Amatola Trail – South Africa’s Toughest Hike – Revisited

Amatola Trail – South Africa’s Toughest Hike – Revisited

 

 

Updated on 03 July 2019

 

Belinda and I hiked the 6 day Amatola Trail between 17 – 22 October 2016 and again between 25 – 30 April 2019. In October 2016, we were both moderately fit and were rather apprehensive about tackling what was advertised as ‘the toughest hiking trial in South Africa’. In April 2019, we had several multi day hikes and nearly 100 day hikes under the belt and were looking forward to taking on the Amatola for a second time.

What was going to be very different to our first experience, besides our improved fitness levels, was the fact that we had obtained permission from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries [DAFF] to re-mark the trail and put up new trail distance markers for each day of the 6 day trail.

Thanks to the invaluable help of Dan of Amatola Trails and the input of Dave Marais of the Let’s Hike Club we were able to get permission for the trail re-marking and approval from DAFF for the design of the new distance markers. We were also very lucky to get the new trail markers sponsored by Pieter Bosman who made us 5 distance markers, for each day of the trail, from chromadek – a weather resistant material that should last for several years to come. The plan was to re-mark the route whilst hiking the full route each day – no shortcuts for the entire 6 days. 

This blog post will be a combination of the two hikes, but it will reflect the full route we hiked in April of 2019 and our experience of the Amatola Trail – revisited!

 

Here is a list of the topics covered in this post

  1. Physical Preparedness – Training Hikes
  2. Background
  3. How To Get There
  4. Booking & Costs For Amatola
  5. The Speedy Review
  6. Away With The Fairies Backpackers
  7. Events leading up to Actual Hike (2019) 
  8. The Briefing Session
  9. The Shuttle Ride To The Start
  10. The Actual Hike
  11. Day To Day Maintenance On The Trail
  12. Final Thoughts
  13. Tourist Attractions In Hogsback

 

 

1. Physical Preparedness – Training Hikes

The Amatola Trail will require you to not only be physically fit, but also to have strong legs and extra gas in the tank for the long uphills each day. The attrition level for this hike is far higher than any other hike that I have ever heard of in South Africa. At a guess, and this is based on a single conversation with a local guide, nearly half of the hikers that begin the Amatola do not complete the full 6 day hike. However, it is suggested that the larger the group, the greater the chance of success. That tells me that it is just as much about mental toughness and your hiking group support dynamics as it is about physical fitness and strength.

Do you need to be very experienced or in peak physical condition to hike the Amatola Trail? Quite simply no, you don’t. But you do need to be reasonably fit and strong to enjoy the experience. There seems to be, in our experience, a correlation between fitness levels and the overall enjoyment factor when doing this hike, or any multi-day hike for that matter. The inevitable consequence of being unfit is that you will simply put your head down and plod along each day until you reach the hut, often with painful consequences. This means that you will hardly take in any of the scenery and your memory of the whole experience may be significantly limited. One of the main things that hikers complain about on the Amatola is the impact it has on your knees. You need to ensure that your knees are strong, can take the impact of long downhills and very rugged terrain. 

 

Disclaimer:  The training hikes listed below are only recommendations, based on our personal experience. Before attempting any of the suggested training hikes, or any exercise preparation, we suggest you consult with a medical practitioner. It is important that you are properly checked out by a doctor before embarking on any exercise program. We do not want any harm to come to you as a result of following our training hike recommendations in this blog. It just makes sense to check with your doctor before starting with your physical preparations.

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST

What we are suggesting is that you prepare properly for this hike so that you will be able to look around during the hike and take in the scenery. Being prepared also means you won’t be too exhausted by the end of each day and you will wake up reasonably refreshed, with a body that is not (too) sore and won’t hate you when you put your boots and backpack back on for another long uphill climb.

Our first recommendation is that the Amatola should not be your first multi-day hike. You should have at least done a few overnight or multi-day (5 day)  hikes before the Amatola so that you will have learned what essential equipment you will need to take with you. The Cape of Good Hope Overnight Trail and Arangieskop are two good options to do before doing the Amatola. These are overnight hikes that will give you a good idea of what equipment you will need for multi-day hiking. Remember everything you put in your backpack, you will need to carry with you for 6 days up and down the Amatola mountain range. For a longer, but equally good training hike, we recommend The Leopard Trail in the Baviaanskloof. 

Our second recommendation is that you do quite a few training day hikes in the run up to the Amatola. If you have never done a multi-day hike before, we suggest that you start training at least 6 months before doing the Amatola. That will get your body used to hiking at least 18 – 22 kilometres a day with a reasonably heavy backpack. If you are a regular hiker, but have not done the Amatola before, we recommend starting your training programme at least 3 months before doing the Amatola. You should be doing a reasonably long hike, in the region of 15 – 20 kilometres, at least once a week.

It is important to realise that your preparations are not only about being able to walk at least 18 kilometres a day. It is also about conditioning your body, and particularly your legs, to be able to manage a steep 2-3 hour uphill climb each morning while carrying a heavy backpack.

As we are based in Cape Town in the Western Cape, the training hikes we suggest you do before tackling the Amatola are all based in that Province. That is not to say that you cannot find hikes in your own corner of the world. The key elements for any training hike for the Amatola is that it should include at least a 2 hour ascent with between 15 – 20 kilometres in distance.

We are not going to spend too much time recommending specific training day hikes in this blog, but any hike up Table Mountain should help you to prepare for the Amatola. Also look at the Tygerberg Nature Reserve in Welgemoed for some nice hill training. We have written a separate blog on the Tygerberg Nature Reserve which you can read here. The Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West also has a nice long ascent to the Dome that will guarantee you a full day’s hiking. If you are stuck and can’t think of other day hikes to do to prepare for the Amatola, have a look at our website for some more hiking trail ideas.

 

 

2. Background

Let me start off by saying that in 2016 there was very little in terms of reviews available online for the Amatola Hiking Trial. This has changed somewhat in 2019. The latest reviews however still tend to speak of poor trail maintenance. If we were not with a group of hikers that really wanted to do the Amatola in 2016, we would probably have opted out, after reading these reviews. 

Another aspect of the Amatola trail that was not well advertised was the general state and look of the overnight huts. The limited information available spoke of run-down structures that were in dire need of maintenance. I was not too keen on ending a long day’s hike at a dilapidated structure. What we found on both the 2016 and 2019 hikes was very different.

I must just add that, since 2016, a lot of work has been done on the trail to improve the maintenance of the trail and the condition of the overnight huts. This was largely due to a collaborative effort between the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Friends of the Amatola Hiking Trail (FOAT). Much of the maintenance and safety issues that we experienced during our hike and that we raised with FOAT, after doing the hike in 2016, have been addressed. There are however a few areas on the trail that still need attention and we will discuss these later in the post. 

 

3. How to get there

The Amatola Hiking trail starts outside King Williams’ Town and ends at the small Eastern Cape village called Hogsback.  Most people who do this hike stay overnight at ‘Away with the Fairies’ Backpackers, and then catch the shuttle from there to Maden Dam, where the trail begins. We stayed there on both occasions when we did this hike and we can highly recommend it.

