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Drakensberg Amphitheatre Slackpacking

from US $440 (PP Sharing)

The Drakensberg Amphitheatre Slackpacking 3 Day Trail has been planned to enable walkers of average ability to be rewarded by awe inspiring, never-to-forgotten views from the top of the escarpment

  • Destination
    South Africa
  • Duration
    3 Days & 3 Nights (+ Optional 4th Night)
  • Profile
    Group
  • Group Size
    Min 2 / Max 14
  • Categories
  • Reviews
    (5/5)

Drakensberg range, a World Heritage Site of outstanding environmental and cultural significance.  A mighty wall of basalt rises over 1000 metres from the Tugela valley to the Lesotho plateau nearly 3000 metres above sea level. Part of its aesthetic appeal arises from its near perfect symmetry, extending as a sheer wall of rock some 5 kilometres 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 Slackpacking trail has been planned to enable walkers of average ability to reach these heights and to 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 camp 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.  

The Operator

Owner Sarah Drew grew up in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa. Growing up in such a spectacularly diverse country, Sarah became acutely aware of the disparity that existed between South Africa’s people mounted against a background of fantastic cultural experiences and incredible beauty. Somewhat ironically, the wildest and most scenic places that Sarah travelled in were home to those who existed with very little income or resources. Her experiences on the Wild Coast in particular moved Sarah deeply, and she went on to complete a Masters in Community Based Tourism, focussed on the Pondoland area of the Wild Coast – a place very dear to her heart.

She decided that she wanted to help people seeking adventure by linking them into the wild and wonderful places that she loved, and wanted to bring business to the communities that made these places so unique.

In 2007, she formed her tour operator and set about designing many routes that wound their way through rural communities, up to high mountain tops and along inspirational coastlines. Using local guides and local businesses, community homestays and working with public tourism entities to support the South African tourism industry

The Cavern Resort

On our Amphitheatre Heritage Hike, we work with The Cavern Resort as one of our overnight stays.
The Cavern supports the Khanyisela Education Project, and has established the Royal Drakensberg Primary School to service the lack of quality education facilities in the area. By sending guests to the Cavern, they are exposed to these community projects and are able to donate (either financially or with school supplies) if they wish. Additionally, Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge which is another overnight stop on the Amphitheatre Hike, is run by Transfrontier Park Destinations, but the Batlokoa people still own the lodge and the bulk of it’s revenue remains within the community; while the Batlokoa also provide the majority of the lodge’s workforce.

Connect to PEOPLE

The Amphitheatre Heritage Hike takes place in the Northern Drakensberg, and guests hike from one lodge to the next over three days while their luggage is transfered ahead of them. The community around Witsies Hoek (which is central to the experience of the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike) are known as the Batlokoa people, part of the Batlokoa Chiefdom. The Batlokoa comprises a range of Sotho-Tswana people, and the tribe has inhabited the area around Witsieshoek since the mid 19th century.

One of the most well-loved characters of the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike is that of Mvula Samson Machobane (or Samson as most people know him), who provides guiding services on the formidable ‘chain ladders’ day of the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike. Starting initially as a part-time guide, through the growth in popularity of the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike, Samson is employed fulltime. Samson is known for his encouragement, kind words and formidable knowledge on the fauna and flora of the area.  

Connect to NATURE

The Amphitheatre is the most recognisable 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 1000 metres from the Tugela valley to the Lesotho plateau nearly 3000 metres above sea level. Part of its aesthetic appeal arises from its near perfect symmetry, extending as a sheer wall of rock some 5 kilometres 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. It is hard not to be swept away by the incredible views, or to feel the might of the natural world while gazing at the mighty Tugela Falls plunging from the top of the Escarpment (where it really feels like one can reach up and touch the blue of the sky).

Connect to LIFE 

Many people leave the Amphitheatre Heritage Hike with a sense of completion and enrichment, particularly having spent time in such an ancient landscape. There are countless anecdotes of people fearing the climb up the chain ladders (sets of metal rungs sunk into the rock), conquering those fears (often with the help of Samson) and realising that childhood fears of heights and climbing can still be tackled and put to bed no matter ones age. The Amphitheatre Heritage Hike in particular offers the opportunity to reach the escarpment as an amateur hiker an a day hike, and there are no other areas in the Drakensberg that can allow this feat without major trekking and fitness. 

Price Includes

  • 3 Nights Accom (sharing basis): 1 night at Cavern Hotel (Std Room) & 2 Nights at Witsies – nicest Sentinel Chalets
  • All meals: from dinner on arrival night to packed lunch on final hike day (3 Breakfasts, 3 Packed Lunches, and 3 Dinners). At Witsies – will be either a buffet dinner or order from ala carte menu to the value of R160/per dinner.
  • Hiking Guide - for first 2 hike day (Day 3 – is an easy self-guide down to Royal Natal)
  • Hiking Permit - for Hike day 2 from Sentinel Car Park (R70/pp)
  • Witsies - Sentinel Car Park - return Transfer: Hike Day 2
  • Private Return Transfer: pick-up from Royal Natal & transfer back to the Cavern on final day

Pack for A Purpose @ THE CAVERN

You will have the option to donate supplies to this project when arriving at The Cavern on this trip:

Pack for a Purpose: 

Is an initiative that allows you to make your travels meaningful. 

