some severe inclines and littered with rocks and pot holes. The bone shaking journey takes 40 minutes. We quite relieved to unfold ourselves from the 4×4 and get the hike underway.
We commence the hike at 10.15am and the trail climbs at a steady pace. The views are stunning across the valleys. There were some sections where the trail peters out and our guide expertly helps us to navigate through the rocks and at times vertical sections of granite that we are required to traverse. Overnight rain, now there’s a surprise, has made the rocks slippery and to be frank in parts a little dicey. Adenaya, our guide senses our apprehension and holds out his hands for us to cling to as we gingerly make our way up the winding path.
The views are stunning and bit by bit we ascend above the clouds. We’re about to reach the most nerve racking point of the hike, the dreaded chain ladders. There are two ladders 75 and 100 feet in length respectively and the only way to reach the falls is by climbing them. In addition, there’s no safety line and definitely no safety net. If we slip and fall it will quite frankly be game over. I’m dreading it. Brownie goes first and is like a blooming mountain goat its quite ridiculous she climbs to the top of the first ladder very comfortably making it all look quite effortless. Its my turn and I’m quaking, my palms are sweaty and my blood pressure is elevating rapidly. I grip the cool metal sides of the ladder and begin my ascent. The wind starts to pick up and the ladder is not completely secured to the cliff. I’m petrified, my foot slips and my life flashes before me. This is horrible I feel sick and want to cry. I call up to Brownie I really don’t want to do this why am I here? Brownie calls down and tells me that I can do this, to take a deep breath and start by putting one foot in front of the other. I breath in and slowly start to lift my foot come on Sellsey you can do this. It takes an inordinate amount of time but I finally make it to the top, mightily relieved but with the penny dropping that I have another ladder to climb up and two to climb down in order to get back to the trail. Adenaya reassures me after I finally complete the second ladder that he’ll make a plan in order to get me down, he’s determined that we’ll complete the hike safely and securely.
We walk across the top of the plateau towards the edge and our pace increases as we get closer and closer to the falls. It’s a glorious sight and we marvel at just how high we are, what a stunning view it is and just how brilliant it is to reach the top.
We take some photos and stop for lunch. After 20 minutes we prepare ourselves for our descent. On the way down the ladders I have another shocker and Brownie has to talk me down both of them from above, reminding me that when an elephant walks it always has 3 points of contact with the ground. I repeatedly ask her to tell me about the elephant and I gain more confidence as I descend. Boy am I relieved when I take the final step on the ladder and reach terra firma. We follow the path back the way we came, we’re exhausted and our pace falls to a crawl. Brownie’s in agony and can barely walk. I relieve her of her rucksack and encourage her to keep going. We finally get to the the end of the hike at 5pm, the whole thing has taken us nearly 7 hours, we’ll sleep well tonight. It’s been an incredible experience and one that I couldn’t have undertaken without the continued support of Brownie and our guide Adenaya. It’s an enormous achievement and one I quite frankly don’t wish to repeat. Watch a video of our hike exploits by clicking here. Enjoy!
“On the other side of fear lies freedom”
Well done Sis well done Brownie you sure do have the dexterity of a natural climber.
What fantastic photos, what an awesome trip. I’m following your blog avidly.
Cannot wait for the Sodwana Bay chapter.
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Very apt quote. Brownie is a ridiculous climber, who knew. Thanks I have a new camera that’s been brilliant. So behind with my blog I’ll publish more soon promise. Hope all’s well with you guys. Mei Mei Xx
What an amazing achievement. Well done!
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It was an incredible experience
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