Monday, February 8, 2016

Royal Natal National Park – Thendele Lodge - Jeremy Williamson

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 accommodation units of Upper Camp are slightly more costly than thos in Lower Camp. For tariffs and more information contact In addition, there is the Thendele Lodge which is located just below the lower camp in a more private setting.

For a detailed review of this chalet accommodation and photographs please go to my review of 26 August 2015

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...

Master suite

.... and sports an in bath shower.

Master suite bathroom
Garden access from a bedroom.

Second bedroom
Bathroom off the 2nd bedroom
All the beds are single, pushed together in these photographs, with the Master and 2nd bedroom having a common duvet cover.

Third bedroom
Bathroom off the 3rd bedroom

Each of the bedrooms have large sliding doors opening onto a private veranda - and that view.

The lounge / dining / entrance area is particularly roomy and comfortable.

Dining section with bar and fireplace opening onto patio

Ideal for entertaining a small crowd I would say. The kitchen is large with a walk-in pantry that has a chest freezer and a large fridge. Supplied with all basic cooking utensils and appliances along with crockery and cutlery

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.

Braai and alfresco dining area

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.

The birding can be good too

Crossing babbling streams, tranquil forest pools and finding the most interesting flowers, trees, birds, reptiles, insects and animals, something for any Nature Lover.

Protea caffra - the most prolific shrub in the grassland on the hills.

Tiger Falls - was it named after the horizontal striped weathering on the rocks?

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.

Your name on the board and keys for the chalet in the container here.

The affordable accommodation is conducive to longer stays though. Be aware that Thendele is probably KZN Wildlife’s most popular venue, so book well in advance if you are able. Bookings through ourselves at;

My favourite Drakensberg venues in no particular order are;
Giants Castle, has a restaurant with all chalets self-catering as well – Vulture bird hide, Main caves San Rock Art diorama and paintings.,
Sani Pass area (private accommodation venues here such as Moorcroft Manor. Restaurant
Didima Camp also has a restaurant and self-catering. San Rock Art interpretation centre
There is no restaurant at Thendele Camp in the Royal Natal National Park (the hotel there, is no more) so for those that would like a fully catered for venue, in close proximity to the Amphitheatre, I can recommend Montusi Mountain Lodge, a delightful venue

All photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson and Gordon MacKinnon

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