Have a Big Impact in the communities you visit. Simply use a small amount of space in your luggage to pack supplies needed by community projects around the world.
Since 2010, Pack for a Purpose travelers have taken over 54,340 kgs (119,548 lbs) of supplies meeting essential needs in over 60 countries.

More info on Pack for a Purpose

This Project

Khanyisela Project and Royal Drakensberg Primary School: We believe that the only way to make a real contribution to our community is through education. We support 13 Crèche in the Amazizi Village.

Image

In addition to the Crèche project, we have helped establish an independent school just 500 meters from the Cavern, The Royal Drakensberg Primary School. There is a great need for holistic education of a world class standard in our area.

Conditions in these rural areas are poor and the teachers lack resources and infrastructure.

More info on Khanyisela Projects

Needs

General School Supplies: 
Colored Pencils, Craft Scissors, Crayons, Erasers, Glue Sticks, Handheld Pencil Sharpeners, Pencils, and Wax Crayons

Reference Materials: 
(English) Dictionaries

Flash Cards: 
(English) Alphabet, Math, and Word

Wall Charts: 
(English) Human Body, Language, Math, Science, and World Maps

Text/Reading Books: 
(English) Age Appropriate Story Books

Educational Games/Toys: 
Chess Sets, Puzzles, Scrabble, and Stuffed Animals/Soft Toys

Sports/Outdoor Activity: 
Frisbees, Jump Ropes, Soccer Balls, and Tennis Balls

Clothing/Shoes: 
New or Gently Used Children’s Clothing and Shoes

First Aid/Health: 
Band-Aids


  1. Itinerary

    Day 1: 15km.

    Avg Hike Time: 5.5-6.5 hrs, 726m Elevation Gain, 1273m Total Ascent

    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 Witsies Mountain Lodge. You would have ascended 1273 metres on today’s hike, but the good news is that the majority 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.

    Day 2: 16km return-trip or 18km if you take in Rainbow Falls as well. 

    Average Hike Time: 7hrs572m Elevation Gain, 985m Total Ascent

    This is the most eventful day and you will need to make an early start to make the most out of it!  You will 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 maintained 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 Witsieshoek plateaux.  The chain ladders are reached after about 3 kilometres, and after negotiating the two sections of rock wall it is only a short scramble up from there to the escarpment where you can spend the better part of the day in exploration. For those persons scared of heights, there is also the Gully Option; or up the gully and down the chain ladders (or vice-versa). 

    Here is Africa's highest waterfall, where the headwaters of the Tugela drop a sheer 614 metres into the gorge below.  Another point of interest, some 2 km inland, is the Mont-aux-Sources peak, at 3282 metres 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 Witsieshoek lodge, where you should aim to be back by mid-afternoon.

    Day 3: 11km to Mahai Campsite Bridge or 12.2km to Visitor Centre

    Average Hike Time: 4-5hrs, -813Elevation Gain, 391m Total Ascent

    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 criss-cross the Mahai River several times, passing small waterfalls and pools, providing opportunity for a refreshing dip for the bold.  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 Berg hotel. For those that don’t have long journeys or planes to catch, we recommend visiting the bushmen paintings which are another 2kms 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, there is an option of a 4th night, and you may like to treat your weary limbs to a massage at the Cavern’s Forest Spa. You’ll return home, filled with a sense of achievement for having reached the top of the mighty Drakensberg escarpment!

  2. Optional Activities

    Porter Support per porter for Days 1 & 3: from Cavern to Witsies and from Witsies to Royal Natal. (on Day 2 the bag will stay at Witsies)

    Please note that porters do need to be PRE-BOOKED & there are a limited no of porters with backpacks.  
    There is a weight limit of 15kg/per porter.

    Price: $60

Included
  • 3 Nights Accom (sharing basis): 1 night at Cavern Hotel (Std Room) & 2 Nights at Witsies – nicest Sentinel Chalets
Excluded
  • Transfers
  • International flight
  • Visas
  • Insurance
  1. Joining your tour

    The trail departs from the Cavern Hotel. How to get there, from:

    From Johannesburg:

    Note: Quickest and most direct route but does include a rough section on the R74; approx 16kms
    Travel to Harrismith on the N3.
    At Harrismith take the N5 route towards Bethlehem for 4 km.
    Turn left towards Qwa-Qwa, (R74 & R712)
    Travel 8km
    Turn left, following the R74 towards Bergville and the Oliviershoek Pass.
    Travel for 38km, continue a little way beyond Little Switzerland.
    As the Pass levels out turn right at the Northern Drakensberg sign.
    Travel towards Royal Natal National Park for 6km only.
    Just after the Tower of Pizza, turn right at the sign to The Cavern, Alpine Heath and Hlalanathi.
    The Cavern is at the end of this 10km tarred road. 360 km JHB to the Cavern

    cavern map

    Watch out for horses and other livestock on the road.

