The Hex River Mountains are the the second highest (after Swartberg) range of the Cape Fold Belt at the southern tip of Africa. The range is approximately 50 km long, with its dominant ridge arching gently southward.
The highest peak in the range is Matroosberg, at 2249 metres. At least 4 other peaks are higher than 2000 metres (the exact number depends on the classification of secondary summits).
The mountains are made of interlayered sandstone, quartzite and shale. While a lot of small scale geological folds exist, the primary geological strike direction has been retained. As a result of this, walking up most peaks from the north involves walking on the bedding plane, and is considerably easier than attempting the steep (often near-vertical) strike slope from the south.
This shows the geological strike. North slope (right) is the gentle dip slope, south slope (left) is the steep strike slope. Text book picture :)
The Hex River Mountains are approximately 100 km from Cape Town. The biggest town near the mountains is Worcester, which can be reached by the N1 highway from Cape Town. Following the road further (up to Touwsriver), one can see the mountains on the left. Another town in the region is Ceres, north of the mountains. This can be reached from Worcester via R43/R46, or from Touwsriver via R46.
The mountains are mostly surrounded by private farms, and these are often used as starting points for hikes. Most landowners welcome mountaineers, usually charging a nominal fee for entry and parking/camping on their land.
A commonly used place to start hiking is at the western end of the range. This land belongs to the University of Cape Town, and permits to hike through their land, and use their parking places, need to be obtained from the University Mountain & Ski club (see link below).
A number well used and maintained paths exist, but they are mostly not marked (except with small rocky cairns). I am also not aware of the existence of any map which shows the path network. It is therefore highly recommended to always have someone with experience of the area in your party. The exception is the Matroosberg Reserve at the eastern edge of the range - they provide a detailed map and route description to reach Matroosberg from the northern side (see the external link below).
For the rest of the range, the most commonly used maps are the 1:50,000 topographic maps available from the Surveys and Mapping. These can be browsed in their offices in Rhodes Avenue, Mowbray (Cape Town) Tel. +27-(0)21-658 4300. As mentioned before, only some of the paths will be marked on these.
The entire Western Cape province is knows for extreme weather conditions, and the Hex River Mountains are often described at the epitome of this. In summer (December-February), temperatures above 35 degrees are common. As there are virtually no trees in the mountains, it can be difficult to find any shelter from the African sun. Most of the streams become dry in summer, so it is important to carry enough water with you. In winter, snow is common. There are in fact 2 ski lifts in the region (on Waaihoek and Matroosberg). The weather can change very abruptly at any time of the year, so it is essential to always be prepared for rain and heavy fog.
Fauna and Flora
The Hex River Mountains are part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. A lot of the plants found here are not found anywhere else in the world. The most famous of these are the different protea species. http://protea.worldonline.co.za/spls_hex.htm list the species found here.
Most of the vegetation is made from scrubs and bushes (often very prickly). There are virtually no trees - some pine trees exist, but these are alien plants affecting the region's delicate water balance, and an continuous effort is made to eradicate them.
Various small antelope species live in the mountains (Klipspringer, Steenbok, Cape Grysbok). Baboons are fairly common. Some leopard live in the mountains, but are very rarely seen. There are no records of any attacks on hikers.
The region's birdlife is extremely rich and diverse, and if I started to go into species I wouldn't know where to stop. If you're interested in birds, I recommend Newman's Birds of Southern Africa as a field guide.
Some snakes live in the region, but only two are poisonous: the puff adder, and the small berg adder. As with most snakes, they will not come to you unless they feel threatened. Watch where you step and sit, don't stick your hands under rocks, and you won't get bitten.
http://www.hexrivervalley.co.za/ Tourism Board of the area south of HRM
http://www.matroosberg.com/ Matroosberg Private Reserve
http://www.ceres.org.za/ Ceres Tourism board
http://www.mountain.uct.ac.za/ University of Cape Town mountain club