Another option would be to stay in King Williams’ Town itself, as it is only 26 km from there to the start, as opposed to 95 km from Hogsback. Unfortunately though, that would mean leaving your car at the start of the trail, or having to organise a lift from Hogsback to King Williams’ Town once the hike is over… so in our opinion, it is a lot easier to stay in Hogsback at ‘Away with the Fairies’ and use the facilities they provide.  The added bonus is that their accommodation is great, they have delicious pizza and ice cold beer, and they host Amatola Trail hikers on a daily basis so they know exactly what you will need to successfully complete the trail. 

‘Away with the Fairies’ is situated just off the main road in Hogsback (R345) – you will see a sign on the right as you come into the town. Turn right down the gravel road and travel approximately 260m before turning right again. The main parking and reception are about 290m ahead of you.

 

 

4. Bookings and Costs for the Amatola Trail

It is recommended that you hike in a group of at least 5 hikers (no fewer than 3). The maximum amount of hikers per day is 20. Although Amatola Trails does try and book only 1 group per day, it may not always be possible, which means that you may end up hiking and overnighting with another group.

Since we have hiked this trail in 2016, the costing and packages have changed.  The most recent pricing, provided by Amatola Trails, is available here.

 

HIKING PACKAGES

Amatola Trails offers some really good packages which include 2 nights pre-and post-hike accommodation, shuttle fees (which are normally R300 per person) and the Hiker’s Assist pre-hike briefing.

They also have a limited slack-packing option (we don’t mention that phrase in our house…) for those who don’t want to carry their heavy bags all the way.

You can read all the different packages available on the Amatola Trails site here. It really is so much easier booking everything through them.

If you get a package from Amatola Trails, it entitles you to

  • 10% discount at the Wizards Sleeve Inn (the restaurant based at Away with the Fairies)
  • a shuttle to the start of the trail at Maden Dam
  • Safe parking for your vehicle(s) at Away with the Fairies
  • Hikers Assistance
  • a Map of the Amatola Trail
  • A Hikers briefing before you start (Very important service)

 

BOOKINGS

To book the hike, click on this page and fill in your information, hiking dates etc and the nice folk at Amatola Trails will email you back.

 

 

Trail Ninometer

 

 

 

Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because there are no dogs allowed on the Amatola Hiking Trail. We also did not have a dog when we did this trail for the first time in 2016, so we have no idea what Nina was up to when we did this hike! On the second occasion, Nina spent the week with dog sitters and had a ball.

 

5. The Speedy Review (tl;dr)

The Amatola Hiking Trail certainly lives up to its reputation as the toughest hike in South Africa. It might be tough, but it is also spectacularly beautiful. And the knowledge that there is a comfortable bed and a hot shower waiting for you at the end of most days, makes every grueling step so worthwhile. This hike definitely appealed to our sense of adventure and love of varied scenery.  Every day is different. One moment you will be clambering up a mountain, and the next you will be deep in a forest, smelling the familiar smells of damp earth and forest vegetation.

From what I gather, many people are not aware of this hike, but it certainly is a hike that should be on every avid hiker’s bucket list.

The terrain does get a bit harrowing in some sections, but most of these sections have been dealt with by DAFF’s maintenance crews. There are still some places on the trail where I was extremely concerned that if I had lost my footing, I would be gone down the embankment in a second and Ken would have no idea where I had disappeared to (one reason why I tend to wear brightly coloured clothes when I hike).  

Take in every bit of scenery when you do this hike. Swim in the pools, stand under the waterfalls, go to the view sights. It will stick in your memory forever.

Amatola is officially my ‘benchmark’ hike.  It was 6 days of hard slog, sweat and some tears in 2016, but thankfully no tears in 2019 (although the full route we did in 2019 is a lot more difficult than the route with the shortcuts).  I completed the hike on both occasions. And because of that, I know now that no other hike will ever beat me.

 

6. Away With The Fairies Backpackers

On the second occasion that we did this hike, we arrived in Hogsback on Wednesday the 24th of April 2019 in the midst of a thunderstorm that had been dumping huge amounts of rain on the small village for about a week. We booked into the ‘Away with the Fairies’ modern looking backpackers’ lodge called Acorn House. It has 2 dorm-style bedrooms and can accommodate up to 12 persons. It has 2 bathrooms, a lounge area, a big kitchen with all the utensils and appliances you will need. We really enjoyed our stay there!

Hogsback is a tiny village just past Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. The entire village walked straight off the pages of a Lord of the Rings manuscript. Our accommodation for our first Amatola in 2016 was called the Striders Traveller’s Lodge. Belinda and I were given the Samwise Rest, which is an en-suite room with a double bed and a single bed. The other members of the group were in Gimli Rest, Boromir Rest and Merry Rest. I kid you not! The communal kitchen was named after Gandalf the Grey!

In 2016, there was an awesome general store in village called the ‘Food Zone’. In 2019, it is now a Savemor (Spar). It genuinely has everything you will need for a 6-day hike, from food to snacks to first aid supplies. So if you forget any food or toiletries, make sure to stop there. You can also refuel your vehicle there at the petrol pumps just outside the shop.

There are quite a few restaurants along the section of tar road in town. In 2016, we had lunch and dinner at the Lighthouse Ranch which is right next to the Happy Hog. The Lighthouse Ranch has more of a pub and grill theme with picnic tables circling a fireplace in the center of the restaurant, while the Happy Hog is slightly more upmarket. I can highly recommend the pizzas and burgers at Lighthouse Ranch, while the eisbein was a bit too small for my liking. Their desserts were pretty ordinary. In 2019, it was more convenient for us to have most of our meals at the Wizards Sleeve Inn. They have a limited menu, but the food is tasty and the ambiance delightful. 

 

7. Events leading up to the Actual Hike (2019) 

In 2019, we were a group of 9 hikers who were all experienced hikers and all were ‘hiking fit’. The lead up to the hike was frenetic as we not only had to prepare physically and mentally for the hike, but we also had to get all the supplies we needed to do the trail marking and to put up 30 distance marker signs. It entailed buying the yellow traffic paint, a painting device, 3 GPS devices, getting the design for the distance signs approved, getting the signs made, getting the nails and the hammer.

What we also had to keep in mind was that we were going to be doing all of this trail maintenance at the same time that we were hiking the toughest hiking trail in South Africa!    

About a week before our planned hike in April 2019, it began to storm heavily for several days in a row in Hogsback, with heavy rain, thunder, and lightning. There were early concerns that our hike was going to especially challenging with the added slippery conditions due to the heavy rains.

