Snowy adventures at Tugela Falls

Posted by Anita Froneman on 7 May 2021

Tugela Falls is the highest waterfall in Africa at a 950m drop. Situated in the Drakensberg of Royal Natal National Park in KwaZulu-Natal, this hiking trail is no child’s play. On a good day.

Adventurer Matt Cressy and his merry band of travellers decided to tackle this route – in the snow.

‘I had seen that snow was forecasted the entire week, however, on Friday night it changed and seemed we were only in for a cloudy, wet day,’ said Matt. We all agreed to continue with our hike, regardless of the forecasted unpleasantries and arrived at a cool -3 degree Sentinel car park with freezing rain. We layered up, raincoats on, and began our hike.

Starting out, the group encountered extreme cold and sleet. ‘The sleet then turned to snow and the inner child spirits were unleashed amongst us, with a few of us seeing snow for the first time,’ he adds. ‘Soon, the path was covered in a white blanket and as we made our way towards the chain ladders, some jaws dropped in awe and the excitement was put on pause. “Are we really climbing that 40m dodgy ladder?” one of us innocently asked.’ Indeed, they did. 

‘A scramble to the top and we were on top of the Amphitheatre where all we saw was white. After a couple of photos and all of us placing the mandatory stone on the established cairn; we made our way along the river to the mighty Tugela Falls; a flat 3km trek from the ladders, leaving some snow angels along the way. Unfortunately, there was a large build-up of cloud and the full Cathedral Valley could not be seen, but the Falls are always a spectacular sight being the second highest waterfall in the world.

‘We took some pics, got into the freezing rock pools for a quick sensory check, and made our way back. There are two routes onto the Amphitheatre; one being the chain ladders and the other being a VERY steep gully,’ he continues.

The gully is a lot more physically demanding, both up and down, but still the better option for those who have a fear of heights. ‘A fantastic leg-burning climb to the top and we saw a seriously suspect gully filled with snow, a decent stream running down and a lot of wet rocks. We all agreed it would be much better doing that than the ladders backwards and decided to carefully descend, paying extra attention to where we stood and checking for any loose rocks before we stood on them.

The hike is about 14km out and back with 650m elevation gain. Matt’s group completed the hike in 6 hours at a casual pace with a lot of breaks. 

‘So far, this would have to be one of my favourite hikes but there is the entire Drakensberg that still needs exploring,’ Matt concluded.

Pictures: Matt Cressy & Angela Cilliers

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