    From Durban:

    Take the N3 beyond Estcourt.
    6km after the Shell Ultra City, Exit 194, take the left glide off towards the Northern Drakensberg, Bergville and Winterton (R74).
    Travel through the towns of Winterton and Bergville, and on towards Harrismith.
    29km beyond Bergville turn left towards the Northern Drakensberg (at the base of the Oliviershoek Pass).
    Travel towards Royal Natal National Park for 6km only.
    Just after the Tower of Pizza, turn right at the sign to The Cavern, Alpine Heath and Hlalanathi.
    The Cavern is at the end of this 10km tarred road.
    280km from Durban

  2. Accommodation

    All of our group tours are planned and operated on a twin-share basis, meaning that the standard cost is based either on individual travellers sharing accommodation with another group member of the same sex, or people who book together sharing accommodation. 
    When a Single Supplement is available it is included in the Prices tab. Depending on the Experience chosen, all accommodations may not have the capacity to offer single accommodation. 
    The Single Room supplement also applies to the third person in a party of three that will be accommodated in a single room. 

  3. Important Information

    Slackpacking:

    For those who aren't in the know, slackpacking is an assisted form of hiking, whereby one can take to the trails with a small daypack carrying just the essentials. After a brilliant walk filled with beautiful views, riverside dips to cool off and hopefully excellent weather, hikers arrive at their accommodation to find their bags waiting for them. This kind of hiking allows people to concentrate on having a good time, over worrying about their injuries or lugging heaps of gear with the kids in tow.
    Insurance:
    It is a condition of booking with Gaia Conscious Travel that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on travel, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit, which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for domestic travel.

  4. Preparing your Experience

    Technical Information:

    Distance:   Approx 43 kilometres with 1300 metres in altitude gain.  There is some flexibility around distances - determined by the guide and dependent on group's abilities and requirements.

    Grade:  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.

    Climate and seasonality:

    Summer (Nov -May) is wet and warm, with most rain during Oct -Mar. Daily temps can climb to 25 - 30 deg C & rain falls mainly as afternoon thunderstorms. Winter (June to Oct) consists of mainly dry, sunny, clear, crisp days with daytime temps averaging 15-20 deg C & night-time temps dropping below zero. Snow and ice is more common, but only remains for any length of time on the highest ground.

    Seasonality/ Best time of year: All year round. In summer it is wise to make the most of the mornings, and presume afternoons will be wet. Whilst days are shorter in winter because the weather is more stable, the whole day can usually be used for hiking. Spring & summer are the best months for wild flowers. 

    Disclosure: Hikers must understand that the Drakensberg has a temperamental climate with four seasons possible in one day and should be prepared for extreme weather events any time of year. Hikers must respect the decision of their guide if his/her advice is to turn back early, not summit, or not hike at all, due to inclement weather conditions.

  5. Budgeting your Experience

    All costs are included during the trail. You may need some extra money to cover optional activities. You will most certainly need to budget for a few more days in this amazing region. If you need assistance with your car rental or your stay before or after the trail, please let us know.

    Tipping:

    Tipping is customary in South Africa. 10 to 15% is expected to be added to bills in restaurants. Tipping is a common token of appreciation for the guides and other staff members. 


    Foreign Exchange: 
    Bureau de Change are available at Johannesburg or Durban airports. ATMs are widely available at commerces, petrol stations and even in smaller towns. 

Select Currency:
Accommodation Options

    There are no extra accommodation options for this Experience. Please contact us for accommodation options before and after your trip

Optional Activities
  1. Porter Support

     

    Porter Support per porter for Days 1 & 3: from Cavern to Witsies and from Witsies to Royal Natal. (on Day 2 the bag will stay at Witsies)

    Please note that porters do need to be PRE-BOOKED & there are a limited no of porters with backpacks. 
    There is a weight limit of 15kg/per porter.

     

     

     

    Porter Day 1: $24

    Porter Day 2: $29

Select Currency:
Departure Dates Status Price (PP Sharing) Excluding Flights Single Supplement Child Notes  
December-November
(2018 prices)
Upon request
$450
(for 2 people sharing)
$92
(Upon request)
2018 prices apply from Dec 2017 onwards
30/11/-0001 - 30/11/-0001
January-December
(Year Round)
$440
(per person sharing)
$86
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All Reviews Overall Rating 5/5
Barneyxcq
Reviewed on February 18, 2018

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