Thursday, 15 October 2020





  Lotheni is situated in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, South Africa’s first cultural and environmental World Heritage Site.

   Lotheni is a magnificent mountain haven renowned for its scenery and atmospheric camp. Situated in a spectacular section of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, the main activities revolve around mountain hiking and day walks with many scenic trails. The Emadundwini Trail (12 kilometers) is highly recommended and other hikes include the Eagle, Falls, Canyon and Jacobs Ladder Trails. Various routes to the mountain passes are also available, taking you up to the escarpment.

   The exceptional natural beauty of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is evident in its soaring basaltic buttresses, golden sandstone ramparts, rolling high altitude grasslands, steep-sided river valleys, and rocky gorges. The area has incredibly rich biodiversity including man endemic species.

   This spectacular natural landscape also has many rock shelters, containing the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa, south of the Sahara. These were created by the San people over a period of at least 40 years. The rock paintings are outstanding in quality and diversity representing the spiritual life of the San people who no longer live the region.

   The  name Lotheni first became known to the farmers who lived close to the mountains when patrols were organized to recover cattle which had been stolen by Bushmen raiders as early as 1847. These marauders descended the Hlatimba Pass from Lesotho and followed the Lotheni River and were bold enough to steal cattle from as distant a point as Karkloof. Something had to be done to prevent these raiders from passing through the unprotected Lotheni.

   Eventually in 1859 Chief Lugaju and his tribe were resettled in the Impendhle district to act as a buffer zone between the farmers and the raiders. Bushmen raids then ceased.

   Settlers, mainly from the British Isles, were attracted to the midlands of Natal and some even ventured into the foothills of the Drakensberg, especially once they found that they were safe from the Bushmen since no raids had been reported after 1872. The pioneers who first settled in the upper reaches of the Lotheni in 1890 were the McLeans and the Brookes. A while later the Laurens family arrived, followed by the Root family.

   When Charlie Laurens established a home in the Lotheni, he set about creating a settlement for friends and relatives from the Channel Isles. A survey was carried out but the expected settlers never arrived.

   During the severe rinderpest outbreak of 1894, Colonel Wilson from Underberg, with his black scouts, were send to Lotheni to prevent cattle from the north infecting stock in the southern part of the mountains. In the Nature Reserve there is a shelter called the Piket where the Colonel and his men were stationed for almost a year.

   That was not the only crisis during those exciting years in the Upper Lotheni. In 1873 during the Langalibalele Rebellion, Major Dunford and his force traversed the Lotheni Valley and then ascended the Hlatimba Pass.

   The origin of the name Lotheni is uncertain, but the opinion is that it was derived from the deposits of the dark shales so common in the valley and locally referred to as “oil shale”. To the black people these shales look burnt, hence the name “Mlotheni” or “In the Ashes”.

   The Lotheni Reserve is well known to trout fishermen who delight in casting their colorful flies into the cold, shallow waters of the Lotheni hoping to catch a prize brown trout, while in the distance antelope graze unmolested.

   What could be better to sit outside your chalet in the camp and to admire the magnificent view of the distant hazy peaks, with Giant’s Castle dominating the lesser peaks, the Tent, Hawk and Redi. From a particular angle the life-like shape of the Eagle adds to the charm of the Valley of the Lotheni.

Accommodation - Lotheni Hutted Camp

The comfortable hutted camp, electrically lit by generator from 17:00- 22:00, consists of 12 self-contained chalets:

Each with its own refrigerator, two- plate gas stove (with a small oven), bathroom, and toilet.

In addition to the chalets there are 2 six-bed fully self-contained cottages.
Visitors must bring all their own food supplies and do their own cooking.
The nearest source of provision is at the Lotheni store, which is 14 km form the camp.

The curio shop at Lotheni supplies some basic groceries.

deep-freeze is situated in the camp kitchen and is available for use by camp visitors, as is a single large gas stove.

Accommodation - Simes Cottage

Simes cottage is a converted old farm house and can accommodate 10 people in four rooms.

It is equipped with gas and visitors do their own cooking and need to bring their own towels, sheets, and pillow-slips.

The cottage is situated next to a small dam, which is regularly stocked with trout.

The dam is reserved exclusively for visitors staying at Simes cottage.

Accommodation - Campsites

There is a campground containing 14 campsites and served by an ablution block with hot and cold water, situated 2 km from the camp, further up the Lotheni Valley into the mountains.

Activities in Lotheni

Wildlife includes species such as common and mountain reedbuck, grey reedbuck, eland, grey duiker, Oribi, Cape clawless otter, mongoose and baboon. There is a diversity of birds, including black stork, verreaux’s eagle, bearded vulture, lanner falcon, Cape vulture, and giant kingfisher.

Many delightful walks and climbs may be undertaken and there are excursions of this nature to suit all ages. It is advisable to carry warm clothing at all times as the weather is often unpredictable.

Multi-day hiking is ideal to explore this stunningly beautiful area.

Mountain biking is allowed in designated areas. Picnicking is popular and visitors are encouraged to take packed lunches with them.

Although chilly, swimming in the Lotheni River is safe unless it is in flood. There is a very good swimming spot approximately 1 km below the camp at Cool Pools.

The park is popular rendezvous for trout fishermen. Approximately 16 km of the Lotheni River is stocked with brown trout. Should you wish to fish, the payment of a daily rod fee is required to be made at the Camp Office. Only fly tackle is permissible.

Gelib Tree Mountain Bike Trail

This 8 km Mountain Bike Trail starts close to the camp and crosses over several small streams, taking one up and down a few fairly steep, winding gradients.

Once on the grassland plateau, breathtaking views of the surrounding escarpment can be absorbed at length.

