|Location||KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa|
|Total height||948 m (3,110 ft)|
|Number of drops||5|
|Longest drop||411 m (1,348 ft)|
|World height ranking||2|
Tugela Falls is accepted as the world's second highest waterfall (though, as per point below, there is a debate that it is possibly the tallest waterfall in the world, rather than the Angel Falls). The total drop in five free-leaping falls is 948 m (3,110 ft). They are located in the Drakensberg (Dragon's Mountains) in the Royal Natal National Park in KwaZulu-Natal Province, Republic of South Africa. They are easily viewed after a heavy rain from the main travel road into the park, glistening from the reflection of the late afternoon sun. The source of the Tugela River (Zulu for 'sudden') is the Mont-Aux-Sources plateau which extends several kilometers beyond The Amphitheatre escarpment from which the falls drop. There is an undeveloped camp site and mountain hut immediately above the falls.
There are two trails to the Tugela Falls. The most spectacular trail is to the top of Mount-Aux-Sources, which starts at the Sentinel car park (through Phuthaditjhaba on the R57, approximately 2hrs drive from Royal Natal National Park via the R74, 90 minutes from Harrismith via the R712, or 80 minutes from Golden Gate Highlands National Park). From here it is a relatively easy climb to the top of the Amphitheatre, however it does take about 4.5 to 8 hours round trip depending on fitness level. Access to the summit is via two chain ladders. This is the only day hiking trail which leads to the top of the Drakensberg escarpment. Another trail to the foot of the Tugela Falls starts at Royal Natal National Park. The easy 7 km (4.3 mi) gradient up the Tugela Gorge winds though indigenous forests. The last part of the hike to the Tugela Falls is a boulder hop. A little chain ladder leads over the final stretch for a view of the falls rushing down the amphitheater in a series of five cascades.
Controversy Between Tugela Falls and Angel Falls as World's Tallest Waterfall
There is a compelling argument that the Tugela Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world, rather than the more commonly cited Angel Falls. This argument is based on two likely inaccuracies regarding presumed heights of the respective falls.
Firstly, many now believe the Angel Falls is not as tall as was initially surveyed by American Journalist Ruth Robertson in 1949. The quoted figure of 979m corresponds almost precisely with the difference in altitude between the beginning of the falls, and the level of the Rio Churun (Churun River) roughly two kilometers away from the base of the cliff of the Auyan Tepui, and one mile further than the last part along the stretch of river that could possibly be considered a ‘waterfall’. Even on highly detailed topographic maps, Google Earth etc., it is difficult to see how a figure of 979m can be valid.
The Angel falls are often regarded as starting at 1500m altitude, falling 807m (2648 feet), then cascading for approximately 400m with relatively little altitude loss, before a final fall of 30m below the Talus Rapids, near the famous viewpoint known as Mirador Laime. After this the river flows with very little altitude loss, with nothing approaching a waterfall or even cascade. However, the altitude of Mirador Laime is usually stated as around 2300 feet, which would suggest that Salto Angel may only be 807m in total height.
Secondly, topographical recordings and maps demonstrate that the Tugela may be much taller than is usually stated. If given the same grace as the Angel Falls, and an area of cascades culminating in a waterfall is allowed into the height estimation, Tugela’s height is significantly greater than the typically cited 948m. Much as with Angel Falls, there is a waterfall less than 400m further than the base of the Amphitheatre cliff (co-ordinates 28°44’54.41” S 28°54’26.38” E) at an altitude of between 1980m and 1960m Above Sea Level. Considering both this and that the Tugela begins falling at an altitude of 2972m, if one were to apply the same measuring criterion as used for Salto Angel, Tugela’s height is more accurately recorded as between 992m and 1012m.
This is actually conservative. Further deepening the debate, less substantial but still significant waterfalls occur throughout the course of the Tugela, several within a mile of the Amphitheatre cliff base and following on significantly steep cascades. If counted, this would further increase Tugela’s stated height by several hundred additional feet.
Angel Falls, however, is almost universally regarded as having the tallest single drop of any waterfall in the world (Tugela Falls, even though likely the tallest waterfall on Earth, is multi-tiered, and the tallest of its tiers is 411m (1348 feet)). Even this height has some debate, however, as a Botanical Survey listed the highest drop’s height as 738m (2 421 feet), narrowly taller than Kjeragfossen, at 715m (2345 feet), rather than the usually cited 807m (2648 feet).
- "World's tallest waterfalls by total overall height". World Waterfall Database. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
- Tugela Falls, Drakensberg Tourism