I’m back in Joburg, recovering from jet lag.
Since I had to leave for the U.S. in such a rush last month, I didn’t get the chance to share all the stories from my road trip around South Africa. So even though it’s technically old news, I hope you’ll enjoy this post about my recent visit to the magical village of Hogsback.
A slightly edited version of the post appeared on TravelWrite.co.za – you’ll notice it has more of a travel-magazine-y feel than my other posts. Thanks to TravelWrite editor Caroline Hurry for coming up with this clever headline.
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It’s a chilly morning in Hogsback. Joe and I just finished a pre-breakfast hike to a majestic waterfall at the top of a mountain. We’re hungry. We are the only customers in the quirky Butterfly Bistro, sitting at a cozy table next to a clay fireplace.
“I’d like the cheddar-melt fillet, please,” Joe announces. I look at him quizzically. Who orders a steak at 9:00 a.m.?
The waitress doesn’t bat an eyelid. “Not a problem,” she says. “In Hogsback, anything goes.”
Hogsback — part farming village, part hippy commune, part charming tourist trap – feels far away from the rest of South Africa. Nestled in the misty foothills of the Amatola Mountains in Eastern Cape Province, it reminds me of a sleepy town in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Hogsback’s waterfalls and ancient forests supposedly inspired the setting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The biggest of Hogsback’s signature mountain trio resembles a hog’s back.
A few hours before reaching Hogsback (we were on a road trip between Durban and Port Elizabeth and had a couple of days to kill), I open my Rough Guide South Africa and pick out a backpackers’ lodge called Away With the Fairies. We’re not really backpackers but decide to try it anyway. The price is right at R350 ($50) per night.
We arrive at Away With the Fairies after dark, to a reception desk that doubles as a bar. A young couple lounges, horizontally, on the sofa in front of the fire. The stereo blasts Red Hot Chili Peppers. Joe, who usually prefers quiet B&Bs, looks dazed. I briefly wonder if we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. But once my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, I love the place.
We feast on Thai-style cottage pie prepared by a Scottish cook named Stew. After dinner we’re treated to an impromptu fire-dancing show.
Painting with light again.
Away With the Fairies offers hostel-style lodging and en-suite cottages. We’re in a cottage called Frodo’s Rest, a spare but comfortable room with a queen-sized bed, full bath, and fireplace. When we discover the view the next morning, we know we’ve chosen the right place.
Time moves slowly in Hogsback. Around mid-morning, we breakfast on poached eggs and crostini in the courtyard of Feathers, a restaurant/art gallery/gift shop that also hosts a weekly organic market. Today is market day. We sip strong coffee and watch farm kids cavort in knee-high wellies while their dreadlocked parents sell bread, cheese, and fresh produce to a trickle of customers.
Feathers’ owner Alex Frenkel tells us about Hogsback Guides, a community initiative in which local villagers take tourists on nature hikes around Hogsback. Right up our alley, and affordable at R75 ($10.50) for an hour-long hike. We book for the next morning.
We spend that afternoon wandering in the forest. There is a trailhead outside Frodo’s Rest that leads down a steep hill into a thickly wooded valley. We marvel at the towering 500-year-old trees and I feel like I’m in Tolkien’s Forest of Fanghorn. I half expect the trees to address us in deep booming voices.
At 7:15 the next morning, we meet up with Vido and Thuli, our Hogsback Guides, and climb a short, steep path to Kettlespout Falls. Vuyo points out indigenous plants and talks about the history of the area. Thuli impresses us with her knowledge of cloud formations. We catch the last few rays of morning sunlight as we reach the falls, before mist descends for the rest of the day. (To book a walk with Hogsback Guides, contact Alex at www.feathershogsback.co.za.)
Our last stop in Hogsback is Starways Art Centre. Starways, founded by potter Anton van der Merwe and his opera-singer wife Gwyneth Lloyd, is a Hogsback must-see. It’s situated at the end of a long dirt road, with a small gallery, a theatre, and an open-air pottery workshop overlooking the misty hills. Anton’s pottery is stunning and even I could afford a couple of small pieces.
We drag it out as long as possible, but eventually it’s time to leave Hogsback. We drive slowly down the mountain. Soon the mist burns off and we’re on a sunny highway headed toward Port Elizabeth. It looks and feels like Africa again. Was Hogsback a dream?