The Amatola Hiking Trail lies in the Eastern Cape Province. It starts starts at Maden Dam, approximately 23 km from King William's Town and ends at Hogsback. The trail traverses some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery to be found in Southern Africa. What makes this trail very special is the abundance of waterfalls and mountain pools in which the hiker can cool off in and also the spectacular indigenous forests. The trail is just over 100Km long and takes 6 days to accomplish.
The Amatola deservedly has been described as one of the top hiking trails in South Africa. It is not an easy trail but the effort needed to do it is well worth it. Due to its nature and the unpredictable weather conditions it is important to prepare properly for it. Novices should not attempt to do the trail without an experienced hiker to lead them. The days are generally long and an early start is always advisable.
Day 1- Maden Dam to Gwiligwili Hut
From the starting point of the trail the trail skirts the dam for a while before beginning the ascent through the rich indigenous Pirie forests where once Yellowwood trees were harvested for rail transport. Several relics from this bygone era still exist and can be seen as the hiker progresses along the trail.
The forest is rich in flora and fauna. The hiker will come across incredible wormhills and upon investigation the worms that made the mounds are equally impressive. The worm casts can make the path slippery in wet conditions. As you climb through the forest it is worth giving a thought to the wood cutters of long ago as they spent their whole lives in these ancient forests.
Gwiligwili hut is situated on a hillside with beautiful view down into the valley bellow and provides a comfortable nights rest after a hard days hiking.
Day 2 - Gwiligwili Hut to Dontsa Hut
Day 2 of the Amatola Trail is the longest section of the trail. For much of the day the trail follows a ridge overlooking the Keiskammahoek valley. It is important to make an early start for this section of the trail as it is nice to arrive at the Dontsa Hut in time to explore the nearby waterfall.
Although the full Amatola trail is 6 days long, it is possible to do shorter sections of it. A popular option with hikers is to join the trail at Dontsa Forest Station, thereby cutting out the first 2 days of the trail. This should be avoided if possible as, especially, the first days walk through the forests is well worth the effort.
After a long day of hiking, Dontsa Hut is a welcome sight. Sitting and relaxing by the open fire, the stresses and cares of city life seem a million miles away. Already relaxation has taken over and the only cares are physical well being.
Day 3 - Dontsa Hut to Cata Hut
The third day of the Amatola trail is also a long day so it is important to make an early start. Leaving the forest behind, the trail ascends to the plateau, where macchia grassland and a myriad of wildflowers contrast startlingly to the richness of the verdant forest below.
Along the way one can find examples of several different types of Fungi (edible and inedible). The one illustrated is an edible one and we were able to enjoy a meal of them when we arrived at Cata. One needs to be very certain that what one is eating is an edible type. We were fortunate enough to be guided in this respect by the forester.
The day is long and exhausting but the amazing scenery make it all worth while. What makes this trail very special is the diversity. The forests, the mountains, the waterfalls and the flora all go to make this trail unique among trails in Southern Africa.
The last part of the day's trail traverses through the Waterfall forest before a final ascent up a revine to Cata Hut. The Amatola Trail is sometimes known as the waterfall trail and this is an apt description of this hike.
The new Cata Hut is spacious and comfortable. Take the opportunity to have a good nights rest as the fourth day is quite a difficult day.
Day 4 - Cata Hut to Mnyameni Hut
From Cata Hut, the trail ascends steeply towards Geju peak (1850m), one of the higest points on the trail. From this vantage point, the hiker can look out over the whole Keiskammahoek river basin, Gaika's Kop, Elandsberg, Hangklip (at Queenstown) and all the way to the Indian Ocean. Hikers can byepass Geju as there is an alternative route that should be taken when the peak is covered in mist but it is well worth the effort to ascend to the top if one is able.
From Geju Peak the trail descends steeply, passing over some scree slopes until one reaches the top of the Mnyameni gorge. The rest of the day is spent climbing down through this amazing gorge, passing numerous magnificent waterfalls.
As soon as one passes one beautiful waterfall another equally beautiful falls soon comes into view. The Amatola, not without reason, is sometimes called the waterfall trail. The abundance of water on the trail is one of the main reasons that many hikers consider this trail to be the top inland trail in South Africa.
Mnyameni Hut is the remotest of all the huts on the Amatola Trail. It is a thatched hut set in the shadows of the Hogsback mountains.
Day 5 - Mnyameni Hut to Zingcuka Hut
From Mnyameni Hut the trail climbs steeply, firstly through indigenous forest and then though grassland, along an exciting path that leads along a ridge behind the tallest of the Hogsback peaks. Eventually the trail crosses over the ridge into the Wolf river valley. Keep a lookout for Falcons and other birds of prey while descending though this beautiful valley. As the fourth day of the trail is known for its waterfalls so this day is known for its beautiful cascade of pools to swim in..
This is the day that one needs to leave time for messing around in the water. Pool after pool extends to the hiker an invitation to come and swim.
Pool after pool of crystal clear water. The area is renowned for its Trout. Many people liken the streams to those of Scotland.
The trail follows a cliff edge for some distance before a steep descent through a gap in the rocks and down the "Razor Edge". The final part of the day's walk is through dense indigenous forest which can be very dark under overcast conditions.
It should be noted that weather conditions in the area are unpredictable. Once when we did the trail we incurred a heat wave, heavy rain, snow and gales all in one period during April.
Zingcuka Hut is a beautiful wooden hut with comfortable beds, a "Donkey" boiler to heat the water, and tables and chairs to sit around. The hut also has samples of different woods that are found in the local forests. The trail can be terminated at this point but the final day of the trail is worth the effort to do if one has the time.
Day 6 - Zingcuka to Tyume River and Hogsback Village
The final day of the Amatola trail start with a walk through the delightfully cool Zingcuka idigenous forest. Another impressive waterfall is passed and from the top of the falls impressive views of the Amatola basin can be seen. The trail continues to ascend up Hogsback peak. From the top, views of Hogsback and the entire Tyume river basin lie sprawled out below. Finally the trail descends to Hogsback and the end of the trail.
The Amatola Hiking trail is book able through:
Department of Water Affairs and Forestry
Telephone +27 43 642 2571 Fax +27 43 604 5529
Postal address Private Bag X7485 King William's Town 5601