Amatola: The toughest (hutted) hike in South Africa

The Amatola Trail (6 days, 100kms) is marketed as “The Toughest Hike in South Africa” and I think it lives up to the title, writes Arno van der Heever. Obviously there are harder wilderness hikes around, but as far as hutted hiking trails go, the Amatola Trail is as challenging as they come.

The Amatola Trail starts at Maden Dam near King Williams Town and traverses the Hogsback Mountains all the way into the Tolkienesque village of Hogsback itself. Its main features are the abundance of waterfalls and mountain pools, as well as the ancient, indigenous rainforest which makes up more than half the route.

Day 1: Maden Dam – Gwiligwili Hut (11 or 15.3km)

Do not underestimate the first day, even if you choose the 11km variation, as you will ascend 700m. Give yourself enough time to start slow. You will notice what looks like fresh dog poo everywhere, don’t panic, it’s digested soil from giant earthworms – they can grow to 1m in length.

Gwiligwili Hut is perched high up on a hillside with beautiful views of the surrounding area. There is also a separate braai area which makes for a very social first night.

Day 2: Gwiligwili Hut – Dontsa Hut (18 or 19.6km)

Day 2 is the longest section of the hike and most of it is spent traversing ancient, dense forest where the sunlight struggles to pierce the thick canopy. It is a feast for the senses as one wanders through a dream-like sea of green with the hum of the Cicadas being broken by the occasional call of a Knysna Lourie.

Once you’ve settled in at Dontsa Hut, the cares and stresses of city life seem a million miles away as the peace of the mountains starts to sink in.

Day 3: Dontsa Hut – Cata Hut (16.8 or 19km)