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Amatola Hike – Eastern Cape – One Of The Most Scenic Mountain Areas In Southern Africa

The Eastern Cape is the second largest of South Africa’s nine provinces, the diverse Eastern Cape landscape ranges from the dry desolate Great Karoo to the steamy forests of the Wild Coast and the Keiskamma Valley. The area also embraces the fertile Langkloof, renowned for its rich apple harvests, and is cradled by the mountainous southern Drakensberg.

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Here, widespread hills are juxtaposed with sandy beaches; here small-town South Africa comes to greet you – gently offering hospitality and friendship and asking for nothing in return. This is where the `big seven’ roam, and where the tropical forests share their space with abundant birdlife and nature at its most generous.

The shoreline of this province extends from the Umtamvuna River in KwaZulu-Natal, to the Storms River mouth on the scenic Garden Route, in the west, and stretching inland, to the north, bordering on Lesotho. Today, the Eastern Cape incorporates the previously independent `homelands’ of the Ciskei and Transkei. Despite its colonial past, the Eastern Cape remains the home of the Xhosa-speaking people of South Africa. With its almost seven million people, the Eastern Cape has the third-largest provincial population, living on about 169 600 km2 of land.

The Eastern Cape climate varies considerably but has, a year-round holiday climate. The Eastern coastal regions enjoy hot summers and moderate winters and Port Elizabeth experiences a daily average of 7 hours sunshine. Northern regions are much cooler. Certain areas receive rain throughout the year albeit erratic.

This Hike is situated in the Amatola Mountain range in the Eastern Cape, one of the most scenic mountain areas in Southern Africa. If hiking in the outdoors and , different culture, wildlife is your passion, then this is one of the top hiking trails in South Africa, you can’t afford to miss.

The Amatola consists of several exciting circular trails and the main six-day trail, which is linear. The Amatola hiking trails offer a wide variety of adventure for people regardless of age.

Though the Amatola mountain range does not reach great heights, it is a treasure chest for nature lovers. Indigenous forests steeped in history, blankets the mountains without smothering them.

There are isolated peaks and dark secretive gorges, open grassy glades and distant views across the mountains. Endless waterfalls, cascades and pools in broken mountain terrain, leave the hiker wishing there was more hours in the day.

Starting at Maden Dam near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, the Amatola Trail ends near Hogsback. It is not, however, an easy hike, with days as long as 20 km and averaging 16.5 km over the 100 km.

What makes the trail interesting is that it runs through what was one of the natural fortress of the ama Xhosa, during the long and drawn out Frontier Wars of the 1800’s, between British and Xhosa forces.

Some of the best hiking trails in South Africa can be walked in the Eastern Cape. It is rated to be one of the best Hiking Trails in Southern Africa. Below we have a trail description.

Day 1:

Maden Dam to Gwiligwili 15.3 km 8 to 9 hours

To get maximum enjoyment out of this trail, you should get fit and start as early as possible each day. Beginning at the picturesque setting of Maden Dam, you walk along the edge of this trout fisherman’s paradise. Entering into the Pirie Forest, is entering into another world, in a forest steeped in frontier war history (for more information on the historic tours we conduct, give us a call). This is also one of only two places where a forest railway operated in South Africa and the remains of an old timber chute are still visible. Here it was that the Giant Golden Mole, which is endemic to the Eastern Cape, was first recorded. There is an optional short cut, but you will miss the best of the day’s walk and a great swimming spot. The Gwili Gwili (Hut) accommodation with its magnificent views is situated on the watershed of the Buffalo and Keiskamma Rivers. Much climbing in altitude is over the last 3 km.

Day 2:

Gwili Gwili to Dontsa 19.6 km – 8 hours

Sections of day one and two can be very slippery in wet conditions. The longer distance can make this day just as demanding, and some might find it takes more than 8 hours. The lower route at the Dontsa forest station cuts off some distance and passes some fine pools and cascades, but leaves some climbing to do near the end. The upper route while a little longer follows the contour more closely. The days walk passes through forests as it winds along the side of a long ridge, linking the poorts of the Buffalo to the main Amatola range. There is not much water along this section of trail and hikers should carry a little more here, than elsewhere. Hikers, who only have limited time at their disposal to enjoy the Amatola Trail, can start from the Dontsa Forest Station. The Dontsa hut accommodation overlooks what is called Anta’s Hole. Anta was the brother of Chief Sandile, the tiger of the forest, who was buried at the foot of Mount Kempt.

Day 3:

Dontsa to Cata 18.9 km – 8 to 9 hours

The route over Doorn Kop has lovely panoramic views, but less water along the way. The lower route is no shorter, but passes through indigenous forest, making it cooler on hot days and has more streams along the way. Other options arise once you reach the Eseka Stream, which is a good spot to aim at reaching by lunch time. The section through waterfall Forest, whether on the middle or lower route via the forest station is a lovely walk, but those who find the trail tough going should take the upper route on the final section to the hut. The last section through Waterfall Forest has a sting in its tail, as there is a steep climb up next to the last waterfall. If your group decides to split up and take different routes, please make sure that each group has a trail map with them and each knows what the other is doing. Cata Hut accommodation is notorious for its thunderstorms, but a donkey boiler ensures you can enjoy a hot shower at the end of the day. Take firelighters with and use wood sparingly.

Day :4

Cata to Mnyameni 13.5 km 7 to 8 hours

One of the finest days hiking you are ever likely to experience is day 4 of the Amatola Trail. One is given the choice of taking a short cut directly over the neck, which is the route to be taken in bad weather conditions. Otherwise, the longer route takes you to the top of Geju Peak with its spectacular mountain views. Look out for the black eagles, which have a nest in the crags! The trail was not laid out to get you simply from A to B, but rather to take you past the most spectacular and scenic spots you could wish to see. On the way down you will pass twice over a periglacial scree. The Mnyameni gorge has a number of spectacular waterfalls and several stream crossings, can pose a challenge after heavy rains.

Day 5:

Mnyameni to Zingcuka 18.2 km 8 to 9 hours

The day starts with a stiff climb up through another enchanting forest, but otherwise the day is fairly easy going. To enjoy the many lovely dips you can have in the various rock pools, you need to make an early start. There are no optional routes on this day, but there is an exit to the Zingcuka Forest station towards the end. The first pool near the 7 km mark, is a good spot for a mid morning break and the last pool at the 11 km mark, a pleasant place for a late lunch stop. The water is not as cold here, as at the other pools!

Day :6

Zingcuka to Tyumie River 15 km 7 hours

The last day has an optional route near the beginning, where you can stick to an old slip path through the forest, instead of following the path down to below the Baines Waterfall. Though not a marked optional route, some hikers chose to follow the forestry road to the end point in bad weather or if they do not have the energy left to climb the Hogsback Peak. Following the full route there are as many waterfalls as on day 4 including the highest waterfall in the Amatola’s and equally spectacular views. Fill up your water bottle for the long section, along which you will find no water. It is 3 km from the trails end, to Hogsback.

Hikers traveling from a far would need to arrange there own accommodation before Day 1. You need to start day one as early as possible as it is 15.1km and not the easiest day of the 6 day hike. The closested town is King Williams Town where the Amatola Office is based.


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