Amatola Hiking Trail

I recently (Nov 2011) had the opportunity to hike the Amatola Hiking from King WIlliams Town to Hogsback. A group of five other engineers and two BSc graduates made for great company along the 100km we covered in 6 days.

Each day’s route leads from one hut to the next. Five huts in total provided us with a warm place to rest, a reasonably soft bed to sleep on, and somewhere to cook. The Amatola trail is rated as one of the toughest hikes in Southern Africa, and although I’m a fairly bad judge of such things, I am quite likely to accept other people’s opinions on these matters. It must be said that it is an extremely beautiful hike. Majority of your progress is made through natural forest which reveals the widest variety of fungus you’ll ever see along with splendid displays of waterfalls.

We drove up from Stellenbosch, spending the night in a backpackers in PE (Lily Pond Backpackers – good facilities, well priced), and then heading on to Hogsback to spend the night before the first day. Both the night before, and after the hike we spent at Away with the Fairies Backpackers in Hogsback, quite nice huts, although the geyser didn’t make it halfway through our group when we finished the hike. That being said we did have warm water in the morning again, and the rooms were well kept and clean.

We caught a lift with a guy called Lawrence who picked the eight of us and our gear up at 6AM in Hogsback and dropped us at our starting point just outside of King William’s Town. After having driven up in pouring rain and going to sleep with thick fog, it was nice to wake up to some slightly overcast weather.

We carried a fairly nice map which displayed the various paths one can follow along with estimated times to complete. Day 1 was supposed to be about 16km, but we think we somehow managed a route less than 12km, as we did fairly amazing time to the first hut (Gwili-Gwili) arriving some time before 1PM.

On arrival we were greeted by cleaners busy neatening the hut and a man tending to the fire of a hot water donkey. In the past it seems that some huts contained gas water heaters or other apparatus, but when we did the route each hut had a standard fire heated donkey. So day one ended fairly early and with nice warm showers for each of us.

The huts themselves were generally in fairly good order. All of them are built from wood, and generally hidden from view by the surrounding forest. Most had some form of outhouse and shower facility. Gwili-Gwili itself had a four showers and two long drop toilets and a lovely braai area under cover.

Day 2 was overcast from start to finish. We opted for a slightly shorter route which skipped a waterfall. On arrival at Dontsa Hut, signs indicated that the waterfall was a mere 0.8km away, and so several of us went for a swim below the amazingly beautiful, and amazingly cold waterfall.

Two flushing toilets were located about 200m from the hut, and a single shower linked to the donkey was available. The only problem was the wood provided was extremely wet, which resulted in fires that were difficult to maintain and only slightly not cold showers. This ended up being a repeating theme throughout the hike. Each hut had a large axe (often chained to the ground) and an ample supply of wood, but it was generally too damp to make any type of successful fire.

Dontsa Hut

Day 3 lead us on to Cata hut. A fairly long, overcast day, uneventful for the most part. The last few kilometers are covered on a jeep track, which ends down in a valley where the hut is located. The hut is fenced in along with the other buildings, but the exact time line and planning involved in the building seemed to be absent from anyone involved’s knowledge. Again lukewarm water showers were had, and shortly after we arrived a drizzle set in.

Later that evening the rain started to pour down. And we had a spectacular thunderstorm with an amazing amount of rain, causing the water tanks to overflow. The huts and shelters provided lovely dry places to cook, eat and sleep.

Although you cross rivers quite a few times throughout the hike, up until this point I had managed to keep my socks dry, mainly due to my determination to jump over as many loose rocks as I needed, and aided by the slight water-resistant abilities my hiking boots possessed. But day 4 was a lot of walking through long grass, and within the first 5km my socks were soaked.

Throughout the hike the path is fairly well marked, a continuous strew of yellow footprints ensure that you know you’re on track, and, especially through the forests, the paths are fairly well worn. After the first few kilometres on Day 4, there is a split. A shortcut which heads straight up the mountain, or a longer, slightly flatter route which takes you up the slopes of a nearby hill. Apparently everyone takes the shortcut, as we got lost for what probably amounted to an hour over the next 5kms as we repeatedly lost the track. Even though it was further, and we lost the path several times, I was extremely glad we took that route, as it takes you past one of the highest points in the area, which allows you an amazing 280 degree view of the surrounding area and valleys.

The day ended at Nmyeni hut. While hiking you are constantly surrounded by the sounds of birds, but it is rare to ever see one, or so we found. On arrival at Nmyeni hut, we were greeted by our first proper sighting, that of a Knysna Lourie, it was short lived, but we managed a few photographs.

Knysna Loerie

The hut had a couple of windows that had been smashed out, glass was lying around and rubbish bins had litter strewn around them. The shower and toilet facilities weren’t that nice either, and for once we decided to give trying to make a fire for the donkey a complete skip, and we all bathed in a nearby stream.

drying socks round the fire

The next day we woke up to beautiful sunshine. The first 4 days had provided little sunshine, mainly being overcast, if not drizzling. Day 5 held a few lovely swimming spots, and it was the first time anyone had really wanted to jump into the rivers. The sun also brought about our first encounter of a snake. A beautiful fat Puff Adder which lay in the middle of the path. Myself and one of the guys before me both stepped right over the snake without noticing him, before the person behind me spotted the snake and made a well calculated detour.

Puff Adder

We stopped and took a few photos, but he seemed fairly rustig, although the two of us who stepped over him were quite fortunate not to have upset him too badly.