On Tuesday 23 April 2019, the hikers from Cape Town arrived in George where we overnighted. I awoke early on Wednesday morning to pack the last of my supplies in my backpack before we departed for Hogsback. When I checked my phone, I saw that I had received an email from Dan of Amatola Trails. I was not expecting to read the following words from Dan,

I have some bad news. I had to postpone your hike. The weather is appalling with a storm raging as we speak. The streams are now in flood so its extremely dangerous to hike on the trail. I am really sorry but we’re going to have to postpone your hike to a future hike. Yours Dan”

Belinda had obviously seen the look on my face and asked me what was wrong. I could hardly speak and just passed her my phone and said “Read this”. This was not something that we thought could ever happen and it took us all by surprise.

As the hike leader, I called a ‘face to face’ meeting with most of the hikers and we discussed the latest development and threw around a few options. We were all bitterly disappointed not to be hiking. One of the options was to look at booking another multi-hike. The Leopard Trail was an option as it was close to George and there were spaces open for our chosen dates.

We made contact with Dan and he explained the reasoning behind his decision. Interestingly, Dan contacted DAFF to find out if they had officially closed the trail, only to be informed that they were keeping it open, despite the adverse weather conditions. . The bad weather was expected to clear and we were not going to have any further rain for the 6 days that we were going to be hiking. At least half our hiking group were very nervous about hiking an already tough trail in dangerous conditions. 

To cut a long story short, Dan explained the risks if we decided to do the hike, but allowed us to make the call as DAFF was not closing the trail. After a long discussion, we decided to continue on to Hogsback to see the trail conditions for ourselves and to monitor the changing weather conditions. After arriving in Hogsback, Dan updated us on the trail conditions and informed us that two hiking groups had called to be taken off the trail due to the bad weather. A third hiking group was coming off on the morning we were going to start after only two days on the trail. What was in our favour was that the rain had stopped, while the previous hiking groups had been hiking in the torrential rain for up to 4 days. Now that could not have been pleasant, at all. 

 

8. The Briefing Session

Before doing the Amatola hike, Dan of Amatola Trails briefs each hiking group on the route and the challenges that await them in the next 6 days and approximately 110 km. On the second occasion of doing the Amatola, we had a long and detailed briefing with Dan in Acorn House. This was because we were going to be marking the trail and putting up distance markers so we needed to know what route needed to be marked (in some places there are several route options). It was also necessary for us to know where the more dangerous parts were going to be on the trail, due to the recent heavy rains.

Tip: When Dan is giving the briefing to your hiking group, ask questions about the current conditions on the ground and make detailed notes, and/or write them on the map provided. It is a lot of information to remember and when we tried to recall what we should expect on each day in the 2016 hike, the detail of each day kind of blurred into one another and we couldn’t remember what facts belonged to which day. Pay attention to the information about where you can phone for a rescue if one or more of your hiking party is injured or too exhausted to continue. You need to be aware that there are some places along the route that they may not be able to get to in bad weather, or any weather for that matter.

And last, but not least, Dan will give you a key for the trellidors of all five overnight huts. One key to rule them all, one key to unlock them all. It could just as well be a powerful magic ring! If you don’t have the key, you don’t get to sleep inside.

 

9. Shuttle Ride To The Start 

We got up just before 06h00 to finish the last minute checks of our backpacks. The weather was going to be reasonably cold to start, but was going to heat up rapidly with our last day forecast to be in the low 30 degrees Celsius.

The shuttle ride from Hogsback village to the start of the Amatola Trail itself left at about 10h00 and we covered the distance of 86 km in about an hour and quarter. On both hikes, Belinda and I chose to travel in the Ford bakkie where there are only two open spots and the others went in the Toyota Condor 4 x 4. Just over half of the journey is on the tar road, until you turn left at the Pirie Mission turnoff and continue on a gravel road between the smaller villages.

The road went from bad to worse the closer you got to the Amatola mountains. I wouldn’t advise driving that road with anything other than a 4 x 4, and preferably someone else’s, especially when it has been raining. During the journey in 2016 our driver, Ben, fed us with little packets of information about the hike. He said that most people who start the 6-day trail don’t make it. Say what! That was the first time that we had heard that some people actually couldn’t finish the hike. At that time, what he told us did not inspire much confidence in us. We have since established that Ben was probably trying to scare us a bit and the actual stats are far less scary. According to Dan of Amatola Trails only about 10% of hikers do not complete the full trail.

Back to 2019 and Belinda and I were dropped at the start of the trail and we had to wait for the other vehicle to arrive. The start of the trail is located right next to Maden Dam which was built in 1910. The other vehicle arrived about 15 minutes later and we unloaded the backpacks and made the final preparations before setting off for a 6-day adventure!

 

 

10. The Actual Hike

This is mainly the account of our hike in April 2019, but it still includes bits and pieces from the earlier hike in October 2016.

 

Day 1

We started hiking at about 11h45. This was far later than what we would have wanted, but there were very good reasons for the late start. The weather being one of them. There were 9 hikers in our group, all with varying degrees of experienced. The start of the hike has you walking through the forest with the ground crowded with exposed tree roots. This made walking quite difficult as you had to place your foot carefully to avoid slipping on the tree roots. With the recent heavy rains, the tree roots were especially slippery.

Your friend for the next 6 days is a single yellow shoe print. You will find this trail marker on trees or rocks along the trail. They will either take the form of a single yellow shoe print, double yellow shoe prints, two round yellow circles or just one yellow blob with the runs! Basically, if it’s yellow, you follow it, unless it is in the form of a yellow cross. That means ‘no entry’ so don’t go that way!

The trail itself is quite narrow and this theme continues throughout the whole hike. Not too long into the hike, we were walking along the left side of the river and I was getting the distinct impression that we had mistakenly signed up for a white river rafting expedition instead of a 6-day hike! The river was loud and swollen and had created weirs very close to the actual trail. We kept our distance and followed the trail further into the forest. Belinda was the lucky person to put up our first trail distance marker at 2 km.

 

After walking for just over an hour you might be thinking to yourself that this isn’t so bad. That is when Amatola gives you your first taste of a tough ascent which gets steeper and steeper!

At 12h55, just after 4 km, we crossed a metal bridge. The bridge was in need of a bit of maintenance. It was relatively easy to cross despite a few missing sections.

Again at 13h20, we had hiked about 5.3 km when we had to cross another metal bridge. This bridge too had some maintenance issues. This bridge was more challenging to cross and presented a few problems for those in the group who were afraid of heights.

I am happy to report that since we completed the Amatola Trail in April 2019, both of these metal bridges have been repaired by DAFF.

Toward the end of the trail for Day 1, you will leave the forest and enter a beautiful pine plantation. It reminded me a lot of Tokai forest in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. Once through the pine plantation, you will cross over another jeep track where you will see a sign saying “Cheer up you are almost at Gwili Gwili hut!” The hut is literally minutes away.

We stopped there to have our first real break of the day and one of the hiking party asking jokingly if I had the Trellidor key for Gwili-Gwili hut. We were reminded in the booking emails for the hike that we should remember to take the Trellidor key which opens the security gates fitted to the front door of all 5 overnight huts. All at once, all the blood drained from my head and I broke into a cold sweat with the realization that I had not asked for the key from Dan. I said softly, “No I don’t have the key”. It took a while for the person to actually believe me that I didn’t have the key.

