I survived. And the photo is great – I think so anyway.
I was up at 5.30 and into the park as the gate opens at 5. I was keen to get 4 particular shots someone had put on the web. As he wrote, the first lookout (Thendele Lookout) just above the Visitor Centre is overgrown and only glimpse is possible, but a good Village View can be found before it. The RNNP Dam reflection was outstanding as there was almost no wind as I arrived, but picked up after 10 mins. With the east sun shining on the Amphitheatre on a very clear morning – well it could not be better. Next was the Tugela River shot in the water on the boulders. I don’t have his afternoon cloud reflection but it is still good. I had arranged for breakfast (and very good too, the full deal) at 7 so I hurried back the 10 minutes, and then came back for more of the same in case I could improve them. I didnt have time to shoot the 4th image (Thendele Camp Lookout) as I intended to walk as much as possible of the Gorge Track.
“There is no more popular nor picturesque walk than the Gorge walk; it should not be missed, and to enable you to make the most of the trip, take a full day over it. For the first 6,5 kilometres beyond the foot of Thendele hill there is a very good path and no steep climb. No special directions are really needed. The path winds along, above and parallel with the Tugela river. Not long after crossing the intersection stream from Devil’s Hoek, look out for the Policeman’s Helmet on the high ground to the right overlooking Vemvaan Valley. The last 1 600 metres through the Gorge entails three crossings of the river (simple enough unless in flood). Many visitors to the Gorge turn back at the first crossing. This is a pity, as the most picturesque scenery at Royal Natal lies at the far end, and walking the additional 600 metres is rewarding. Cross the stream and re-cross, keeping to the path which is on the right-hand side of the Gorge, and keep on until you reach the chain ladder on the cliff on the right-hand side. The chain ladder is at the mouth of the tunnel. This tunnel is approximately 55 -65 metres long. Use the chain ladder to skirt the tunnel or scramble through the tunnel, though a ducking is likely, and so get into the Amphitheatre. Boulder-hop up the Tugela for about 800 metres, where each few metres gives you a complete change of scenery. A steep path up the left-hand bank of the Eastern Buttress Gully leads to the Tunnel Cave. If you stand with your back to the chain ladder, this path will be directly in front of you. From the cave there is a wonderful view of the Amphitheatre wall, with the Sentinel on your right, and you will be able to look over the Tunnel. If you proceed around the cave you will obtain an excellent view down the valley towards the hotel. Warning: keep a lookout for thunderstorms, as a heavy storm may bring down the river and delay your return trip by a few hours. The best spot to picnic is at the end of the path, (11 km : 3 hours). (Whole trip 22,5 km : 5 hours 30 minutes).”
He makes sound easy – it is not. It is almost constantly uphill, sometimes steady, but often up rough steps of stone or poles. It is completely in the open, only ducking into snatches of rain forest in the ravines; the contrast in temperature is surprising. Birds hide here but all one hears on the open area is your laboured breathing. I considered turning back many times, but set a time limit – 3 hrs in and 2 back starting at 10am. I managed to get to the first Tugela crossing – as he writes. I was not well prepared as the visitor centre near the gate was closed on my initial pass, and I didn’t think they would have much (correctly as I saw the next day). I had muesli, a tangerine, and a flask of water. About half way I saw in the high distance, people on a white lookout rock. I could not believe it was still so far to go, but I did get there – its about 20 mins before the 1st crossing. I took many shots but have yet to check them. I was back as planned, but dead tired. The last 30 mins were a matter of just moving as my legs and hips are not what they were! Looking back, it was an achievement, but not one I want to repeat.
There is no store or food place anywhere near the B&B, but David and Ailine are at Berghouse 9km away plus 5 on the worst dirt road high on a hillside. Ailine was shooting the sunset from there, repeating what I saw last night. The place prepares meals on order. I was uncomfortable driving back in the dark past the small homes of the Black people.