Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsAmathole Forests
The mountains and valleys of the Amathole are swathed in afromontane mistbelt forest, interspersed with pine and eucalyptus plantations. These forests, or forest complex, lie bounded by the towns Stutterheim, Hogsback, Alice and Dimbaza with Keiskammahoek at the centre, north west of East London.
The area is not huge; you can drive the circumference in under four hours, yet within is a hugely diverse, living landscape.
Plans are afoot to develop a biosphere reserve – the Amathola Mountains Biosphere Reserve Project - involving just over 100 000 hectares, more than a third of which is already under statutory conservation. The remaining area is mostly private, or owned by communities, and lends itself to conservation.
The forests and surrounds are important. Here the Nama Karoo, afromontane forest, grasslands, Pondoland coastal flora and some of the fynbos biome converge. The landscape is one of craggy cliffs, sheer ravines, a myriad waterfalls and rolling montane grasslands.
The Elandsberg and Gaika's Kop peaks are often sprinkled with snow, whilst tributaries of the Buffalo and Keiskamma rivers wind through the region.
The Amathole forests are rated IBA (important birding area) – supporting a number of near-endemic and endemic birds like the Knysna woodpecker, black harrier, ground woodpecker and bush black cap. For this reason they are one of the most spectacular areas for birding and hiking.
The Cape parrot, in particular, is South Africa's only endemic parrot and under severe threat.
The green and gold parrot lives in these remaining afromontane forest pockets, in which it once thrived. Due to the degradation of the forests, disease (psittacine beak and feather disease), and illegal capture the global wild population has dwindled to less than 1 000– a Cape parrot is rarer than a rhino.
You will find these beautiful birds in the narrow belt between Hogsback and Stutterheim.
A project to conserve the Cape parrot is the Cape Parrot Project, based at the iZingcuka Forest Station close to Hogsback, and affiliated with Africa Sky Blue Research Group and the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute and Wild Bird Trust.
Part of the project's mandate is to plant and care for over 1 million indigenous trees and the sponsoring of village partnerships in the tree growing, tree planting and protection of the forests process.
If you are interested in getting involved, contact Steve Boyes in Hogsback, or donate to the project via the Wild Bird Trust or World Parrot Trust.