After a quick call to Dan, arrangements were made for the key to be dropped off at Gwili-Gwili hut by a DAFF Ranger. The gods were smiling down on us because when we arrived at Gwili-Gwili at 17h15, the Trellidor was unlocked. Our tired legs rejoiced! Mine especially. The last thing we all needed, after a tough uphill day, was to sit on the veranda in the dark and wait for a key to arrive.   

In terms of us being able to handle the slippery conditions, between the 9 of us, we had 8 falls along the route with no injuries. One was a pretty spectacular fall into the bushes after slipping in the mud on a downhill slope. 

So ended a relatively tough uphill day. Because of the late start, we didn’t have much time to explore the camp before the sun went down. And try as we might, we could just not get the ‘donkey boiler‘ going for a hot shower. Those brave enough had a cold shower. The hut is located on little Mount Kemp. Wrap up warm because that was by far the coldest hut on the trail to sleep in. 

 

The trail markings on the first day were good, but you still needed to pay attention to the relevant signs or you might end up going in the wrong direction (as one of our party did in 2016). At no stage did we have to stop and search for the trail on Day 1.

 

Trail Distance Markers

We managed to put up the following new trail distance markers:

2 km, 4 km, 6 km, 8 km, 10 km and we painted a 13 km distance marker on a rock. 

 

The Stats – Day 1

 

Total Distance

13.7 km

Total Time Taken

05h02

Max Speed

5.0 km/h

Moving Average

2.7 km/h

Overall Average

2.4 km/h

Elevation at Hut 1

1 258 m

Elevation Gain

778 m

Elevation Loss

67 m

Temperatures on Day 1

20°C / 29°C

 

Tip Of The Day

The first day is basically hiking up very steep hills all the way from about 4 km. However, it is the shortest of the 6 days. If you walk at a steady pace, not too fast, and take 20-second’ breather’ breaks when your legs get tired or when you run out of breath on the climbs, you should be fine.

 

Gwili Gwili Hut

 

 

FACILITIES PRESENT NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS       √        2
DECK      √        1
SHOWERS      √        4
FLUSHABLE TOILETS      X        0
LONG DROP TOILET      √        2
UNDERCOVER BRAAI      √        1
WASHING LINE      √        2
CELL PHONE SERVICE     √        –

 

Day 2

We got up at 05h00 and made breakfast at the hut. As it was advertised as the longest day, we wanted to get out on the trail while it was still relatively cool. In 2016. we used the still warm water at the donkey boiler to wash our breakfast dishes and brush our teeth. That was a clever move! We weren’t so lucky in 2019.

We started hiking at about 07h20. We walked down the wooden walkway, back toward the Gwili-Gwili sign and turned right and headed toward our destination, Dontsa Hut. We took more water with us than normal (about 2.5 L each) as there is no water until the very end of the trail on Day 2. The start to the forest footpath was narrow and slanted at an angle. This is punishing on your ankles and knees. After about 1.6 km (08h00), we crossed a stream at a raging waterfall. I’m sure the waterfall’s spectacular performance was largely due to the recent heavy rains.

At 08h15, we had the first runner in the Merrell Hobbit 100 Trail Run come past us. This race takes runners along the Amatola Hiking Trail in a 2-day staged event. These runners run the hiking route in 2 days that we take 6 days to hike. Granted, they do not have 15 – 20 kg on their back, but that still takes some doing. If you want to read more about this exclusive trail run, you can read about it here.

After about 3 km, you exit the forest and walk around the forest on the inside edge, through thick bush. We encountered a long downhill followed, at about 10h35, by a steep climb just before covering a hiking distance of 8 km. Take solace in the fact that you will be rewarded, after a 20-minute climb, with a beautiful viewing sight at the top (8.7 km). It is the perfect place to catch your breath and maybe have a snack break. We experienced quite cool conditions between 10h00 and 12h00 and some drizzle, at times. The trail markings between 8 km – 10 km were poor in 2016, but this has been resolved in 2019. That section of the trail is very rocky and consequently very slippery so take it easy through there to avoid injury. At 12h10, we stopped and had a short, but well deserved, break under a pine tree. 

At 13h40, we left the forest cover after covering a distance of 13.8 km. We stopped soon thereafter and had our lunch while several trucks, laden with heavy tree trunks, drove past us with dust clouds following in their wake. 

Toward the end of the trail, you will cross a dirt road before you come across a small creek and the first opportunity to fill up your water bottles. Fill up! This is around the 18 km mark.

At about 16h45, we arrived at a gravel road and the end of the trail for the day. There weren’t any signs showing where to go next and Dontsa hut was not visible from the road. I challenged my fellow hikers to guess the way to the Dontsa Hut and not one of them could do it. Just keep walking straight over the road and you will see a wooden boardwalk on your left about 50 m ahead.  The hut is situated below Mount Thomas in a pine forest.

We managed to have a hot shower at the end of Day 2, thanks to our tenacious fire-starter who collected some wood from across the road in the pine plantation. 

Day 2 has a series of very steep uphills and downhills.  Even though she was relatively fit in 2016, Belinda’s knee took a lot of strain on this day, causing her to battle over the next few days that followed. Make sure that your knees will be able to handle the terrain, and that your leg muscles are relatively strong. In 2019, thankfully things were better and Belinda did not have any difficulty with her knees this time around. And that was as a result of good planning, ahead of time, in terms of conditioning.

There are a few wooden bridges that you will cross, two of which were in need of urgent maintenance in 2016. One of the bridges has been repaired in 2019, the other not.

In terms of the trail conditions, we had 5 falls for the day, 2 of which resulted in minor injuries to a hand and a knee. Nothing that we were concerned about at all.

 

Trail Distance Markers

We managed to put up the following new trail distance markers:

5 km, 10 km, 12 km, 15 km, 18 km and we painted a 20 km distance marker on a tree trunk. 

 

The Stats – Day 2


Total Distance

21.4 km

Total Time Taken

09h30

Max Speed

5.5 km/h

Moving Average

2.8 km/h

Overall Average

2.2 km/h

Elevation at Hut 2

1 017 m

Elevation Gain

692 m

Elevation Loss

898 m

Temperature

18°C / 25°C

 

Tip of The Day

The second day is a long hard day with plenty of up hills and down hills along very narrow and slanted pathways. Be prepared for this and rather leave early from the hut. Take regular snack breaks or snack while you walk. Also take plenty of water with you because there is no water on the trail, until the very end. And remember, you are busy eating an elephant on this hike, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to finish your meal, so to speak.

 

Dontsa Hut

 

FACILITY PRESENT NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS           √           4
DECK           √           1
SHOWERS           √           1
FLUSHABLE TOILETS           √           2
LONG DROP TOILET           X           0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI           √           2
WASHING LINE           X           0
CELL PHONE SERVICE           √           –

 

DAY 3

 

We woke up at about 05h00 and made breakfast. We started hiking at about 06h50. The trail to Cata Hut is located to the left of the hut as you stand and face the front door of the hut.

