The Amphitheatre route description.

The Amphitheatre route description.

The Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg is certainly an impressive mountain. It is found right at the Western border of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg park with the huge Sentinel (3165m) at the end. This big Basalt wall stretches for 5km to the Eastern Buttress (3124m) at the other end. Once on top of the Amphitheatre it seems quite flat compared to the rest of the Drakensberg. Read here about our 2 day hike to the Amphitheatre.

Just 2km away is the inconspicuous “hill” Mont aux Sources.

At 3282m above sea level it was once thought to be the highest peak in SA. But it is still very special. You can say it is the watershed of Southern Africa. On one side the mighty Tugela river has it’s source here. The Thukela the “sudden or startling one” falls over the Amphitheatre wall onto the foothills below. Falling 948m makes it the tallest waterfall in the world. After falling down a huge cliff the Tugela river ends up in the Indian ocean. On the other side of Mont aux Sources water rises to join the Orange river and ends up in the Atlantic ocean far away.

Mont aux Sources was named after 2 intrepid French missionaries who reached the summit from the Lesotho side.

The Zulu’s  call it Emphofeni – place of Eland although I don’t know why. I have never seen Eland way up there.

Below the Amphitheatre is Royal Natal National Park.

It became a National park in 1916 and is now over 8000ha. The path used to get to the top of the Amphitheatre is relatively easy from the Sentinel car park. It starts at 2500m and the top of the famous chain ladders is only 450m higher plus is only 6km from the car park to the Tugela falls.

The Mountain club of South Africa built a hut on top that had beds, a stove, fire place and even chairs and a table. Unfortunately we live in a world full of vandalism and now I way prefer to camp in a tent near the Amphitheatre edge.

Of course Crows nest cave is close by and can fit 4 people nicely.

So what is the route like?

We start the 2 day Amphitheatre hike at the Sentinel car park which is at the end of a very rough dirt road. You definitely need a 4×4 vehicle with high ground clearance to drive up this road. Here we are at 2500m above sea level. The path starts of slightly level but soon starts going uphill. I like to have lunch with a view above the 3 witches. From here we can look across the Amphitheatre with the famous Devils tooth in the distance.This is after about 1 hour of walking and we are at 2700m. Only 250m more ascent to go for today.

After lunch we saunter along a “contour” path.

This path goes on for about 3 km along the base of the mighty Sentinel peak. On the way we pass the Sentinel caves and the Gully. Time for another rest as we check out the Gully which is an option to descent on day 2. You can watch a video I made of this hike here.

Usually we have been hiking for up to 3 hours as we arrive at the chain ladders. They are a bit intimidating but once you have climbed them you certainly feel pretty good about yourself.

It’s called “getting out of your comfort zone”.

Now we are at 2950m above sea level and the air is certainly a bit thinner and cooler. From the top of the chain ladders it is a 40 minute walk to our camp next to the Tugela falls. This is probably the easiest hike for the reward that you can get anywhere. However it is not an easy hike. Please be aware that it is at a high altitude up to 3000m and over rough terrain especially using the Gully.

Anyway after enjoying unbelievable views over a cup of tea it is time to enjoy Drakensberghiker’s restaurant.  Early to bed and early to rise so we can see one of the best sunrises. Hopefully the weather is clear. You can never tell what the weather may be in the mountains.

After breakfast we decide if it is the chain ladders or the gully.

Some people rather do the easier route down the ladders while others descent down the gully. It is a very steep rocky gully that requires a lot of concentration but is worth it when you see the views. Plus it is a slightly different route back to the cars. The  route up the Gully includes a walk up the Beacon buttress that takes up to 45 minutes. The gully usually takes another 45 minutes and we join the path contouring along past the Sentinel peak.

After 3 hours of walking on day 2 we have finished the Amphitheatre overnight hike.

The mighty Sentinel at the Amphitheatre
Camping on top of the Amphitheatre
Sentinel to Mnweni hike report
Drakensberg northern traverse hike report