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LOOK: KZN's very own Tugela Falls is unofficially the highest waterfall in the world

Tugela Falls nestled in KwaZulu-Natal’s majestic Drakensberg. Picture: Kobus van Eeden/Pixabay

Tugela Falls nestled in KwaZulu-Natal’s majestic Drakensberg. Picture: Kobus van Eeden/Pixabay

Published Aug 9, 2021

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South Africa may have unofficially bagged another gold! Tugela Falls, nestled deep in the Drakensberg, long believed to be the second-highest terrestrial waterfall in the world, has now unofficially overtaken Angel Falls for the contested title of Highest Waterfall in the World.

According to the World Waterfall Database, the average total height of Tugela Falls was previously reported to be 948 metres. The falls consist of multiple tiers with the first two being the most visibly prominent at 180 metres and 410 metres respectively.

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The third tier has the second-highest drop, but the exact height is unknown due to the lower half of the falls being hidden in a difficult to access part of the cliffs.

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Thus, an accurate measurement of Tugela Falls has yet to be officially determined. The falls is officially the highest in Africa.

In hopes of proving that Tugela Falls is, in fact, the tallest in the world, an amateur team of explorers from the Czech Republic set out to measure it in 2016.

Picture: World Landscapes/Facebook

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Their measurement returned a height of 983 meters, 4 metres higher than titleholder, Angel Falls.

However, the location it was measured from was found to be over a kilometre away from the actual base of the falls and thus not an accurate depiction of the height of the waterfall itself.

The World Waterfall Database stated that although the measurement is not 100% accurate, it is still extremely likely that Tugela Falls is the tallest recorded waterfall in the world.

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The database goes on to state that despite a long-standing belief that Angel Falls in Venezuela is the tallest waterfall on earth, it is all but certain that it is not as tall as is typically reported.

According to Geology.com, “Angel Falls in Venezuela is still officially the world';s tallest waterfall, with a total height of 979 meters. This total height includes a single uninterrupted drop of 807 meters, plus 172 meters of steep cascades and smaller drops downstream from the main falls. The waterfall was measured in 1949 by surveyor Perry Lowrey, during an expedition funded by National Geographic.”

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The uninterrupted drop of 807 metres is also the world's highest.

Many experts question the accuracy of the Angel Falls measurements because of two factors; photographs from the 1949 expedition clearly show survey equipment trained on the falls from the shores of the Rio Caroni, a river almost 2 kilometres away and rough topographic data from Google Earth which shows the the total difference in elevation between the top of Auyan Tepui Mountain and the Rio Caroni River to be just over a thousand meters.

The article published in National Geographic confirms that the measurement made during the 1949 expedition accounts for the total elevation change between the top of Auyan Tepui Mountain and the bank of the Rio Caroni River. This immediately confirms that the measurement of 979 meters is wholly invalid.

The World Waterfall Database does not consider Angel Falls to be the highest in the world and believes that its true height should only be that of the primary drop of 807 meters. Although the accuracy of the 807 meters is not clear, there is little available evidence to suggest it is not at least somewhat accurate.

Tugela Falls begins its journey to the Indian Ocean as the humble Thukela River, an ankle-deep, crystal clear stream high up in the ancient cliffs of the majestic Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal. The name “Tugela” is derived from the isiZulu word “Thukela” meaning rare, sudden, or surprising. Due to the small catchment area, the falls may dry up entirely during bouts of low precipitation.

The adventurous at heart may want to hike up to the unofficial highest waterfall in the world. According to SA Venues and Drakensberg Hikes, a popular day-hike up to the falls begins at the Sentinel Car Park, situated on the Free State side of the Royal Natal National Park.

The initial walk is on a well-trodden, but steep, path that skirts in a series of zig-zags to the base of the Sentinel where you reach the chain ladders which are high enough up the mountain to scale the vertical face of the Mont-Aux-Sources massif cliffs.

If you experience vertigo or are even just slightly afraid of heights, the chain-metal ladders will more than test your willpower. There is an alternative. Hike up the gully to the top of the Beacon Buttress, although it is quite steep, there are no ladders to overcome. Then it is about a 30-minute walk to the edge of the amphitheatre where the peaceful Tugela cascades over the cliff in a burst of colourful mist.

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