Hiking to the top of Tugela Falls

I never knew my last few months in South Africa would fly by so quickly. It felt like one moment I was getting excited about being an intern at my dream job and the next moment I was running around looking for a carry-on bag that must be a very specific size. I needed an escape, I needed time to slow down so that I could just take a moment to breath. And what better way to do this than in the mountains?

A few weeks ago, a friend told me that the weather predicted snow for the Drakensberg Mountains and that if I wanted to, I could join them on a hike. I never say no to the mountains and with everything being a little overwhelming, the timing was perfect. So I packed a bag, borrowed a tent and sleeping bag and went on this roadtrip.

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Most of the people in this group didn’t know each other but we all got along really well and chatted like we’ve been friends for years. Isn’t that just amazing? You put a group of like-minded strangers in a car heading for a mountain and there’s just absolutely no awkwardness or hostility. We were basically best friends since the first moment we met. This was when I knew that I made the right decision to go on this adventure and that it was going to be a special hike.

We camped in Golden Gate National Park and did a few hikes there before we went to Clarens for some drinks and dinner. (In case anyone is interested, if you want to eat after 7pm in Clarens, it’s best to make a booking to avoid disappointment.) Luckily for us there was a German restaurant kind enough to feed our “hangry” group.

 

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Golden Gate National Park

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Golden Gate National Park

Sunday morning came and we woke up early. It was freezing cold so most of us got dressed the night before so that we wouldn’t need to bare our skin in early morning temperatures.

It’s about a two hour drive from Golden Gate National Park to the start of the hike. There’s a parking lot halfway up the mountain which definitely helped to make this hike a lot more do-able. The first few kilometres are steep uphill but if you walk at a comfortable pace, you won’t need to rest along the way.

At the start of the hike, you look up and all you see are beautiful mountain peaks. We were even lucky and had some really cool clouds that made the picture in front of us even more majestic. It’s one of those moments when you kind of expect a dragon to fly over. I mean surely this mountain range is named ‘Dragon Mountains’ for a reason.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about dragons) this didn’t happen and we continued the hike with no signs of dragons anywhere.

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The trail zig zags up the mountain and then takes you around the mountain to another side. Throughout the hike you can look up and be amazed. On your right, you see the valley and a river flowing at the bottom and on your left you look up and it’s just the most beautiful mountain! We even saw snow on distant peaks! The wind was freezing and my cold, numb fingers made me hate the thought of taking pictures. Needless to say, I pushed through and took pictures anyway!

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The trickiest part of this hike is the famous chain ladders. I absolutely loved them but if you have any sort of fear of heights, then this will be your biggest challenge. However, if you make it up the chain ladders you won’t be disappointed. At the top you follow the little stream that leads to the edge of the mountain where you’ll find Tugela Falls. This is the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest waterfall in the world. Unfortunately when we were there, the waterfall had no water but it was still an incredible sight.

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The view from up there was so beautiful that I felt extremely fortunate to see it. I was standing there, looking at these mountains and the valley and it was almost like for the first time I realised how much I was going to miss South Africa. In this moment I was also fighting back my tears and feeling so grateful that I had the opportunity to see South Africa like this for one last time before I embark on this new adventure. I felt so lucky to have grown up in such a beautiful country and I realised that no matter where life takes me, this will always be home.

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I sat down at the edge and took that breath that I was longing for. A few seconds later the clouds came back and the view was gone. We only had a few moments of magic up there but that was all I needed. This hike will forever be one of my most cherished memories.

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South Africa, I’ll be back soon ❤

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