At the start of the trail, the footpath was slightly wider than we had gotten used to, but it didn’t take long before we were walking on a narrow pathway again. It was a relatively easy walk until the first waterfall (2 km), followed by a very steep climb to a second waterfall, situated at a distance of 5.3 km. You are warned there that the rocks are slippery! A short steep climb after that waterfall brought us on to the plateau above. We arrived at the plateau at about 09h10, after hiking a distance of 5.6 km.

 

After a short break to admire the view, we walked along a jeep track to a sign that indicated a split in the path 90 m ahead. The left fork takes you on an easier route around the mountain while the right fork takes you up and over Doornkop. We were warned by Dan, during the briefing, not to go over Doornkop so we blocked off the right fork and painted a yellow cross to warn future hikers not to go right. 

At about 10h00, we crossed at a waterfall (7.5 km). Forty minutes later, we passed by a really large boulder (8.6 km). At 10h50, we passed under the 4th waterfall of the day after covering a distance of 9.1 km. We took advantage of the strongly flowing stream to fill up with water. 

At 11h30, we took a break in a rock cave (10.9 km). At 12h30, the trail took us downhill into the forest, after passing through a fence. 

At 13h00, we came to a signboard that indicated two lower routes to the left and an upper route to the right. That was after a distance of 14 km. We turned right and followed the upper route. Ten minutes later we came to a stream and stopped for lunch. After lunch, we headed off again and crossed a river at another waterfall. At about 14h30, we exited the forest cover after 16.5 km and came across a very high waterfall to the left of the trail. After a few minutes, we reached a jeep track (16.8 km) and turned left on to the jeep track and followed it as it winded through the forest.

At about 15h20, we reached a fork in the road and went left. By 16h00, we had already covered a distance of 20 km. The jeep track just seemed to go on forever. The jeep track ended up being 6 km long and it finally delivered us to Cata Hut at about 16h50.  

The jeep track has some very long and steep uphills, which, after an already long day of hiking requires as much energy as you can muster.

 

Trail Distance Markers

We managed to put up the following new trail distance markers:

5 km, 10 km, 12 km, 13 (painted), 15 km, 18 km, 20 km (painted) and 21 km (re-used an old distance marker). 

 

Safety Tip: If you lose the path, stop immediately and have a look around you to see if you can see any trail markings. If you can’t see the path or any trail markings , backtrack the way you came and pick up the path again. Don’t continue on if you are not on the path. It will be difficult to find the path again if you get to far away from it.

 

The Stats – Day 3

 

Total Distance

22.8 km

Total Time Taken

09h58

Max Speed

5.2 km/h

Moving Average

2.8 km/h

Overall Average

2.3 km/h

Elevation at Hut 3

1 317 m

Elevation Gain

955 m

Elevation Loss

644 m

Temperature

19°C / 35°C

 

Tip Of The Day

Whatever route you decide to take, make sure that you work it out beforehand and keep an eye on the trail markings. It is also a long day so try and leave early. When you get to Cata Hut and you have relaxed a bit and if you want a swim, there is a large swimming pool about 750 m along the trail for Day 4. Well worth a dip on a hot summer’s day.

 

Cata Hut

 

FACILITY PRESENT NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS      √      4
DECK      √      1
SHOWERS      √      2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS      √      2
LONG DROP TOILET      X      0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI      √      1
WASHING LINE      √      1
CELL PHONE SERVICE      √      –

 

Day 4

We woke up again at about 05h00 and had our usual breakfast offering before starting the day’s hike at about 06h35. The start of the trail included two bridge crossings as well as several waterfalls. This was, for us, by far the most beautiful part of the trail. The first bit of the trail is out in the open and follows a river, before dipping into the forest. You can watch as Cata Hut gets smaller as you ascend the hill, and slowly disappears into the forest below. 

At about 07h30, we cleared the forest (1.8 km). The trail then skirted the hillside passing the 2 km mark and lead us up to a large rock cairn. At 08h20, we stopped there to re-mark that section of the trail, which, in 2016, caused quite a bit of confusion for us (2.7 km). Just on the other side of the rock cairn is a large flat rock. If you continue straight you would be following the shortcut over Cata Peak. If you go diagonally to the left, the trail takes you over Geju Peak, the highest peak on the Amatola Hiking Trail at 1880 m. 

We marked the flat rock with clear directions straight over Cata Peak (SC = shortcut) and left toward Geju Peak (Peak = Geju Peak). When taking the turn to the left, the trail looks like a cattle path which will turn diagonally right again after about 20 metres. Turn right there and the path becomes more clear the further you walk along it.

At about 10h15, we reached the summit of Geju Peak (1880 m), after covering a distance of 4.75 km. We enjoyed a quick snack break, in amongst doing a few maintenance tasks, before descending the other side.

At about 11h20, the trail took us across a strange looking vein of boulders on the hillside on two occasions (6.1 km). It looks like someone took a large knife and cut a hole in the fabric of the landscape causing thousands of boulders to ooze out of the open wound and set in place. Dan of Amatola Trails told us the thinking among the locals is that the boulders are part of a meteorite that crashed into the earth, millions of years ago. If you hit the end of your hiking pole against these boulders, you can hear a very distinct metallic sound.

 

Later, the trail descended on the other side of the hill in a zigzag pattern. That was after a hiking distance of 9.8 km. With the trail being so narrow it made the descent quite challenging. The trail enters and leaves the forest at the edges of the zigzag trail then enters the forest again not too long after the 10 km mark. We left the forest again and then re-entered it and at about 14h35 ended up walking through a tall, narrow cave to come out the other side into a beautiful clivia garden (10.8 km).

At about 16h40, we crossed the river and the 7th waterfall. What a majestic sight! Well worth the hard slog on the trail until that point.

Five minutes later, we walked down a wooden looking (recycled plastic) staircase leading down into the forest and across waterfall number 8. We crossed another small river and left the relative shelter of the forest canopy. We walked for about another 10 minutes out in the open before reaching Mnyameni camp at about 17h15. The trail took us across a total of 10 river crossings which was actually quite technical and this slowed our average pace from about 3 km per hour down to just over 1 km per hour towards the end of the day.

To summarise the day, the very steep climb to the top of Geju Peak was well worth the effort. The zigzag trail down the hill, a bit later on the trail, was technically difficult and was challenging to the person in our group who is afraid of heights. You literally walk right on the edge of the hill. The section of river crossings is very beautiful, but does take up a lot of time, so factor that into your planning for the day. Just an aside, when the first hiker of our group reached Mnyameni Hut in 2016, he was surprised to find two locals inside the hut. The two crowned hornbills just walked out the back door without too much protest and flew away! In 2019, we had a resident cow that was grazing on the grass around the hut. Make sure to take your head torch with you at all times, to avoid walking head-on into one of the resident bovine on the way to the crapper!

