We stumbled upon Hogsback, which lies in the Amathole (Xhosa for ‘calves’) mountains of the Eastern Cape, without having planned it. It was amidst another uncertain lockdown with some provincial closures, schools closed and uncertainty around whether we should even be travelling. We missed the main road into Hogsback and ended up having to enter via the gravel back road. But even without this detour, it takes time to arrive in this unusual town. Eventually we were welcomed by an old rusty signpost with a silhouette of a hog walking in the grass cut out of the metal and ‘Hogsback’ written in an old font below it.
As we entered the town we were directed by signs and arrows in all directions towards various points of interest, including accommodation, attractions and hikes. The main road is untarred and the road maintenance is working hard to smoothen it and keep it usable. There is one small grocery store in the town where you can purchase a range of basics and choose from a nice selection of fruit, veg and meat. There is also a petrol pump, a local brewery, a delicious chocolate shop, and a few eating and drinking establishments (I counted only three).
The size of Hogsback is what makes it so unique. It has not become too commercialised and humanity’s touch on it has been minimal, which means that nature can be maximised.
The forests whisper stories of fairies and elves… the hidden homes of the hobbits perhaps? The views of the mountains and the dangerous drops from the cliff’s edge take your breath away. The dramatic weather cycles remind you that you are at the mercy of mother nature.
Expecting ice and snow mid-winter, we arrived with puffy jackets and sheepskin boots. Instead, we were welcomed by a warm berg wind that enveloped us. We were in search of self-care, beauty and tranquillity after a year of chaos and crisis. This location ticked all the boxes: large windows and folding glass doors that opened up onto a balcony with a private bath and deck chairs overlooking the mountains.
The beautiful views and serenity call you to the nearby French-inspired labyrinth with a distance of 1.4km.
As evening approached, we lit the fire and before long we were covered by a blanket of stars. Inside, the blazing two-way fireplace crackled near the foot of my Egyptian cotton bedding.
This is definitely not the Hogsback I had envisioned. I used to imagine it as a hippy retreat in the mountains but this exceeded my expectations and was luxurious in more ways than I could count!
At dawn, after my percolated coffee and farm-style rusks, we headed out for a hike to the Big Tree – an 800-year-old yellowwood. The hike was magical, yet the whole time we felt we were being watched and constantly asked ourselves if we were being paranoid. Suddenly a crack and a shriek made our hearts jump out of our chests! A moment later, we spotted the cheeky little monkeys that had been watching us from a distance.
The hike is a moderate one and not too long. Sunlight danced before us in the pathway which is therapeutically painted in lush evergreen, indigenous vegetation.
The next day we embarked on a triage of waterfalls, from the Madonna and Child falls to Bridal falls as we explored part of the Tyume indigenous forest trails, traversing part of the Afromontane Forest (African-Mountain). The forest walk through luxuriant natural growth is noted to be unique in an otherwise arid country. The forest is moist and lush, with falls that are fed by the swallowtail and Tyume rivers.
Later, we visited the old Hogsback Arboretum where we walked through the Garden of peace and remembrance and the Garden of love, making our way the 39-steps falls.
There are many waterfall hikes to choose from in Hogsback. The walk to Madonna and Child falls is well-marked and easily accessible with wooden walkways that guide you to the falls. The Bridal falls is for the more adventurous and requires some scrambling over tree stumps and getting onto your hands and knees as you climb. There are also a number of beautiful and inviting natural pools along the walk.
A visit to the densely forested Amathole mountains simply has to include a horse ride and we approached Mark from ‘Horses for Healing’ for a guided walk. We spent two hours with these therapeutic animals.
The experience involves interacting with the animals, an invitation to groom them, befriend them, then be humbled to ride them in such a beautiful setting. This is not your typical horse ride!
Fatigued from the ride, but awash with memories of the experience, I soaked in a lavender-scented bath on our private balcony at the edge of the mountain with a glass of bubbles, as the sun lay to rest.
This is the luxurious side of hippy-Hogsback!