During our December road trip, we stopped in Hogsback with limited time to spare. Staying only two nights and with one full day to explore, we tried to tick as many boxes as possible. From hiking through an enchanting forest, finding some shrooms and taking a bath at the end of the world—here’s a report back.
Up in the Amothole mountains is a small village in the shadow of a rocky outcrop shaped as a—you guessed it—a hog’s back. You’d also be forgiven for believing J.R.R Tolkien once visited the town, or lived here, thanks to all of The Hobbit references. But, that would be wrong.
Tolkien’s ‘links’ to the town were essentially myth-making in the name of tourism. Still, the town does have a fantasy setting feel to it, even a winter wonderland charm—Snowy winters aren’t uncommon at Hogsback, snow chasers might be pleased to know.
When we arrived, we were at the back end of a week of constant rain, in December I might add. It was dark and rainy on our way, Nguni cattle roaming the streets testing the quality of our brakes. Eventually, the road lead becomes more forested as you ascend into the mountains.
The road was muddy, and the car got stuck in the mud spinning its wheels in search of grip as we arrived. Fortunately, we were a few mere paces from the night’s accommodation; a Hobbit-themed chalet dubbed (you guessed it again) “The Hobbit House”.
Away with the fairies
For our short stay in Hogsback, we checked in at Away with the Fairies hostel. It was late; the fire was roaring and funnily enough, I was grateful for loadshedding. A few candles were lit, the bottle of wine was opened, cheese and crackers were served and the deck of cards shuffled.
The ambience was perfect, with the symphony of insects providing the soundtrack for the night. The Hobbit Cottage had indeed earned its name, not only for its Tolkien references but also for the quirky caricatures of hobbits that adorn the wall—not creepy at all (sarcasm intended).
Tripping and stumbling
It was still wet underfoot when the rain cleared in the morning. The little Hobbit Cottage was well equipped for us to fuel ourselves with an English breakfast before taking on the trails. The famed Amathole Hike ends here at the hostel, so we got to hike the last leg of it through an enchanting forest with towering yellowwoods and stinkwoods and mushrooms blanketing over decaying wood.
Heed caution; the muddy trails made for a slippery footpath, but this meant that the streams and waterfalls were in full flow. A little rockpool where the sun’s rays pierced the forest canopy made for the perfect lunch and cool-down spot.
We made it to the towering Madonna and Child Waterfall before taking the final ascent out of the kloof and back on the road into town. En route back to town, the two of those without hiking sticks certainly felt left out, but Hogsback had plenty for sale on the side of the road for all to get a little Hogsback souvenir.
Beer, chocolate and something discrete
There aren’t too many people in Hogsback. Still, it is home to a brewery and a chocolatier. After the hike, a stop at the Hogsback Brewing Company is ideal for a refreshing lager after the day’s trek. There are a few restaurants and pubs dotted along the town’s main stretch, but the necessity of a siesta and the convenience of the restaurant back at the hostel twisted our arm. As an added bonus, the pizza was delicious.
The main road is surprising, dotted with stores, but one artisanal chocolatier stands out. The Chocolate Shop in a small wendy-house-like structure in this mountainous village compliments the quaint aesthetic of the town. When you walk in, the place wouldn’t be out of place on a small cobblestone street in Brussels.
You might even think you heard Flemish, only to realise it was just the Afrikaans farmer from Alice picking up a little treat—the sound of his diesel bakkie a dead giveaway.
Battery recharged after the nap and with plenty of daylight to spare, we went to the local arboretum after we were advised that this is a ‘great place to trip’. If some of the eastern-inspired decor at certain establishments didn’t give it away, Hogsback is a favoured spot for psychonauts
Not that I can disclose that the group did or did not clandestinely dabble with some forbidden fungus in this garden of Eden, but I can confirm that the waterfall is beautiful and that the massive Californian redwoods are the most majestic. They might even speak to you.
An action-packed day always ends with a braai, as we savoured our time in the Amathole and “came down”. This being a hostel, you meet new people who join your party and new strangers to share a joint with as a few fireflies flutter around—nature’s antidote to loadshedding.
A trip to Hogsback is a reminder of what travel is all about. You drop your guard, allow yourself to meet strangers, invite them into your circle and share a joint. Even when you leave, something about the place always stays with you. On the final morning, I took a bath at the edge of the cliff as the sun rose so that I could tick one more thing off my bucket list. I would return to my old life, but I was renewed.
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