Amphitheatre Heritage Hike

A mighty wall of basalt which rises over 1000m from the Tugela Valley to the Lesotho plateau nearly 3000m above sea level, the Northern Drakensberg's Amphitheatre, gains much of its aesthetic appeal from its near perfect symmetry. Extending as a sheer rock wall - 5km in length from the Eastern Buttress to Sentinel Peak in the west - the Amphitheatre provides an unmistakable horizon.

The Tugela Falls, the world's second tallest falls (and the highest in Africa), plunges 948m over the basalt face of the Amphitheatre, down to Royal Natal Park below.

Our Amphitheatre Slackpacking Trail (AST) has been designed to enable walkers of average fitness to reach the summit and be rewarded by never-to-be-forgotten views: a feat normally only undertaken by experienced hikers who would camp overnight in tents or caves.

  • Trip Duration3 Hike Days / 3 Nights* Extra days available
  • Daily DistancesDay 1: 15km / 5-6.5hr (1273m Asc)Day 2: 16km / 6-7hr (985m Asc)Day 3: 11km / 4-5hrs (391m Asc)
  • Trail Grading 3.5 / 5 for both Fitness and TechnicalitySome steep ascents on Day 1 & 2 but without a heavy backpack. A head for heights needed on Day 2 (the chain ladders and top of the escarpment), but there is also a gully alternative to the chain-ladders.
  • Trail TerrainStarting at an altitude of 1500m going up through grasslands & protea stands to an altitude of 2286m (Witsieshoek) and 3150m on the top of Beacon Buttress, watershed of the Orange & Tugela Rivers.
  • Accommodation1 Night at Cavern Berg Hotel - Northern Drakensberg Valley2 Nights at Witsies Mountain Lodge
  • Logistic SupportFully-catered trail, sleeping in comfortable lodgesGuide for first 2 days but self-guided on 3rd day (easy descent).* Optional: Porter-Support
  • Group SizePossible from 1 person. No max, but 12 pax max / per guide.
  • PricingR4,200 or R6,200/pp (based on 6 persons) – dependent on accom and catering options selected.
At a Glance

By spending 3 days and 3 nights on the route, staying at conveniently located lodges along the way, and accompanied by an experienced trail guide, it is possible for anyone who is reasonably fit to summit the escarpment. This hike has been planned so that you can walk at a comfortable pace and not be encumbered by a heavy backpack. At the end of the day, you can relax at your lodgings where a soak in the tub, delicious food, and a comfy bed will certainly beat tinned bully beef and a thermorest!

On this trail, you'll do 40 kilometres over 3 days of hiking with an altitude gain of 1300m, so it is not a hike for the faint-hearted, but the views are worth every drop of sweat.

  1. Day 1Arrival Day

    Self-drive drive to Cavern Hotel, Northern Drakensberg (3.5hrs from Durban/ 4hrs from JHB).

    Overnight: Cavern Hotel (Dinner provided)

  2. Day 2Hike Day 1: Cavern – Witsies Mountain Lodge (15km / 1273m total ascent)

    After a hearty breakfast at the Cavern, a guide from the Cavern will accompany you on today’s hike up and over the sandstone cliffs, via Lone Rock (San rock art), through Sugar loaf gap, and along the ridge bypassing broom hill with sweeping views across to the former homeland QwaQwa and Metsi Matsho Dam.

    Overnight: Witsies Mountain Lodge - Opt A: Sentinel Chalets. Opt B: Hikers Cabin (Breakfast & Packed Lunch from the Cavern (Opt A&B). Dinner at Mountain Lodge – Opt A)

  3. Day 3Hike Day 2: Sentinel Car Park – Tugela Falls Summit – Sentinel Car Park (16km return hike / 985m total ascent)

    Vehicle transfer provided up to Sentinel Car Park (8km / approx 30min transfer).

    Today’s trail starts with a well-trodden path which ascends gradually towards the Witches and Zigzags, taking you to the base of the Sentinel massif. From here you’ll follow the contour path below the Western buttress, with the land sloping steeply to the north and east giving you wonderful views of the Maluti’s.

    The chain ladders are reached after about 3km. After negotiating the 35m ascent on the chainladders, it is only a short scramble from there to the escarpment top, where you can spend the better part of the day in exploration. Mont-aux-Sources (highest peak in the area) and the top of the Tugela Falls are highlights.

