Cape Town - The Amatola Hiking Trail dates back to the early 1980s and is a must-do experience for many hiking enthusiasts in South Africa. This 6-day, 5-night trail takes you across 106km, with overnight stays in seven huts along the way as you make your way to Hogsback in the Eastern Cape.
However, after a group of hikers from Pretoria was attacked in one of the huts earlier in February, an urgent look at the safety of the trail was needed. The incident took place at the third overnight hut, Cata - while the hikers were sleeping.
Subsequently, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), reached out to the Let's Hike Hiking club, asking for assistance to get the trail back up to standard. "A meeting was called with the head of the Department of Forestry and was attended by about 15 foresters, as well as members of group Friends of Amatola Hiking Trail (FOAT).
After 33 years the trail, rated as one of SA’s top ten, has a special place in the heart of hikers, especially those in East London. As a result, a bunch of passionate hiking individuals came together with the department as part of FOAT - donating not only time but also money and resources to lovingly restored and secured the ailing trail.
"Friends of the Amatola Trail was created to assist the Department of Forestry, Eastern Cape, in maintaining the huts and the trail. For many years, the trail and the huts have not been well maintained and as hikers we love to hike, on a trail that is ‘well marked’ and that the huts are in a ‘good or a reasonable condition’," says Maureen Marais, Chairperson of the Let's Hike Group.
"The security on the trail and at the huts were also a great concern and had to be dealt with. The Department of Forestry has since installed Trellidor to all the windows and doors of each hut on the trail – these being Gwili, Dontsa, Cata, Mnyameni & Zinyukwa.
"We have had a lot of positive feedback regarding what we have done thus far and as this magnificent trail is on our doorstep we will endeavour to keep it up to standard for the many hikers out there."
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The group has since carried out work on the first three huts over weekend hikes, with the rest to be completed in due course. So far, the club has marked the trail from Day 1 through to the 3rd hut. “Work completed includes painting, lots of repairs to doors, roofs, walls and other plumbing problems around the hut. DAFF has installed Trellidors on the windows & doors for safety,” says Dave Marais, also a Let's Hike member.
He told Traveller24 that at each hut, the leader would go up to the hut beforehand to see what is needed for the work group. "FOAT has received donation from the Trail Runners Club who run the trail each year in April.”
“Each section between the huts has been marked, starting at each hut with 1km and increasing in distance until the next hut is reached,” says Marais, as it creates clarity of location when there is an emergency and is not only a mechanism for hikers to know how far they have hiked.
“If a hiker injures himself and he is at the 6-km marker, the rescue team knows where to find him. If a tree has fallen over the path, hikers can use the nearest marker to report this.
DAFF also relies on hikers who have completed the trail to fill in a questionnaire and give information about where problems were encountered.
Other members of the group who have participated in the repairs include "Josh & Maureen Marais, Patrick Hutchison, Sally Reeves, Sandy Ward, Elsabé Karshagen, Bonny Paulin, Peru van Staden, Alan Brent, Eben & Linda Oosthuizen and Franz de Klerk, Tienie & Jevan Victor, Moira Burger, Sinclair Kidson & Rob Slabbert," says Marais.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to experience this iconic hike:
How long does this hike take?
“6 days and 5 nights - it is a 106km hike.
When is the best time to do this trail?
“The summer months are good for swimming and longer days, but winter for snow at Cata Hut for 3 days.
What level of fitness is required for this trail?
“Pack as light as you can, it is a tough trail, especially for the first-time hikers. Hikers need all the stamina to complete a trail.
What are the costs involved?
“R215 per person / per night and R 48 for scholar who are 14 - 21 years old.
Where are the highlight points?
“Several waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides - from the top, or standing at the bottom looking up, Cape parrots flying above, the views from Ge-Ju Peak and the view from Hogs 1, looking over Hogsback.
Are there any hazards to be aware of?
Puff adders on the path, have a strong rope for crossing the rivers. For rivers in flood, this is a must. Must walk carefully when the heavy mist rolls in. Hikers can experience 3 seasons in one day.
What top three hiking tips can you offer those thinking of getting into long hikes?
Pack light and share meals, warm clothes and sleeping bags and pack raincoats /rain ponchos for just in case.
How does one go about joining the Let’s Hike hiking club?
“The hiking club is situated in East London, and you can join as a ‘country’ member after filling in a form that is available at Cape Union Mart, Vincent Park.
“Members are provided with membership cards that they can use at Cape Union Mart or Outdoor Warehouse to get a discount on selected hiking equipment. Cape Union is 10% and Outdoor is 5%.
“Amatola Trails offers all of the services that hikers of the Amatola Hiking Trail need, in one place. These offers include trail bookings, pre- and post-hike accommodation, shuttle service to the start of the trail, safe parking for the duration of the hike, communication with rangers in the field in case of emergency and budget packages for these, making the Amatola Trail easy to book and hassle-free." See website for more information.
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Besides the Amatola, these are the five other must-do SA trails according to Let's Hike:
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