Another swim, and an extremely steep descent into the forest ended us at our last hut (Zingcuka). It was very nicely laid out, with two showers and a long drop a slight way off. The hut itself was beautifully located and a nice braai area was also provided.

swim time

Instead of trying to achieve anything with the provided wood, we went hunting and took down a few dead trees which we chopped up for the fire. The fire provided us with lovely warm water for our final night. A bottle of sherry that two of the girls had carried the previous five days also did not go amiss.

The last day was also to be one of the longer ones, and once arriving at the end of the hike, still required a 4km walk back to town. We had been getting up between 6 and 7AM the previous days, and generally leaving about 7:30, but we decided for the last day to get up at 5, and ended up leaving at 6:10.

Day 6 has a section of about 8km without water, which was fairly tough in the warm conditions that we did it in, but when we eventually stopped for lunch at a waterfall with a spectacular view at the 13km mark, it was most welcome.

From there it was a fairly short hour to the end point! Once we’d taken some photos we headed off down the road back to Hogsback. About 700m later a truck came passed, and with eight thumbs sticking out, we successfully managed a grateful lift back to Hogsback where our first stop resulted in beers and ice-cream all round.

the end

We ended up back in Hogsback some time shortly after 13:00, which was a nice reward for the early start. After everyone had showered and had a bit of a snooze we all went out on the town to a lovely little pub/restaurant/hotel known as the Hogsback Inn. They provided great meals, delicious food and at a very reasonable cost, would definitely recommend giving them a visit.

The hike is managed by the Department of Water Affairs in King Williams Town, contact details can be found here (Eastern Cape office). The cost is generally R750pp for permits and a map for the 6 day route. Students apparently hike for free, which was great news for us. For more information on the hike have a look here, here and here (fairly old post).

14 thoughts on “Amatola Hiking Trail

  1. I also did the Amatola a few years ago and used to go and visit quite often
    there as a child. my uncle had a holiday farm there which is now called the Kings Lodge. it sounds so wonderful that I definitely feel like doing the walk again!

  2. Mapesaka – I see you posted recently, are you planning to do this hike? I am doing it March 14th – 19th, please let me know if you are heading there soon, or have recently done the trail. Would be good to share any info. Yvette (yvetterudge@hotmail.com)

  3. HI Yvette,
    I just finished the hike (1 – 6 March 2015). My account of each day is very different from above as I was totally caught off guard by the difficulty of the trail. I’m a novice so each day started around seven am and I arrived no earlier than 6pm. Sore feet and all. Nevertheless, the beauty of the trail made it worthwhile.

    PS. we were very fortunate, it rained only on day 2. We had beautiful sunny warm weather each day.

  4. The hike was stunning but tougher than any of the other trials I have done.

    We understand that it is not hiked on a regular basis and thus the path gets overgrown. Often, changes of direction were missed and then we had to backtrack to find the trail again. Maybe it would be possible to add red or yellow crosses down the incorrect paths and improve the markings. Also, more distance markers would be appreciated.

    on day 5 (Mnyameni to Zingquka) at approximately between 14 and 16 km into the trail, we started noticing trees where the usual yellow footprints were hacked off, and curiously replaced by fake yellow paint blotches in other parts. At the time we did not realise it, but this other trail led us down into the Wolfridge forest instead of continuing on the plateau further on before you are meant to descend to the hut through the Swartzwald forest.

    • Hey Neill, sorry to hear about your problems, especially on the last day. Give the water affairs department in King a call though and let them know about the problems you experienced.
      We had water supply problems at Zingquka when we were there last year, and have heard that it was fixed soon thereafter, so if they know of problems they do work to fix them.

      • Hi Gareth
        We have let them know.
        Getting “lost” added to the experience as we stayed in a hut in the villiage, but had to cancell the last day of the hike.

  5. Further to Neill’s comment (part of Neill’s group), please refer to additional information regarding this.

    I had a look again at the map last night (planning the next one!) and think I discovered where I went wrong. There is an alternate route marked on the map going through the Wolfridge forest – starting just after the 10km mark after the 4th pool. It is very faint and not so noticeable as it runs through the coloured in section indicating the indigenous forest. The other alternate routes on the trail are marked as per the usual main trail sections. I recall the split in the trail with the two sets of footprints – one to the left that we took, and the one to the right – the main trail. So we took the alternate route, and that is why it was so overgrown, however, looking at the map, this should still have led us to the Zincguka hut while making the route a bit longer. It is in this section where the footprints went missing…

    A suggestion is to make hikers aware of this split and add it to the trail notes outlining day 5.

    This was forwarded to DAF and they replied that the foresters are already attending to this.

    • Hey Adriaan, glad to hear there’s positive feedback from the DAF.
      I did the hike a while ago and don’t have a copy of the map, so can’t check it out unfortunately.

    • Hi Tarryn. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I hope the perpetrators are brought to justice so people can continue to use the facilities in safety.

  6. Pingback: Amathola 6 day hiking trail (Eastern Cape, RSA) – emptytheemind

  7. Hi there,
    We are planning to hike the Amatolhe trail in April 2016, but what worries me is the conversation I had with one gentleman called Albert. I met him last weekend when I was hiking the Ribbok trail in Golden gate national park.
    According to him the Amatolhe is a NO-NO!!
    Most of the facilities at the huts have been vandalized and some of the huts are not being used anymore.
    Can anyone give me clarity on this please!!????

    • Hi Dox, I can’t speak to the current state. You can try contacting the department of water affairs in Kingwilliamstown directly and see what they have to say. They are responsible for ensuring the condition of the huts. Maybe someone else has hiked it recently, and can give comment.

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