Troubled for many years, The Amphitheatre is probably the No. 1 hot spot for petty theft on the escarpment. The perpetrators are very aware of the habits of hikers in this area and have over many years persistently been stealing whateverthey can get their hands on: hiking boots and entire backpacks being first prize.
A large volume of hikers visit the top of the Amphitheatre on the escarpment since Sentinel Car Park and the Chain Ladder provide easy access. The majority of over-night hikers camp near the Tugela Falls and typically there are several tents pitched in this area over weekends and holidays.
For many years the problems in this area were generally of a petty nature whereby hiking gear was stolen, typically from tents, at night. While exact statistics are not available (not all incidents are reported), it appears this occured at least once a year, possibly more. Guards once were stationed at the hut – which helped a little – but in recent years they are no longer there. Nightly visits occur as late as 03.00 and any equipment lying around outside the tents is taken as well as anything which they can grab from under the fly sheets. They loosen or lift up the fly sheets and the tent may even be slashed with a knife.
Security issues on the Amphithatre took a serious turn and came under the spotlight in April 2016 when 3 hikers were brutally attacked, assualted and robbed. The attack took place during the night while they were sleeping in the tents. Their camp was situated in the Khubedu Valley, and while not technically on the Amphitheatre or at Tugela Falls, the location is easily reached from there and would have been carried out by the same culprits.
There is a debate about the origins of the perpetrators, but many believe they are from among the Basotho herdsmen that inhabit both arms of the Kubedu River on either side of Mt Aux Sources during the warmer months for grazing of their livestock. It is possible to encounter them anywhere between Namahadi Pass and Icidi Pass, though they are more concentrated in the valleys of the Kubedu where many kraals are situated.
The following pointers will go a long in reducing the risk of problems in this area (though again they are no guarantee) and will help to make your experience more pleasurable.
* Follow the precautions already listed in General Precautions for Drakensberg Security.
* If you find theft problems to be too disturbing then we recommend that you do not camp anywhere in the Tugela valley - from the source under Mt. Aux Sources all the way to the falls. This is the area with the highest risk.
* Sleeping in Crows Nest Cave is a better alternative since it is more difficult to steal equipment there than from a tent (provided the above mentioned precautions are taken). The Basuthos are very aware of this cave and do hang around there - so it is still risky.
* The old hut near the falls is rather grim but it does offer better protection provided you take some cord with to tie the door closed from the inside and place some rocks behind it to stop the Basuthos from coming in.
Do not camp in the valleys of the Khubedu, on either side of Mt Aux Sources.
The Bilanjil valley immediately south of the Tugela is slightly safer to camp in, though active grazing does take place in this area. The Bilanjil campsite situated at S28 45.551 E28 54.120 (WGS84) may be a good place to pitch your tent but it is not unbeknown to the Basuthos and it is still fairly risky camping there.
If you want to camp in these areas, rather do so in the winter months when the majority of shepherds have moved away (NOTE: there are always some around!) or post guard duty the whole night.
There are good alternatives for camping where there is considerably less risk (but not totally eliminated). They have good places to pitch a tent, reliable water supply and where you will rarely find other campers, giving the solitude you may want:
- Namahadi Pass (S28 45.319, E28 51.959), situated about a half hour walk north of the Chain Ladder. The ruins of the old outpost also make for an interesting visit and also a good camp spot. Of course, the locals do use the pass, but if your only other choice is Tugela Falls then choose this one.
- Elands River Falls (S28 44.908, E28 52.600) immediately north of the Chain Ladder.
- Ribbon Falls (S28 45.721, E28 55.063) 1-2 hours walk south from the Chain Ladder.
- Somewhere in the small valley near Mt. Amery (S28 45.968 E28 55.567), not much further than Ribbon Falls mentioned above.
Following these guidelines will bring down the crime statistics considerably in this area and make for a more pleasurable hiking experience.