    Return transfer back to Witsies from Sentinel car park.

    Overnight: Witsies Mountain Lodge - Opt A: Sentinel Chalets. Opt B: Hikers Cabin (Dinner Bed & Breakfast + Packed Lunch – on Opt A)

  4. Day 4Hike Day 3: Witsies Mountain Lodge – Royal Natal – return by vehicle to Cavern. (11km hike /391m Ascent/ -813m Descent)

    Self-guided hike down the Mahai valley with waterfalls and natural swimming pools along the way.

    Private collection from Royal Natal & transfer back to vehicle(s) left at the Cavern

    (Breakfast & Trail lunch from Mountain Lodge - Opt A)

Climbing the Chainladders to the Top

The chainladders are securely bolted to the rock, but there is the gully alternative for those who cant face them - Day 2 of the Amphi Hike.

1 Night at Cavern Berg Hotel – family friendly owner-run hotel in serene setting with plenty on the go. Standard rooms, but for just a little extra, upgrade to superior rooms with private gardens overlooking indigenous forest. A post-hike night is recommended, with a massage at their Forest Spa.

2 Nights at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge - one of the highest lodges in South Africa and as close a bed as you get to the summit. The recently renovated Sentinel chalets offer breath-taking views of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre.

Standard Room at the Cavern
Sentinel Chalet at Witsies Mountain LodgeOffer stunning views across to the Amphitheatre
  1. Do we carry our own backpacks?

    Unfortunately, vehicle luggage support is not viable on this hike as it is a 6hr round trip from Cavern to Witsies. However, porters (as an optional extra) can be arranged to assist with your main backpack on the way up and back down (on day 1 & 3). However, as all meals, towels and bedding are provided, you literally just need to bring your clothes for 2 days/2 nights on the mountain, so you should get away with a light pack.

  2. What type of footwear is appropriate?

    Worn in hiking boots or a more rugged hiking shoe with a decent rubber sole.

  3. What is the best time of year for this trail?

    In the high berg, one can experience 4 seasons in a day. Autumn (Mar-May) and Spring (mid August - Oct) are some of the best months, but for the most stable weather, winter months (June-July) can be the best – chilly starts but generally warm and dry days with a warm lodge to snuggle down overnight. Afternoon thunderstorms are most common in the hottest months (Nov-Feb).

  4. Can this hike be shortened to two days?

    A frequently asked question and unfortunately not an option unless you willing to forgo the middle ‘highlight’ day which takes you to the top of the escarpment and the top of the Tugela Falls. However, you can be back at Cavern by midday on the final day, so there is still time to catch an evening flight out of King Shaka (Durban) or OR Thambo (JHB).

Opt A - Sentinel Package (fully catered)

Group SizePrice (PP) 
1 Person
R9500/pp
2 Persons
R7100/pp
3 Persons
R6700/pp
4-5 Persons
R6500/pp
6-7 Persons
R6200/pp

Opt B - Buttress Package (partially catered)

Group SizePrice (PP) 
1 Person
R7700/pp
2 Persons
R5300/pp
3 Persons
R4900/pp
4-5 Persons
R4500/pp
6-7 Persons
R4200/pp
Whats included in this tour
  • 3 Nights Accom (sharing basis): 1 night at Cavern Hotel (Std Room) & 2 Nights at the Mountain Lodge – nicest Sentinel Chalets
  • All meals: from dinner on arrival night to packed lunch on the final hike day (3 Breakfasts, 3 Packed Lunches, and 3 Dinners).
  • Hiking Guide - for first 2 hike days (Day 3 is an easy self-guide down to Royal Natal)
  • Hiking Permit - for Hike day 2 from Sentinel Car Park
  • Witsies Mountain Lodge - Sentinel Car Park - RTN Transfer
  • Private Return Transfer: pick-up from Royal Natal & transfer back to the Cavern on the final day
Whats not included in this tour
  • Porter Support: Budget R870/porter for the 2 days required (up & down the mountain)
  • Royal Natal Permit (purchased on exit): R40 (SADC residents) / R80 - Internationals
  • Bar Tabs & Gratuities