Africa > Southern Africa > South Africa > KwaZulu-Natal > Ukhahlamba Drakensberg > Royal Natal National Park
Royal Natal National Park is in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, bordering onto the Free State province and Lesotho. The Tugela Falls, the worlds second highest waterfall can be found here.
Best time to visit is in late summer (March to May) when all the rivers are full, the air is crystal clear and vegetation is lush and green.
The park was established in 1916, but only received its current name in 1947 after the British Royal family visited there in May that year. Contrary to what the name indicates it is actually not a South African National Park and is administered as a provincial park by KwaZulu-Natal Parks rather than SANParks.
Flora and fauna
Bushbuck and baboons are common. Other animal that may be encountered are Rock Dassies, Otters, Mountain Reedbuck, Duiker and Black-backed Jackal. The only animal that poses any real danger to humans are the baboons and contact with them should be avoided while hiking.
Rainy season is between October and March, mostly as short lived afternoon thundershowers. There is a possibility of snow between April and September. Winters (April to September) is dry and wind is common in late winter.
From the N3, take the R616 just south of Ladysmith towards Bergville (35 km). Where the R616 meets the R74, take a right turn and follow that road for a further 29 km until it joins with the R615. Take a left turn and you will reach the park within another 19 km. Roadsign are clearly displayed along the way.
For a more scenic route, take the exit the N3 at Harrismith and take the N5 towards Bethlehem for about 5 km, then turn left onto the R74 and follow this for about 38 km, then take a right into the R615. Following this route will take one past the Sterkfontein Dam.
Drive with extra care along the R615 as it passes through a number of rural villages where livestock and school children cross the road at will.
Entrance to the park is open 24 hours for residents and from 6AM to 10PM (May-Sep) and 5AM to 7PM (Oct-Mar) for day visitors.
The nearest petrol station is in Bergville, 48 km away.
A daily conservation fee is payable at the park entrance. R25 per adult, R15 per child and R35 per vehicle per day (Multiply by the number of days you will spend in the park)
Speed limit within the park is 40km/h, but mostly one will walk rather than drive.
- Tugela Falls. The second highest waterfall in the world, with a total drop of 947 m in 5 leaps. The highest single drop is 411m. Accessible via the Gorge walk.
- The Amphitheater. Visible from most of the park, but best seen on the 23km Gorge walk.
- The Cascades. A set of waterfalls. Located a short walk (around 2.2 km round trip) from the entrance to Mahai camp, most of this on a wheelchair accessible concrete pathway with only the last couple hundred meter on bush trails.
There are a number of walking and hiking trails in the park. A booklet on all the walks is available at the Information Center for R50.
- Short walks
- Cascades (From the entrance to Mahai camp). About 2.2 km round trip, mostly on wheelchair accessible concrete pathway.
- Devil's Hoek Valley. Starts next to the Tugela river at the car park near Thendele, 6 km, 2 hours, easy walk. Some Bushman rock art along the way.
- Fairy Glen (From the Information Center). An easy walk of about 45 minutes to cover the 4 km trail.
- Long walks
- Tugela Gorge Walk. The trail starts next to the Tugela river at the car park near Thendele, 23 km return trip, 5 to 6 hours. A relatively easy walk except for the last 2 km that required 3 river easy crossings and some boulder hopping. At the far point of the walk you will see spectacular view of the Amphitheatre, Sentinel and Tugela Falls.
- Mudslide. Currently closed due to a large rockfall. 11 km, just under 5 hours.
- Policeman's Helmet (From Thendele camp). 14km in about 4 hours. Lots of cycads along the way and excellent views of the Amphitheatre
There are two dams located behind the day visitors picnic area. As per South African law, a fishing license is required to fish anywhere in the country. This can be obtained from the Information Center.
Horse back excursions are available from Rugged Glen camp.
There is a shop at the Information Office (first building on the left after entering the park) that sells most of the basic necessities (from washing powder and ice to boerewors and beer). The selection is not huge, but they do not try and take advantage of the fact that they are the only shop in the park; pricing is very good with no outrageous markup added. (R7 for a beer for example)
The shop also stocks the usual curio, branded clothing, travel books and maps.
A mini-ATM is located behind the Information counter. One can perform a normal withdraw, but the mini-ATM will provide you with a slip rather than cash. Exchange this slip for cash at the information counter.
- Mont-aux-Sources Hotel, ☏ , email@example.com.
- Thendele Lodge, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Self catering chalets high in the mountains. From R320 per person.
- 1 Mahai Camp Site, In the valley below the Cascades (Follow the signs from the park entrance), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Stands with and without electrical plug points are available, be sure to specify when booking if you need electricity. Ablution facilities are clean and well maintained. There is a laundry with coin operated washers and dryers, dish washing facilities (including boiling water on tap) as well as Telkom card and coin pay phones. The only problem with the camp is the large number of pine trees that consume huge amounts of water causing some of the stands to be devoid of grass. After the summer rains this is not as big a problem, but if you visit during the winter it is best to avoid electric stands 1 to 14 and 42 to 50; electrical stands 15 to 25 will have a lot more grass cover and less dust. If you do not require electricity, non-electrical stands 3 to 5 are probably the best in the whole camp. There are two security guards on 24 hour duty in the camp, mostly to ensure that wildlife that wander in is promptly escorted out again (Baboons seldom come near the camps as they are shot at with paintball guns to scare them away, but bushbuck often wander in). From R65 per camp site.
- Rugged Glen, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. From R65 per camp site.
Before going on a long hike, be sure to fill in the mountain rescue register at the Information Center or at Thendele camp. Also make sure to sign out again on your return. This allows officials to keep track of who is on the mountain and to initiate rescue parties should you be overdue.
Weather can change fast in the mountains and mist can often cause visibility to drop to near zero, especially higher up the mountain. Should you be caught in thick mist, stay where you are and wait for it to lift; eventually it will and you can continue your hike safely.
The scenic Sterkfontein Dam is located on the R74 towards Harrismith about 50km outside the park.
Spioenkop dam, nature reserve and the Second Boer War memorials on the Spioenkop Battlefield is located less than 80km away towards Ladysmith. To reach the battlefield, follow the R74 to Bergville and the R616 from there toward Ladysmith. About 25km from Bergville a gravel road will lead off to the right towards Spioenkop. It is well sign posted and the gravel road is in good condition. Entrance is R20 per person. Keep the entrance ticket as it also covers access to the nature reserve.
The central Drakensberg is about 90 minutes drive away and an easy daytrip.