Monday, December 23, 2019

Thendele Hutted Camp - Royal Natal National Park

Lana and I, with our friend Gordo Mac, presently on holiday in South Africa from Scotland, recently visited one of our favourite venues in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Mountain range – the beautifully situated Thendele Hutted Camp of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with its magnificent views of the Amphitheatre, in the Royal Natal National Park.

After an approximate three-hour leisurely drive from Durban, we checked into our comfortable 2 bedroomed self-catering chalet. These rather attractive, brick under thatch chalets are well appointed. The bedrooms now have new ¾ beds, with appropriate linen, recently upgraded. A pleasant surprise, showing that there is a definite commitment to slowly maintain and upgrade these facilities. The staff were all smiles and pleased that some maintenance and upgrading is being accomplished.

Our view from our chalet

Four bed with two bed chalets on the right at lower camp. Upper camp, mixed two and four bed chalets immediately behind and to the right.

An upper camp four bed chalet

One of the 2 six bed cottages, these have a lovely undercover braai facility on the large veranda.

There are 2 bed, 4 bed, 6 bed chalets all with one bathroom and separate toilet, kitchen and lounge dining area.
Then the large more luxurious Main Lodge, set close by in its own grounds, which has 3 bedrooms, each with twin beds and own en suite full bathroom. All units have a magnificent view of the Amphitheatre. Thendele camp has prime position, compared to any other venue in the area for its scenic splendour in the Northern Drakensberg, in my opinion.

To see more detail of the accommodation at Thendele Camp, pleasae go to my previous review.

The chalets were clean and relatively well maintained, with a sign in the bathroom of our unit,  apologising for the condition of the tiles. Some cracked or in poor condition. As this size / style of tile is no longer available, management are waiting for funding to replace all.
Being a fairly regular visitor to Thendele, we noticed that the Day Visitor Centre as well as the Thendele Reception shop, were way better stocked than on previous visits. Selected food items and drinks, with a selection of curios. One still need be wary of supplies, I prefer to use this resource as a back-up only, as it's 45 kms to the nearest town at Bergville, should the shop not have what you want.

This mountain retreat allows one to really appreciate our natural heritage, majestic views, hikes, varying from easy to challenging, all the while surrounded by the Afro-montane Protea savanna grasslands, made up primarily of red oat grass Themeda triandra and Tussock grass Festuca costata, the former is  sweet veld, excellent for grazing, the Eland must thrive on it, with the latter, the less savoury sour veld, this topography  interspersed with numerous Proteaceae. The Highveld protea Protea caffra, the Dwarf sugar bush Protea roupellae the large Silver protea tree Leucadendron argenteum with reddish flower heads. A smaller shrub is the Waterlilly sugarbush Protea subvestita which has eliptical leaves with creamy white / pink flowers.

The Protea savanna biome overlooking the Tugela River and the Drakensberg massif. That's the shy Eastern Buttress trying to hide behind its tablecloth.

Protea caffra

Protea roupeliae

A male Cape Rock Thrush

Helmeted Guinesfowl

Helmeted Guineafowl and chicks

Chorister Robin-Chat

Common waxbill

Greater-striped swallow by Gordon

Red-winged starling

A rather proud Speckled mousebird after cleaning our braai grid

Burchell's Coucal advising us of the impending rain.

Cape Robin-Chat

Cape Grey Mongoose

Chacma Baboon family.

Bushbuck doe

Mountain Reedbuck

One of the stocked dams for anglers - what a setting!

The Royal Natal National Park is a Naturalists dream destination. With our intense interest in the fauna, particularly the avifauna here, along with the diverse vegetation, its out a walking with boots, hat, binoculars and camera. Lana in the mandatory four paces behind and Gordon up ahead.

A delightful forest walk immediately behind the upper camp accommodation, resonating with a variety of bird calls, the particularly colourful Klaas' and Red-chested cuckoo aka Piet my vrou decided not to be showing themselves. We searched to no avail. I am sure they are ventriloquists.

A refreshing clear mountain water drink stop for us. Should you be concerned with 'Berg tummy' desist, although I have never had a problem, these waters are pretty much at the source of the streams.

One of the forested sections on the Gorge Walk.

One of the hikes from the Thendele Camp or the day visitor's car park, follows the Thugela River. All the way up close to the base of the escarpment, on the 'Gorge Walk'. We hiked this on a previous occasion with water level dependent crossings in the Gorge, before climbing a chain ladder to get closer to the base of the Falls. On this subsequent visit however, the river was up from recent rains, making it a tad too strong for us to cross in that narrow confined section.

The montane canopy forests, through which many of the trails meander, have majestic yellowwoods amongst the vines, shrubs, sheltering the forest flowers, such as the beautiful Streptocarpus gardenii clinging to the shady rock surfaces.

Pompon tree Dias corinofolia 

Another colourful small tree with diagnostic large, round leaves that flourish in a riot of scarlet inflorescence in summer; this the Natal bottlebrush Greyia sutherlandii.