Unfortunately, the wood stored at Mnyameni Hut was thoroughly wet and try as we might, we could not get the donkey boiler going. Having to take a cold shower after a long day on the trail is a bitter pill to swallow. We are hoping that DAFF will make a plan to keep the wood stored at each of the overnight huts nice and dry for the ‘donkey boilers’. On average, the donkey boilers take about 2 hours to heat the water for showering. Just make sure that you have enough wood burning under the boiler and to keep feeding it until everyone in your party has showered. That’s if you can get your hands on some dry wood. Mnyameni hut was in a sad state. The previous hiking groups had left their rubbish all around the inside of the catering shack. One of the rubbish collection boxes was also broken and the rubbish had spilled out the back on to the grass.  Mnyameni hut is not accessible by road, making it difficult for maintenance and cleaning to be done regularly. 

 

Trail Distance Markers

We managed to put up the following new trail distance markers:

5 km (painted), 8 km, 10 (painted). 

 

The Stats – Day 4

 

Total Distance

16.3 km

Total Time Taken

10h45

Max Speed

5.7 km/h

Moving Average

2.4 km/h

Overall Average

1.6 km/h

Elevation at Hut 4

1 045 m

Elevation Gain

751 m

Elevation Loss

1 017 m

Temperature

22°C / 37°C

 

Tip Of The Day

This was the most spectacular day of the whole hike. If you want to spend time at the waterfalls and swim in the pools make sure that you leave yourself enough time to do that because you do not want to end up hiking in the dark. Once again, leaving early is a good idea. The last 3 km are technically quite difficult and will impact dramatically on your average hiking speed.

 

Mnyameni Hut

 

 

FACILITY PRESENT NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS           √           4
DECK           √           1
SHOWERS           √           2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS           √           2
LONG DROP TOILET           X           0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI           √           2
WASHING LINE           X           0
CELL PHONE SERVICE           √           –

 

Day 5

With another long day’s hiking to look forward to, we got up at about 05h00 and make breakfast. Breakfast for me consisted of Oatso Easy and tea with 2 sweeteners. Jamie Oliver has nothing to fear from me! We were on the trail at about 06h40.

You start ascending pretty much from the hut through the forest below Mnyameni Peak. We encountered a split in the trail after about 200 m and took the left fork.  You cross a river 8 times before leaving the forest and entering a pine plantation, after about an hour on the trail. The trail, at that point, slanted downhill. Shortly thereafter you re-enter the forest again and cross the river again on two more occasions, followed by a very steep 10 minute climb. Just as an aside, none of the river crossings require you to take off your boots or backpack. This might, however, not be the case during a few days of heavy rain.

We left the cover of the forest again and walked out into the open. That section of the trail was very overgrown in 2016, but thankfully it has been cut back which made for a far more pleasant experience. About a half an hour later, we stopped at a small stream and took the opportunity to drink from the stream using our hiking mugs. That path is a type of undulating contour path, fully exposed to the elements. We chose to drink water using our hiking mugs because we wanted to save the water we had in our hydration bladders. 

At about 09h47, we reached the top after a 3 hour ascent (1508 m) and walked along the escarpment for a short distance before descending toward the Wolf River catchment area. As you descend, there is a beautiful sloped waterfall to your right. At about 10h27, the trail crossed the Wolf River and we stopped to have a break and to re-mark that section with yellow paint (8 km) and to build a makeshift stone crossing. Most of the group took the opportunity to swim in the pool. It was far too cold for my blood! I took the time to apply some sunscreen there as the day was becoming a real scorcher! This is a great spot to take off your boots, soak your feet, and enjoy the view. Soaking your feet in the cold river water helps a lot to revitalise your tired and sore feet! Try it!

After spending some time relaxing at that pool, we headed off again at about 11h00. Ten minutes later, we crossed the river again with a few waterfalls on our right.

At about 11h40, we re-entered the forest and came across a magnificent pool in front of a raging waterfall and stopped for a break. Not too long after this, we were back out in the open again and climbed again before briefly stopping at another waterfall.

We continued walking on and crossed the river again and stopped for lunch just on the other side at about 12h30 (11.6 km). By that time, the sun was high in the sky and the day was very hot! We started hiking again at 13h10. We crossed the river again at about 13h30 (12.6 km) and ten minutes later, after a steep climb along a contour path, we climbed over an A-frame. 

At about 14h30, we got onto a jeep track , turned right and walked for about 10 minutes before we came to a sign that pointed us left to Zingcuka Hut. The sign indicated that the remaining distance for the day was 4 km. At that point, we had covered a distance of 15. 2 km. We turned left and entered the Schwartzwald forest. 

At about 15h30, the trail descended steeply, taking us deep into the Schwartzwald forest (17 km). We walked through a Wattle tree plantation that had been burned, some years back, as part of an eradication project. The trees and ground were burnt black and some of the burnt trees had fallen over on to the trail, damaging it.

That part of the trail in 2016 was extremely dangerous to navigate. If there was another way around, we would have taken it, but there wasn’t. The trail itself was especially narrow and right on the edge of a steep drop off. In 2019, that section of the trail had remained unchanged. No attempts had been made to clear that part of the trail that we could see. It really needs to be properly cleared of all those burnt trees lying across the trail.

If you were to lose your balance and slip off the edge, you would disappear down the hill so quickly that someone walking a short distance in front of you would not have time to turn around and see where you had disappeared to.  I took a few photos to illustrate how bad it was. 

 

At about 16h25, we finally reached Zingcuka Hut, after a long hard day on the trail. The high temperatures definitely took their toll on us, after hiking the first few days in relatively overcast conditions. Zingcuka Hut is quite nicely set out. The sleeping quarters are quite limited in terms of space though. The only real gripe I had about this hut, in 2016, was the long drop facility. Although most long drops are by their very nature smelly, this one was really stinky and dark too! Thankfully this has been rectified in 2019.

There is no cellphone service at this hut so send the messages and make the calls you need to before you get to this hut.

When you get to Zingcuka Hut, there are no signs boards, or any indications for that matter, where to start hiking on Day 6 – Zingcuka Hut to Hogsback. That was something that should have been addressed in 2016, but it has not been done. It should be done as soon as possible to avoid frustration from hikers who have 5 days of blood, sweat and tears under their belts and are looking to finish in good spirits. 

As I mentioned in the start of the post, we were a group of 9 hikers. When we arrived at Zingcuka Hut there were only 6 mattresses in the hut. We were informed by Dan, later, that DAFF fetch and carry mattresses to that hut, as needed. We were 9 hikers and logic dictated that we needed 9 mattresses! What we ended up doing was placing the mattresses down on the wooden floor of the hut like puzzle pieces. We slept together like sardines in a tin. Except these sardines snored like the clappers. It resulted in the worst night’s sleep that I had, had on the trail thus far.

 

Trail Distance Markers

We managed to put up the following new trail distance markers:

5 km, 10 km, 12 km, 15, 18 km. 

