Amphitheatre Heritage Hike
₤ 396 (PPS)
The Amphitheatre is the most recognizable and dramatically imposing feature of the entire Drakensberg range, a World Heritage Site of outstanding environmental and cultural significance. A mighty wall of basalt rises over 1000m from the Tugela valley to the Lesotho plateau nearly 3000m above sea level. Part of its aesthetic appeal arises from its near perfect symmetry, extending as a sheer wall of rock some 5 km in length from the Eastern Buttress to the Sentinel Peak in the west- altogether an area of majestic and incomparable beauty providing some of the finest scenery in the world.
The Amphitheatre Hiking trail is a 3 night/3 day trail which is designed to enable walkers of reasonable fitness to reach these heights and be rewarded by awe inspiring, never-to-forgotten views from the top of the escarpment - a feat normally only undertaken by fit and experienced hikers who would normally have to overnight on the escarpment. By spending 3 days and 3 nights on the route, staying at conveniently located lodges, and having the benefit of a hiking guide to make decisions on routes and weather conditions, it is possible for anyone who is reasonably fit to stand on "top of the world" and experience the same sense of accomplishment as the dedicated hiker. The hike has been planned so that you can walk at a comfortable pace and without the burden of a heavy backpack. At the end of the day, you’ll have the chance to relax and recover at the lodge - providing hot showers, nourishing food and a comfortable bed.
Though it is achievable, it is not a walk in the park. Over 1000m of climbing per day for Days 1 and 2 means that you need to be walking fit and comfortable walking uphill for several hours.
Strenuous walking at times, but no technical sections other than the chain ladder & some exposure on the trail before the chain ladders. Gully alternative is available for those with a fear of heights on the chain ladders.
Best time - All year round. In summer it is wise to make the most of the mornings and presume there will be afternoon showers. Whilst days are shorter in winter, the weather is more stable, and the whole day can usually be used for hiking. Spring & summer are the best months for wild flowers.
- You can hire a porter to carry your overnight bag, Usually people take one bag between two people. Contact us for a quote.
- Similarly you can arrange for the final day to be guided. We have included this as standard, but it can be taken out if you prefer.
- Odd number parties: If there are 3 or 5 or 7 of you, there is a single supplement as Witsiehoek only has double or single rooms. This is approx R875 if you are happy to share an interleading family room at The Cavern. Or R2075 single supplement if the single person wants their own room at both lodges.
- If there are 4 or more of you, you can arrange for your bags to be taken around by vehicle to Witsiehoek Mountain Lodge (and back again). This could also allow one person to bypass the first day if they wished. Contact us for a quote.
Amphitheatre Heritage Hike at a glance
Arrive any time after 2pm check-in at The Cavern Hotel
After a hearty breakfast, you will be met by your guide. Today’s hike commences with a rather stiff climb, to get above the sandstone cliffs. Half-way between the Cavern and the cliff line there is the option of a 25min detour to some San Rock Art at Lone Rock (a worthwhile detour!). The path then continues up through Sugar Loaf Gap, taking you above the Sandstone Cliffs, at which point you’ll wish to catch your breath, and enjoy the spectacular vista across the Northern Drak Valley. From here, the route undulates along the ridge bypassing Cold Hill and Cold Ridge with sweeping views across to the former homeland QwaQwa and Metsi Matsho Dam. Broome hill at 8.7km, makes a good lunch spot, after which point it is approx 6kms/2hours hiking onto Basotho Gate and the Mountain Lodge. You would have ascended 1273m on today’s hike, but the good news is that most of the ascent comes in the first third of the hike. Once you above the cliff line, you will straddle the border of two provinces: Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Stats: Distance: 14km. Avg Hike Time: 5-6.5 hr, 726m Elevation Gain, 1300m Total Ascent
This is the most eventful day and you will need to make an early start. You’ll be transported to the Sentinel Car Park, which lies in the shadow of the towering Sentinel peak. After completing the mountain register, you start your hike along a well-trodden path which ascends gradually towards the Witches and Zigzags, taking you to the base of the Sentinel massif. From here, you swing right and follow the contour path below the Western buttresses with the land sloping steeply to the north and east giving you wonderful views of the Maluti’s and the Mountain Lodge plateau. The chain ladders are reached after about 3 kilometres. After negotiating the 35m ascent on the chain-ladders it is only a short scramble from there to the escarpment where you can spend the better part of the day in exploration.
Here is Africa’s highest waterfall, where the headwaters of the Tugela drop a sheer 614m into the gorge below. Another point of interest, some 2 km inland, is the Mont-aux-Sources peak, at 3282m it is the source of four important rivers. A 3-4 km walk along the escarpment requiring some ridge climbing will take you to the Eastern Buttress and Rainbow Falls. This can be undertaken by the fit and eager. With fine weather, a pleasant time can be had for several hours on the summit. The return trip traces your steps back to the Mountain Lodge, where you should aim to be back by mid-afternoon.
Stats: Distance: 13-15km. Avg Hike Time: 7 hr, 572m Elevation Gain, 1400m Total Ascent
For those who are scared of heights, there is also the Gully Option; or up the gully and down the chain ladders (or vice-versa).
Today is an easy day’s walk down the Mahai River Valley and into the Royal Natal National Park (RNNP). Along the way you will crisscross the Mahai River several times, passing small waterfalls and pools which invite a refreshing dip. The vegetation and topography changes dramatically as you descend, and you will pass through patches of cool mist-belt forest on the southern facing slopes. The path comes out at Mahai Campsite, from where you will be collected and transferred back to your vehicles at Cavern Hotel. For those that don’t have long journeys or planes to catch, we recommend visiting the bushmen paintings which are another 2km past the visitor centre, and then you take a guided trail up to Sigubudu Paintings (approx 1hr trail, R30/pp – pay guide directly).
Arriving back at the Cavern, you can collect your rental car and continue to your next stay. Or you can opt to stay another night at the Cavern. (Where you may like to treat your weary limbs to a massage at the Cavern’s Forest Spa.)
Stats: Distance: 9.6km. Avg Hike Time: 4 hrs, 900m Descent, 270m Ascent
Africa Travel Specialist
An idea of price
Prices based on pp/sharing basis during non-peak periods. * Price is subject to change if you want to do this hike during peak holiday periods – availability permitting.
Accommodation, all meals, hiking guide (first 2 days), hiking permit, private return transfer & car park and return transfer
Porter support, hiking guide for day 3, accommodation upgrade or downgrade, single rooms, drinks not included and Royal Natal Park entrance fee