There is something rather grand with respect to the Royal Natal National Park – it has to be the most magnificent protected area of the Drakensberg, with views of the Amphitheater and surrounding topography. This northern sector of the KwaZulu-Natal uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park has to be the most spectacular of all the various resorts in these mountains.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, formerly the Natal Parks Board, is responsible for the camps, the wildlife and the ecology within the protected areas of this World Heritage Site.
Thendele is the camp within the Royal Natal National Park that offers chalet accommodation. The Camp known as "Thendele", named after the isiZulu word for the local Francolin game birds, however I see another game bird has seemingly usurped their place, with iMpangele – Helmeted Guineafowl, having taken over as the most predominant game bird in the area and they are very common in the camp.
These birds are most friendly, bordering on being tame. The local baboons try and emulate them too, by regularly popping in for a visit, take care with these rather more dangerous primates which seek succor from guests.!
Mahai and Rugged Glen, also within the Royal Natal National Park only have camping facilities.
Tendele Camp located on the slopes of Dooley Mountain, at 1580 meters above our Indian Ocean, looks out at the impressive massif in front, this almost vertical sheer face rises to 3011 meters at the Eastern Buttress, peaking at 3165 meters atop the Sentinel to the west.
A rather extensive day trip can be enjoyed from Thendele Camp. One would needs make an early departure by car, drive up the Oliviershoek Pass, that in itself having spectacular views, to Witsieshoek and then on to the Sentinal car park.
From there on it’s on foot, up two almost vertical chain ladders to summit the Amphitheater, take care as clouds and subsequent lack of visibility could rapidly creep upon one.
Thendele has an upper and a lower camp. Thendele lower camp was the first set of accommodation units built on this splendid vantage point.
The 2 bed, 4 bed and 6 bed chalets were constructed, all with excellent views of the Amphitheatre. The 2 bed chalets here, have a lounge come bedroom, with a large picture window, a separate kitchen and a bathroom, the 4 and 6 bed chalets have a lounge / dining room, 2 or 3 bedrooms, separate kitchen and bathroom.
The third bedroom in the 6 bed chalets does not face the Amphitheatre. The upper camp chalets are slightly larger than those of Lower Camp and have a different floor plan..
Here the lounge, dining and kitchen are open plan, with the one or two bedrooms that these units have, being separate, as is the bathroom and toilet. The lounge has full width sliding glass doors and bedrooms all have large picture windows, with an outlook towards the Amphitheatre. All these chalets are brick under thatch, with large verandas facing the Amphitheater, each with an outside barbecue (braai) facility.
The grand accommodation at Thendele Camp is undoubtedly THE LODGE, rather unique in style and ample in proportion. Clad in local stone, having a flat, ‘vegetated’ roof with portals of light illuminating the public rooms and passage below.
All set in a lovely indigenous garden and large lawn, I see us playing ball games here with my Grandchildren, when we visit again this coming winter.
Thendele Lodge has three bedrooms, all en suite with bath, hand basin, vanity and toilet. The ‘Master’ suite here is slightly larger than the other two rooms.
It is but a short walk to the other accommodation units in Tendele Camp, should you have more in your group than the Lodge can accommodate.
There is a guest loo in the foyer and then even a room with serving hatch, counter and fridge, an ideal bar, adequate too, should one have a larger gathering at Thendele Lodge. Large sliding doors lead out to a patio with braai unit.
The Lodge, as well as the two nearby 6 bed cottages, have the services of a caretaker / cook in attendance, during working hours.
What a wonderful venue to spend time in the mountains. Private verandas, large social lounge / dining / braai areas, all with those amazing mountains surrounding the Lodge.
Just beyond this escarpment top is the South Africa’s border with Lesotho. Protected / divided by (in Zulu ) the uKhahlamba “The Barrier of Spears”.
The prime activity within the Royal Natal National Park and from Thendele Camp, are the many and diverse walks that guests are able to enjoy. Most are well worn, narrow footpaths, well sign-posted and generally with not very steep an incline.
Lana and I, well into our 60’s, are able to embrace most of the routes with ease. Round trips of 6 or 7 hours suite us, but there is such a variety of routes, more ambitious guests would be able to make a full day of it.
We found fresh-water crabs, scats of otters that had been feeding on them and then the spoor of ?? My next trip I must try “The Mudslide” and the “Crack”.
Hopefully not being too ambitious with that, these ‘loops’ apparently require a tad more effort. Remember to sign the Hiking Register before you set off.
Take time to swim in the river too and for those who like angling, bring your fishing equipment, with a permit, guest may enjoy this pastime too.
Any time of year is good to visit the Drakensberg (‘Berg) – easily accessible from Durban and Johannesberg on good tarred roads, the venues of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife are all situated in the prime areas of the Drakensberg, right up closest to the escarpment, they being the custodians of the protected mountain range from north to south.
Late entry gate times and ‘after hours’ access to ones accommodation unit at Thendele makes for delightful week-end escapes, even after work.