Tugela Falls
Tugela Falls from Wikipedia

Tugela Falls

South Africa

Located in South Africa’s bewildering Drakensberg mountain range, the Tugela Falls are the second highest waterfalls in the world after Angel Falls in Venezuela.  Falling down the side of a huge mountainous ampitheatre that is as red as the basalt rock and as green as the fine moss that grows on the cliff-face, these falls descend a whopping 3,110 feet. A series of 5 separate drops, the largest single fall is a gigantic 1,348 feet which stretches out as fine as a thread of silk before smashing against the wet rockface far below. From there, the falls quickly develop into a series of mild rapids, before turning back into the Tugela river, draining into the Indian Ocean almost 300 miles away.

Almost as thrilling as the falls themselves are the unique jagged mountain ranges and gorges of this area, one of only two escarpment ranges of its kind in the world. Known as the Dragon Mountains in Afrikaans, and translating as the “barrier of spears” in the Zulu language, the Drakensberg range frames the Tugela Falls with sharp peaks, rugged pinnacles, and steep ravines. This other-worldly landscape was even said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien, who lived in South Africa as a young child, to create the fantastical Misty Mountains of Middle-earth. The falls are also situated within the Royal Natal National Park, an area designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Two challenging hiking trails lead right up to the Tugela falls, one all the way to the summit of Mount-Aux-Sources at the very top of the falls, where hikers can watch the Tugela River eddy and shallow as it approaches the edge of the cliffs. While this tough and demanding walk will take all day in the best of weather, a more relaxing stroll can be undertaken towards the foot of the falls, through high alti-montane grasslands and indigenous, endemic forests of podocarpus conifer that cover the foothills of the Drakensberg. At the end of this trail you will emerge from a dark canyon by using a chain ladder to climb over a huge boulder, the incredible sight of the falls emerging into view as you ascend. If you are lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the Klipspringer, an olive-coated mountain antelope, famed for being so dexterous that it can balance itself on a piece of cliff as small as a coin.

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