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AA Victorian-era British general once called the Amathole mountains a ‘peculiar geographical accident of country'. The Xhosa called them ‘The Calves', because this emerald range resembled a herd of young cattle grazing in a grassy field.
The Amathole mountains were, for many years, a natural fortress for the Xhosa people. The mountains still have great spiritual significance for the communities living there.
The area is strikingly beautiful. Think deep wooded ravines; sunlight filtering through ranks of tall trees; and shiny streams threading their way down hills and over mossy rocks. If snow falls, these mountains can be likened to the Scottish highlands.
If you're a fit and practised hiker, the six-day Amatola Trail is an enchanting experience. You’ll begin your adventure near King William's Town, and finish in the village of Hogsback. Over the course of the hike, you’ll encounter giant wormhills, rich forests, wildflowers and waterfalls. With a bit of luck, you might spot the endangered Cape parrot.
Those interested in birding should look out for the Narina trogon, the Knysna loerie (also known as the Knysna turaco), the orange thrush and the grey cuckooshrike. You might also spot a bushbuck, a samango monkey, the Hogsback toad or Africa's largest butterfly – the emperor swallowtail.
One of the legendary Xhosa chiefs who ruled in the Amathole area was King Sandile, who fought the colonial British in the War of the Axe during the 1840s. The site of his burial is now part of the Sandile Heritage Route, an Eastern Cape heritage-tourism initiative that follows the lives of Xhosa kings in the region.
Did you know?
The Amathole range is one of the last strongholds of yellowwood forests in South Africa.
Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency
Tel: +27 (0)43 492 0881
Visit the Amatola Trails website to submit an online query-form
How to get here
The charming village of Hogsback is in the heart of the Amathole mountains. If you’re traveling from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth, take the N2 to Grahamstown. Head on to Fort Beaufort through Alice. After 4 km, turn left and follow the signs to Hogsback.
Best time to visit
The Amathole mountains are beautiful year-round. Visit Hogsback in the winter (June and July) for the chance of snow. Spring (September) makes for pleasant hiking conditions.
Around the area
Pay a visit to the Amathole Museum and learn more about the rich history of the area.
What to pack
If you’re planning on a hike, bring comfortable walking shoes and a camera to capture the spectacular scenery.
Where to stay
Hogsback offers plenty of accommodation options. For incredible views, stay at The Edge Mountain Retreat.
What to eat
If you’re setting out towards Grahamstown, stop for a wild-boar pie at the famous Nanaga farm stall off the N2.
Length of stay
Set aside a week for hiking and sightseeing.
Check out the craft stalls in Hogsback for beautiful walking sticks.