 

The Stats – Day 5

 

Total Distance

19.6 km

Total Time Taken

09h48

Max Speed

5.4 km/h

Moving Average

2.8 km/h

Overall Average

2.0 km/h

Elevation at Hut 5

1 090 m

Elevation Gain

858 m

Elevation Loss

800 m

Temperature

20°C / 38°C

 

Tip Of The Day

The trail is mostly out in the open so make sure you have a hat on and lots of sunscreen. And drink lots of water. Take extra care when walking the last 4 km of the day. That remains a dangerous section of the trail that requires all of your concentration.

 

Zingcuka Hut

 

FACILITY PRESENT NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS           √           2
DECK           X           0
SHOWERS           √           2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS           X           0
LONG DROP TOILET           √           1
UNDERCOVER BRAAI           √           2
WASHING LINE           Χ           0
CELL PHONE SERVICE           Χ           –

 

Day 6

With only the final day and perhaps the toughest day of the hike left to complete, we decided to get up reasonable early again at about 05h00 and made breakfast. Yes, Oatso Easy again! In 2016, we started hiking about an hour earlier each day. After doing this hike twice, it is our opinion that it would be better to get on the trail by no later than 06h00 each day, and if it’s still dark, use your head torch to navigate.

We were on the trail at about 06h25. In 2016, we opted to follow the group along a shortcut and bypassed going over Hog 1. In 2019, Belinda and I were the hike leaders and organisers and chose to go straight over the top. The journey began again in the Schwartzwald forest.

When you leave Zingcuka Hut, you need to take a right turn as soon as you come out of the hut. The path will soon join a wider forest path. You must turn right at the intersection and keep right at the split, a bit further down. You will cross a river twice and then walk out on to a jeep track. Turn right on the jeep track and then after about a 100 m or so, the trail will turn left off the jeep track and down into the forest again.

At about 06h45, we came to a split in the trail, after about 1 km. We went left to the waterfalls and not right, the shortcut option. We arrived at the first waterfall at 07h05, after 2 km. We hiked for another 20 minutes and crossed the river. At 08h00, we climbed up a wooden ladder after covering a distance of 4.4 km. Another 5 minutes later, we cleared the forest cover.

At about 08h20, we crossed a jeep track, moved 20 m diagonally right across the road and back into the forest and continued up a very steep climb, past a waterfall on our right. Half an hour later, we encountered a second much steeper wooden ladder which we had to climb up (6 km). A large tree had fallen over on to the trail just before this ladder. After walking for 5 minutes after the ladder climb, we crossed the river, with a waterfall on our left. After a 15 minute steep climb, we exited the forest cover again (6.5 km).

At about 09h15, we reached a jeep track and decided to have a snack break to get our strength up for the mountain climb to come. After a 15 minute break, we started off again. After 10 minutes, we reached the top of that hill and crossed over a timber bridge (7.1 km) and past a small dam on our left-hand side. We continued on and joined a gravel road (09h45).

In 2016, we opted to take a shortcut from there and not to go over the Hog 1. We turned left on to the road and walked past two rondavel huts on the right hand side of the road. We eventually ended up at a t-junction with the fire watch station directly in front of us on top of a hill. We turned right there and then kept to the right and walked up a jeep track that continued up alongside the Hogsback mountains. Again the shortcut ended up being a long steep climb to the top! Typical Amatola!

 

However in 2019, we turned right on the jeep track and after a short distance, we turned left. At 10h10, we came to another jeep track and turned left, then after 50 m turned right again (8 km). 

We then started to climb Hog 1 and reached the summit in just under one and a half hours (10.9 km). That was a very tough climb involving long switchbacks to the top (1845 m). It is definitely worth the effort though, and we feel that you haven’t truly completed the Amatola Trail unless you have tackled the Hog. After climbing over the top and along the ridge on the other side, we stopped for a 10 minute break to give our legs a bit of a rest. We continued along the ridge and covered a total distance of 12 km, before descending off the back of the ridge. 

At 12h50, we came to a split in the trail. Left took us further down a gravel jeep track, while right took us along a forest path toward Hog 2. After much debate and a phone call or two and a few WhatsApps to Dan of Amatola Trails, we went left and further down the jeep track. After hiking for about 5 minutes (200 m) down the hill on the jeep track, we turned right at a sign “To Tyume River End Point“. After another 5 minutes, we reached a jeep track and turned left then quickly right (13.9 km). After a short distance, we turned left off the jeep track and on to a forest path. About 15 minutes later, we reached another jeep track and turned right on to it.

At 13h30, we stopped on the jeep track for lunch after covering a distance of 15 km. After 20 minutes, we headed off again for the last stretch of the Amatola Trail. Fifteen minutes later, we reached a waterfall and filled up with water (16 km). 

Approximately 10 minutes later, we were at the end (14h50)! It was so unexpected that I didn’t believe it. In 2016, we had the benefit of the trail sign to confirm we had made it to the end. The name of the trail in the local language of isiXhosa is spelled differently as ‘Amathole’. It means ‘calves’. In 2019, the trail sign is not there anymore. The workers cutting down the forest in that area cut down the tree with the sign affixed to it. Hopefully, they will put it back up again because it felt less of an epic conclusion not having the sign there to welcome us home.

 

Trail Distance Markers

We managed to put up the following new trail distance markers:

5 km, 8 km, 10 km, 12 km, 15 km. 

 

The Stats  – Day 6

 

Total Distance

17.0 km

Total Time Taken

08h24

Max Speed

5.9 km/h

Moving Average

2.7 km/h

Overall Average

2.5 km/h

Elevation at End Point

1 121 m

Elevation Gain

1036 m

Elevation Loss

976 m

Temperature

24°C / 33°C

 

Tip Of The Day

Just remember that the trail ends on Day 6 in the middle of the forest about 3 km from Hogsback village, on a gravel road. Either you can decide that one of your hiking party must hike into town without his or her backpack and maybe catch a lift in a passing car along the way, or you all can hike the 3 km with your backpacks into town.

In 2016, I chose to walk into town without my backpack and the group remained behind. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a lift so it took me about 50 minutes to cover the distance. One car, traveling in the opposite direction, did stop next to me. The driver rolled down the window and asked me for directions to a local dam. I replied that I had just completed a grueling 6-day hike and that I wasn’t from around there. He actually seemed quite put out that I didn’t know where the dam was and just before driving off, retorted that he wasn’t from the area either! A little further along a local man tried to sell me a walking stick! Really! I am not sure if it was the grey hair or the stooped posture that convinced him that I matched his target market! The return journey by car took less than 3 minutes! I had the aircon on full blast the whole way. There is so much we have to be grateful for!

In 2019, Dan of Amatola Trails was kind enough to send their Toyota Condor to come and pick us up. We couldn’t all fit in the vehicle so the ladies got to go back to Away with the Fairies first and we were picked up later.

