At 96 years of age, Royal Natal Park remains a jewel in South Africa’s rich conservation crown; proclaimed a nature reserve in 1916 the most spectacular Drakensberg scenery is to be found here and few vistas on earth can compare to the grandeur of the magnificent Amphitheatre formation.
Managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, this natural gem offers much for the outdoor enthusiast to get very excited about, from hiking, horse riding, swimming and trout fishing to more sedentary pastimes. Apart from the scenic Thendele hutted camp set high on a hillside with unobstructed views of the Tugela River and Amphitheatre, two exceptional camping areas – the larger Mahai and the smaller Rugged Glen, is available to guests who’d like to overnight inside the Park while a number of privately operated accommodation establishments are available outside the park boundaries within a short driving distance of the entrance gate.
Surprisingly dense mountain forest complete with giant yellowwoods and tree ferns can be found in the sheltered kloofs (wouldn’t one expect deep snow here rather than forests?) and crystal clear mountain streams rush downhill to join the headwaters of the Tugela River downstream of the Tugela Falls, one of the highest waterfalls on earth. Apart from the jaw-dropping scenery, the rich and varied birdlife and a nice variety of mammal species keep photographers occupied for hours. Watch out for the baboons though – they’ve grown very contemptuous of humans and need no invitation to pop into your unit, campsite or vehicle to relieve you of any food items they may find inside.
This reserve really is a must-see destination and it should be an easy 4 hour drive from Gauteng; unfortunately at the time of our recent visit (Easter 2012) the most direct route over the Oliviershoek Pass, or rather what’s left of it, was a harrowing pothole-dodging affair and inland visitors would be well advised to follow the N3 over Van Rheenen’s Pass and then access the reserve via the small town of Bergville – quite a detour in terms of distance but much safer and more enjoyable and just as long in terms of time spent on the road.