The Amatola Hiking Trail

Nestled in the fairy-like world of the Amatole Mountains, this backpacking trail provides ample opportunity for long periods of waterfall gazing, swimming hole bathing, and forest frolicking. Having lived in the desert for the last ten months, this mountain and forest gal was happy to get a three day dosage of lush green forests, peaks to admire and summit, and waterfall after waterfall to ooh and aah at the entire way. My fellow hiker, an American fella named Landon from the Hoosier state, was delightful company throughout the hike.

Great green gorges carved by tiny streams that turn into towering cascades make for an enjoyable hike of ups and downs, river crossings, rock hopping, and endless views. The Amatola trail is far from the noises of society, set in an unblemished wilderness where the eye of the passerby catches the colorful pink wings of the loerie. We, the only humans on the trail, are like explorers, forging our way through overgrown sections of head high brambles, forests thick with spider webs, desperately trying to follow our own yellow brick road of painted yellow footprints left in the most obvious of places when we don’t need them and in the most obscure places when we do.

In these indigenous forests, we have found the jungles of South Africa. They are dark and wet, humbled by quiet brooks, and to our happy relief, mosquito-free. Territory of the arachnids, we muse, keeping the biting bugs at bay. So we enter the forests with sticks held to the front, carefully trying to avoid webs of spiders, dressed in their armor, shielding our faces, to little avail. The spider webs win, covering our bodies in what feels like cotton candy. If only it were.

Our trusty map indicates swimming holes along the way, as well as humorously warns not to spend too much time enjoying the pools so as not to reach camp late. We struggle to heed to this advice, stopping at the first nice pool we see to take a dip. The mountain pools look inviting with their pristine turquoise water, but turn our feet numb upon toe dipping. A few full body submergings leave us craving for the heat of the sun. Fortunately, this keeps us moving to our destination for the night, a hut in an opening in the forest with a porch all to ourselves. Let’s just call it a lodge. It is a large, wooden structure with over twenty bunk beds, a braai pit for cooking our food, and showers and toilets. We fall asleep dreaming of spiders.

Our final day on the meandering trail returns us to the small mountain town of Hogsback. We indulge ourselves in taking some extra time to summit a peak overlooking Hogsback known simply as Hog 1 for its resemblance to the backside of a hog. As we reach the rocky summit, our view of the village is blocked by a thick cloud rising to the edge of the peak. We wait for the cloud to continue rising, eventually revealing the final leg of our trip. The hike isn’t complete without losing ourselves in a pine tree plantation on the way back to the road and hitching a ride with some local woodcutters to save us the long distance of unplanned walking. As usual, food is a motivating factor on the final day so we reward ourselves with a South African thin crust pizza each (or two in Landon’s case).

As a seeker of waterfalls everywhere, this hike was an absolute delight, one I would easily repeat again. Many thanks to Landon for putting up with my excitement over every waterfall and for entertainment on and off the trail. It’s funny how simple life can be when you can sit in the dark and share the joy of seeing bugs light up in the grass!

Happy trails to all 🙂

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