Another courtesy that Dan extended to us, was to offer us the use of Acorn House for the night so that we didn’t have to start the drive back to Cape Town in the late afternoon. He even threw in a free pizza and a beer/cold drink to say thank you for re-marking the trail and putting up the new distance markers! The group was extremely grateful for the chance to rest before hitting the road back to Cape Town, the following day.

 

11. Day to Day Maintenance on the Trail

In the recent past, there was a local hiking club called ‘Let’s Hike’ that, together with other hiking clubs and groups of hikers, formed a group called the ‘Friends of the Amatola Hiking Trail’ (FOAT). They worked hard on the trail and the huts to improve the hiker’s overall experience. The idea behind it was to return the Amatola to being one of the country’s top hiking trails again. I must say that their efforts are to be commended. We could see the difference they made to the trail in October 2016. 

After completing this hike in October 2016, I sent a detailed list of the maintenance issues that we observed during the course of the hike to Dan at Amatola Trails and Dave Marais at Let’s Hike Club. They, in turn, passed it along to the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries who are in charge of maintaining the Amatola Hiking Trail.   

If you would like to find out more about a few work parties they have held during 2017 to resolve some of the trail maintenance issues you can read about one they held in January 2017, March 2017 and October 2017.

Unfortunately, FOAT stopped their work on the Amatola Trail about 18 months ago (early 2018) and no longer play a role in the maintenance the trail.

Just before we hiked the Amatola in 2019, DAFF did quite a lot of trail maintenance of their own and we could really see the difference, since doing the hike in 2016. Some of the regular hikers commented that it was the best condition the trail had been in a long time.

What has been happening since the beginning of 2018 is that DAFF have stepped up their efforts to maintain the trail. They have been able to do this because R50 from each hiker’s package is put towards maintaining the trail. Dan of Amatola Trails buys the materials that are needed and DAFF utilises the materials to make repairs and maintain the trail. It really seems to be working, by what we have seen ourselves and what others are telling us. 

Let’s hope that this collaboration will return the Amatola Trail to being one of South Africa’s top hiking trails again.

 

12. Final Thoughts

The Amatola Hiking Trail revisited again lived up to the hype of being the’ toughest hiking trail in South Africa’. Even looking back now in 2019, after completing at least 100 hikes, it still remains one of the toughest hikes we have ever done in South Africa. Each day was as tough as the next, for very different reasons. Some sections of the trail itself and one or two of the overnight huts still need some attention. However none of that detracted from a really enjoyable experience and a real sense of accomplishment at the end on completing the 6 day – 110 km multi-day hike, that not everyone finishes!

 

13. Tourist Attractions in Hogsback

While you are in Hogsback, before or after completing the Amatola Hiking Trail there are a few attractions that are well worth checking out.

 

  1. St Patrick’s-On-The-Hill Chapel

 

 

This little chapel is rather beautiful and well worth a visit. It was completely restored after a fire guttered it on 20 June 2010.

 

  1. The Edge Mountain Retreat

 

 

This is a restaurant and outdoor retreat. It has an actual labyrinth that you can walk and a high vantage viewing spot that won’t disappoint. There is also a 3 km day walk that starts from there.

 

3. The Big Tree

Now I am sure that you have seen your share of ‘big’ trees. You will find this one at the end of a 45 minute walk from the main tar road into the Tyumie forest, located next to the Auckland Nature Reserve. The route is steep at times, but it is accessible by the average person. You can walk it in less time. The tree, which measures about 36.6 metres in height, is a common Yellowwood and is estimated to be between 800 and 2000 years old. It is the largest tree in the Eastern Cape.

The route to the Big Tree continues beyond the tree and includes the Madonna and Child waterfall, the Swallow Tail waterfall and the Bridal Veil waterfall.  

If you have an hour or two to spare, you should really check it out.

 

4. Bathing under the Stars

 

‘Away with the Fairies’ backpackers hostel has a rather unusual feature that they offer. It’s a bath located on the edge of a cliff with spectacular views of the valley below. WTF! That was my reaction as well. Once you think about it a bit longer, and I did, it is actually quite a unique concept. The bath has a donkey boiler attached which supplies it with hot water. The bath can be booked at reception for an hour at a time. The area is roped off with an ‘occupied’ sign, if it is in use. Make sure that you book it well in advance to ensure that you get an opportunity and also to ensure that you have hot water. Belinda and I booked the bath on the evening we arrived back in Hogsback, after the hike, but the fire below the donkey boiler had died down after the last couple had used it. It also started to drizzle which was a sign to us that the stars didn’t think a bush bath was a good idea! We went out for supper instead and our stomachs thanked us for it!

Here is a link to the Away with the Fairies website.

 



16 thoughts on “Amatola Trail – South Africa’s Toughest Hike – Revisited”

    • Hi Robin
      Thank you for the positive feedback!
      It was a really tough hike for us, especially after Belinda’s knee started giving her trouble quite early on day 2. But, as you know, Belinda is tough and hiked on through the pain. I know you will really enjoy this one when you get the chance to do it!
      Cheers, Ken

    • Hi Rochel
      It was a lot of fun! It helps having a great group of people to hike with. We are both hoping that you guys will be joining us on a few hikes next year!

  • Hi, Thank you for your very clear descriptions of every day. I would like to know if you experienced the Fish River Canyon or Amatola hike to be the toughest? I have done the Fish hike and due to do the Amatola, so just trying to mentally prepare.

    • Hi there Izzy. That is a difficult question to answer and I have thought about it before. The Fish and the Amatola are very different hikes and therein lies the difficulty in comparing them to each other. The short answer is that the Amatola was the tougher of the two hikes because there are very long uphills and very long downhills that take their toll on your knees. The Fish was tough because of the heat and having to walk in beach sand a lot of the way. The up side of the Amatola though is that you have a bed to lie on each night and access to a hot shower!

  • The Seekoei River Nature Reserve is another day excursion activity and here birdlife is abundant, while smaller mammals such as small antelope are seen and a 3 hour hiking trail will work up an appetite for a picnic.

    • Hi Sam. The Seekoei River Nature Reserve looks like a really good place to visit. I see that it is located at Paradise Beach just outside Jeffrey’s Bay which is about 344kms from Hogsback. This is a bit far for a day excursion, but you could possibly include it on the trip to Hogback as a place to overnight. I wouldn’t try and stop there on the way home though, as the Amatola would have taken quite a toll on your resolve and the call of home will be deafening by midday on day 6.

  • Way trendy, some valid points! I appreciate you making this post available,
    the remaining part of the website is also high quality. Have a enjoyable day.

    • Hi there. Thank you very much for the positive feedback! I have just published a new post on the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail that we hiked recently. Also a very enjoyable 6 day stage hike beginning in Nature’s Valley.

    • Hi there. I am very glad to hear that you enjoyed it. Writing a blog is something very new to me. I enjoyed writing about my experience afterwards almost as much as the hike itself!

    • Hello there. It was my pleasure! I hope it helps in some way on the trail. Have a look at the latest post on our hike through the Tsitsikamma forest. Also a very memorable hiking experience! Thank you for your kind response.

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