Natal Bottlebrush with Cape Weaver

..with Greater Double-collared Sunbird

In moist seep-lines, stream banks or in marshy areas, the diversity of dendrological species changes, Tree ferns Alsophila dregei and Berg cycads Encephalartos ghellinckii predominant with the Mountain cabbage tree scattered sparingly Cussoni paniculata. The forests are characterised by the two large species of yellowwood, the Real aka Broad-leaved yellowwood Podocarpus latifolius and the even larger Outeniqua yellowwood Podocarpus falcatus with its spiky-looking, shorter leaves. Then Wild peach Kiggelaria africana, this is the host plant to the Garden Acraea butterfly larvae, Acraea horta, Mountain aka Cape saffron Cassine peragua, Cape beech (Boekenhout) Rapanea melanophloesa, Assegai tree Curtisia dentata. As its name implies, this particularly strong wood was preferred when making spears and assegais, by the Bantu. These along with many other trees and shrubs.

On the forest margins and along river banks the four most common species are: Ouhout, aka Old wood shrub Leucosidea sericea (the Zulu inshishi) with its dark, roughly convoluted bark with small serrated silvery leaves, a fly fisherman's nightmare. Nana-berry Rhus dentata, with its tri-foliate leaves conspicuously toothed, Sagewood aka Butterfly bush Buddleja salviifolia, with its whiteish or lilac flowers in spring, (Chefs choice, try adding the leaves of these shrubs to one's pork dish), and the Common spikethorn Maytenus heterophylla with, sharp straight, up to 100 mm thorns.
Then various Helichrysum sp, the Everlasting flowers so prolific

With the outstanding scenery a given, as the seasons and weather changes, so further natural coloured splendour invades the area. The early morning golden red light striking the precipice and lighting up our new day.

The Sentinal standing proud to the west of the Amphitheatre

The billowing storm clouds, the comforting tablecloth, the swirling hazy mists, rising and falling in an ever changing scenic spectacle. The earthy petrichor scent emanating from the freshly watered soils, rejuvenating the fragile montane vegetation after the rains. The gallant golden attempts by the departing sun, illuminating the remnants of the storm as it sets.

From Thendele Camp, guest need merely sit on their balcony and enjoy this spectacle, the majesty and splendor is all there immediately in front of one, breath deep. To enjoy the hiking trails, there are numerous options, with trails from Thendele Camp, branching this way and that, short and long. To summit the Amphitheater it is best to drive around, some 2 hours up Oliviershoek Pass, into the Free State and access the Sentinel carpark from there.

Well signposted paths, just follow the one you desire. Coming to a fork, consider taking the one less travelled by, that could make all the difference - with apologies to Robert Frost.
The birdlife in this mountainous area is quite spectacular. There is such interesting species diversity.

Cape Grassbird here, with different speices as one gains altitude. We have had sightings of the Bearded Vulture aka Lammergeier as well as Black Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Cape and White-backed Vultures traversing the escarpment too.

Then as the weather comes down evening time, ready the braai, boerewors starters, to sundowners, in preperation to the main course, for us - on the braai weather permitting. The utensils in the kitchen are more than adequate, we had a 4 plate stove with oven. So baking and top of stove frying / steaming was a sinch in their sturdy cast iron pots and frying pans.
I think the weather in Scotland has got to Gordon, he was here in South Africa for the sun, but
he constantly retreated into warm cladding on its dissapearance, as happened this rather nippy late afternoon. The only part of him able to take a cooler evening it seems, were his lower legs - legacy of him wearing his kilt in that cold clime so far north, I would say. I half expected diamond patterned Pringle socks with kilt flashes.

To be fair, there was an inordinately cold snap whilst we were there, a cosy fire in the lounge was eagerly sought after, what with some OBS aka Old Brown Sherry to fire up the soul. Or was it wine? Here we are adding to the mist as it all becomes hazy.

There are some San Rock Art venues in the reserve. One small shelter near the entrance gate has a community guide allowing access to and giving an interpretation on the paintings for a fee.

As a precaution when visiting Thendele selfcatering camp, Lana and I alway take;

All our food, drink, as well as all charcoal / wood requirements. There could be a rush at the shop and / or slow replacement delivery on which they rely? We drink the tap water here but that is a personal choice issue.
We take a lantern and torch, in case the Eskom main line goes down. There is a gas cylinder with burner provided, as an emergency stove.
Ensure you have adequate fuel for your vehicle, Bergville is 45 kms away should you need.
Bring the reservation reference number for the 24 hour gate on entry. You will need an exit permit if you intend leaving the Park whilst there, and of course for departure.

There are 220V 3 prong plug sockets for charging your phones and I had a 3G signal on Vodakom.
Kitchens have stove, fridge / freezer, kettle, microwave, toaster with general cutlery, crockery and utensils. Dish washing fluid and cloths are supplied.
Limited chanel TV is in the chalets. Wev'e never tried them so can't guarantee they work.
There is a swing and slide for children's enjoyment, with walks and the closeness to our natural environment with its spectacular scenery, the prime attraction.

All phorographs and opinions by Jeremy and Lana Williamson