The historic Gelib Tree is passed on route and is an ideal rest point. The trail ends near the reserves entrance gate and a short ride in the direction of the camp brings one to the day visitor area. Here the three museum buildings may be visited and barbeque facilities are also available. A short stroll down to the river ends in the Flat Rock pools where a refreshing swim can be enjoyed. The energetic cyclist can cycle a further four kilometres along the tar road back to the camp. Alternatively family or friends can meet cyclists at the museum. No extra charge is presently levied for use of the Mountain Bike Trail.

The Emandundwini Trail

This Trail starts at the reception gate area and it is approximately 12 km in length. Take the Trail to the Lotheni River via the Tebetebe suspension bridge. Once across the river, follow the trail to the left. The route is circular and takes you through a variety of habitats including protea savanna, indigenous afro-montane forest, and grassland plains. A number of small streams have to be crossed and there are a number of steep inclines along the route. The trail offers spectacular views of the surrounding Drakensberg. Approximately half way along the trail one has the opportunity to wander through a section of indigenous forest. This forest is a good rest point and is excellent for bird watching. The trail is well marked and distances are regularly given.
The trail should take about six hours to complete, this will also allow for a number of rest stops. A brochure on the trail is available from reception.

The Eagle Trail

The Eagle Trail starts from the gravel road between the hutted camp and the campsite and ends at Simes cottage. It is approximately 12,8 km and takes about six hours to complete if one includes a number of rest stops. The trail starts with a long, fairly steep, incline. Along the route sections of afro-montane forest and protea savanna are passed, providing a diversity of plant life, which in turn attract a variety of bird life. Spectacular scenery of the high 'Berg can be seen along the length of the trail. At the highest point the trail doubles back along a grassland plateau and then winds down to the Lotheni River. The course of the river is then followed, until the trail ends near Simes cottage. At one point along the Lotheni River a large waterfall is passed and there are numerous pools for swimming. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. A brochure on the trail is available from reception.

The Jacobs Ladder Trail

This Trail starts at the reception office and is about 2 km long. It is an easy-going trail with only a few short inclines. It is highly recommended especially for family groups. The trail takes you over the Lotheni River via the Tebetebe suspension bridge and then runs parallel to the Lotheni River. The falls themselves are found upstream of a small stream, which runs into the Lotheni River. There is a large pool at the bottom of the falls perfect for swimming. The trail is well marked and it is necessary to cross the Jacobs River a number of times.

Canyon Trail

The Canyon Trail allows visitors access to the steep sided canyon, which is situated along the Bhodla River. The 12 km trail starts approximately 500 m from the museum, on the road to the camp. It takes you past the Gelib Tree, then winds up the mountain slope and leads onto a long grassland plateau.

Once on the top of the plateau the going is very easy with the trail ending above the canyon itself. The trail offers spectacular views of the Lotheni valley and the Hawk and Tent peaks as well as the Hlatimba Buttress on the escarpment. The more adventurous may find a route into the base of the canyon and follow the river up to a spectacular cascading waterfall, passing forest patches bursting with life en-route.

Gelib Tree Trail

This trail starts from the same point as the Canyon trail and is approximately 1,3 km. The trail is well marked and is an easy climb, ending at the historic Gelib Tree. From the Gelib tree you have a good view of waterfalls on the opposite valley and also of the high Berg.

Settler's Museum
Visitors should make a point of visiting the Lotheni Settler’s Homestead Museum. An interesting collection of early settler farming implements and home utensils is on display at the old Root homestead, which has been restored and refurnished in the style of the period.


No pets are permitted in the park.

Camping anywhere other than in designated areas is forbidden.

Gate entry time:

Summer (1 October- 31 March) 05: 00- 19:00
Winter (1 April- 30 September) 6:00- 18:00

The making of fire is strictly prohibited, except in designated areas in the camp and campsite, because of the hazard of veld fires.

Hikers are reminded that all refuse must be brought back to the camp for disposal.

Hikers must complete the mountain rescue register at the camp office before and after their hike.

Gate Opening and Closing Times:

Summer ( October to March ) 05h00 to 19h00

Winter (April to September ) 06h00 to 18h00

Office Hours:

The office is open from 08h00 to 12h30 and from 14h00 to 16h30

Distance and Time from Gate to Camp: 4 kilometers

Camp Telephone Number: (033) 7020540

Camp Fax: (033) 7020540

Check Out Time: 10h00

Check In Time: 14h00


    Limited curios and supplies.

    Special Precautions:

    The weather is subject to change at short notice and can become very cold. Hikers need to be well equipped.

    The nearest town which has a full range of services is Underberg which is 50 kms away.

    How to get there:

    From the south turn-off on the N3 at the Underberg Bulwer on R617 and proceed to Underberg. Lotheni is 50 kms away on a gravel road except for the first 5 kms. From the north turn off the N3 to Nottingham Road and follow the signs in the village . The reserve is 62 kms away about half of which is gravel.

    Pets are not permitted into the reserve.

    "No entry fees will be charged for visits by KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Primary and Secondary School groups, from KZN Schools to KZN Protected Areas and St Lucia Crocodile Center provided that such visits:

    1.  Are authorized by the Head of the school

    2.  Are booked in advance with the Officer in Charge of the Protected Area or Crocodile Center

    3 . Do not take place over weekends, during KZN Provincial school holidays or Public Holidays".

    We as hikers, explorers, and adventurers have the absolute duty to respect and protect our Wildernesses. Nobody else will do it for us. Take ownership!




    The End.


    Safe Hiking.

    References and Acknowledgements

    From the book – N/A

    Photos:  ©Willem Pelser
    Compiled by Willem Pelser