As we drive the last twenty-five odd kilometres through the uThukela River Valley to Thendele, Mother Nature teases us with tantalizing glimpses of the Amphitheatre through gaps in the clouds, never revealing the full might of this great barrier of spears, the uKhahlamba, the Zulu name for the Drakensberg Mountains.
We settle into our self-catering cottage nestled in the foothills of the dramatic Amphitheatre in the nick of time. A thick curtain of cloud has rolled down the mountain, accompanied by a miserable bone-biting wind and drizzle, curtailing any thoughts that we have of a late afternoon walk. Instead, we settle down for a cosy evening next to a roaring fire with a bottle of wine … or two.
The following morning is a rare ‘lie-in’ treat and sets the tone for the next couple of mornings as we sip our early morning coffee tucked up, warm and snug in bed, while the first gentle rays of the sun kiss the tops of the towering cliffs. But alas, Mother Nature has other plans. There isn’t going to be a full reveal of the Amphitheatre this morning. A thick mist boils out of the valleys, and slowly creeps up the wall of spears shielding their full might from view. I can quite happily spend the entire day in bed, watching and waiting for the full reveal but we have come to Thendele to enjoy the great outdoors, not to sit inside like two lazy sloths.
I have to confess that neither of us are really hikers, my husband is of the school of thought that if you can’t drive there it isn’t worth going! So, for our first day we would do one of the shorter hikes that loop around the camp and ease into this hiking thing.
We set off from our chalet armed with small water bottles, suitably layered in clothes to peel off as the morning warms up, and plenty of sunblock. Following the well-marked footpaths, we casually amble down the steep hill and into the valley. We are in no hurry … the day stretches infinitely ahead of us.
We pause for a moment or two, finding a seat on a comfy sun-drenched rock next to the Tugela River. There is something about running water murmuring contentedly to itself as the waters jump and splash over the limestone rocks that is quite mesmerising.
And now, Mother Nature smiles upon us. The mists have finally swept away, revealing the Amphitheatre in all of her majestic glory. Her slopes and foothills are dressed in lush green splendour and delicate, silver ribbons of falling water catch the light as they slide down her 500-meter craggy face to nourish the valleys below. It is serene! In the blink of an eye our moment or two has turned into over an hour, and these newbie hikers have finished their water! It’s time to return to our chalet.
The footpath that we so casually sauntered down was quite steep and, in hindsight, it is going to be an arduous crawl to get back to the camp, but never fear, there is a tarred road leading to the camp not too far away. It should be an easy walk back up the hill on the road. At the bottom of the hill is a clearly sign-posted “Hiker’s Parking Lot” that we had driven past the previous day. And that is our second mistake! Between wheezing and panting breaths as we crawl up the never-ending tar road, stopping frequently to “admire the views,” we berate our unfit, waterless and sweating selves for not using the parking lot.
Back in our chalet with our dignity restored and our spirits revived after a late brunch, we pour over the hiking map and plan another short walk. This time, we will be clever and drive down to the hiker’s parking lot and start from there … with lots of water in our day packs!
But again, Mother Nature has other plans for us. A flock of small clouds fly up the valley, impeded by the impenetrable wall of spears, they congregate to form a single grey and forbidding cloud that assaults the cliff face, eventually hiding it from view. A transition that almost happens within the blink of an eye, one moment the skies are blue and sunny, the next, they are grey and ominous. And that is our cue, we abandon this hiking lark.
We settle down in front of our chalet’s picture windows with a glass of wine in hand to watch the drama of the Amphitheatre show. And you know what? Mother Nature gave us a hall pass. She does know best … sometimes we should embrace our inner sloths, take a breath, relax and do nothing but contemplate the view!
Good To Know:
You will find Thendele in the Royal Natal National Park in Kwazulu Natal. Thendele is the closest accommodation to the Amphitheatre and is comprised of an upper and a lower camp. We stayed in the upper camp, which is slightly newer than the lower camp and has breath taking views of the area. The cottages are equipped with heaters and lots of warm blankets.
The cottage kitchens are well equipped. It is a self-catering spot so do plan your menus and bring everything that you will need. There is a small shop at the camp reception that sells firewood and basic items like cold-drinks, sweets and tinned foods and wine, of course.
To book your stay at Thendele go to Kwazulu Natal Wildlife.
Mistakes that we made:
Our first mistake: Not taking sufficient water with us even though we were only planning to do a short hike.
Our second mistake: Not using the hiker’s parking lot. After our undignified crawl up the hill we now understand why the thoughtful people of Royal Natal Parks built the parking lot at the bottom of the hill.
Our third mistake: We also found the weather quite unpredictable going from warm and sunny to bitterly cold and wet within a couple of hours.
DISCLOSURE: I have no commercial relationship with KZN Wildlife, Thendele or any of its affiliates. All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.