Royal Natal National Park

Mahai Campsite

15th to 19th January 2023

Royal Natal National Park

We had four days of good weather while we were there. The campsite was virtually empty as the Christmas holidays had just ended for most children. During our stay, there were at most three other campsites being used. Finding a shady spot was difficult however. All the trees along the entrance fence line parallel to the road have been cut down. Having chosen a spot to camp, I hesitated to set up camp. I had noticed a small clump of trees near the fence and we agreed it would serve as good sun shade in the afternoons. And as we set up facing the clump of trees, we had shade for the mornings too.

The campsite was green and well maintained. The ablutions spotless with hot water aplenty. No power shutdowns.

Here are a few photos of the campsite and its surrounds.

Our campsite birds:

Here are some photos of the reception area and the mountains around it.

On the first afternoon there, we took a short walk from the campsite upriver to the Cascades. Sally wanted a swim. There were a number of people already there. Kids running around and having fun as they do. Still Sally managed to find a quiet corner to get wet.

The walk there along the river;

Cascades pools;

Looking down at the Cascade Pools

Swimming – too cold for me!!


On our walk to the Cascades pools we came across a small bird party of Cape Batis and a juvenile species we could not positively identify.

We had three full days there. The first day we decided to walk up to Lookout Rock (see map) then to Tiger Falls; back to Lookout Rock, over the Mahai river and head towards Tranquility Pool before heading back to camp on the opposite side of the Mahai River.

We had little idea how far this was until we got back. 15 km walk taking much of the day despite setting off at 06h30. Fortunately, we had mist hanging over the mountain for most of the way up to the highest point, then a forest to stroll through on the way back. The last long section was in the hot sun. We were glad to be back.

Some photos of the scenery on our walk.

Finding another rock pool, Sally needed to cool off.

Misty morning and the birds were calling on the way up, less so on the way down in the hot hot sun. There were numerous Cisticolas and Malachite Sunbirds. Then when we were higher up, we found a group of Woodpeckers – Ground Woodpeckers. In the Mahai forest at the top of our walk, Sally noticed what she thought might be a Chorister Robin-Chat. However, it turned out to be a lovely White-starred Robin.

Our second day was meant to be more of a recovery day after the 15 kms walked the first day. However, we still managed an additional 10 kms. To keep it flat we decided to bird round the dam near the reception area. But this led us to take Ottos’s Walk through the forest as well. There were some nice birds round the dam including Giant Kingfishers, Malachite Kingfishers, Black-headed Herons and some other waterbirds.

Then we were into the forest walking alongside the river. The birds were noticeably quiet. Eventually we reached the road from the gate back to the reception. It was a long hot walk uphill most of the way back. Along the way we saw and heard a few small bird parties. Mostly nothing exciting until I saw what I thought at the time was a Sombre Greenbul – the angle of the sun deceiving me – fortunately. None other than a rather mobile Bush Blackcap as Sally pointed out. One of the specials we were hoping to see.

Later that afternoon we took a drive outside the Park and hoping to have dinner at the Tower of Pizza. It was closed – Mondays!!

Then we had another gander around the dam near reception. We encountered an active bird party. Spotted a pair of Bush Blackcaps and an Olive Woodpecker among others.

On our final full day, we took a stroll up to the Gorge. Supposedly 7 kms each way. Well, we never made it all the way. We got as far as the start of the boulders in the river bed. And that had taken us a good 4 or more hours!! We had stopped and birded in the forests as we walked – seeing some lovely birds. The best of which was an obliging Chorister Robin-Chat.

It was a very scenic walk following the Thukela River up towards the Gorge. As we traipsed along the river was well below us and it never seemed to get closer.

Eventually we got to a point where we decided we had had enough. The boulders were ahead of us, and we were close to the riverbed at last – still shaded in one of the forests. And there was a cool pool bubbling passed us. Not to be missed Sally took a dip and I took the opportunity to get my boots off and feet wet!

After a good hour’s rest, we tried to retrace our steps. Very quickly we were offline and stumbling through the forest. Eventually we found the path and slogged our way back. And this time we had numerous birds to stop for and photograph.

At last we near the bottom where we started from. But we are still above Thendele. And we started below.

Eventually after another 4 hour stroll, we reach our car – 22 kms trekking. So much for 7 kms each way!!! Started at 06h30 and got back at 16h00. A rather long day.

So, three days and 47 kms mountain trekking. Not to be repeated!! But pleased we made it as much as we did.

In total we recorded 70 different bird species in the 3 full days there. Our bird list can be downloaded here. The standout birds for us included: Bush Blackcap, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, Barratt’s Warbler (heard only), Olive Bushshrike, Groundscraper Thrush, Olive Woodpecker, Ground Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Yellow Bishop, Malachite Sunbird, Common House-Martin, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Rock-Thrush,

Paul and Sally Bartho

4 thoughts on “Royal Natal National Park

  1. We just love Royal Natal, Thendele and Mahai. Lovely to see it looking so verdant and full of bird and animal life in your wonderful images. Last time we were there we had to cut our camping trip short due to the hard lockdown from 25 March 2020…


  2. Good day, wow the Drakensberg is just magical. We love Mahai, I want to know if that bridge is fixed yet or must you still take a detour via Hlalanati?


    1. The bridge by the gate has not been fixed. We did not realise this until we got there. However, we drove over towing our Afrispoor Cheetah without a thought. Had we seen the detour sign, we would have preferred to travel that way to avoid traffic and people in town. Much more pleasant drive along the detour.


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