It’s hard not to get caught up in the fairy tale — this tiny town sits at the edge of an indigenous forest in the Amathole mountains, and if it wasn’t for the one stretch of tar road leading into town, you might feel like you’d arrived on the set of Lord of the Rings. And you wouldn’t be too far off. Hogsback proudly claims a connection to JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings — he visited with his family as a child, his nanny was a Xhosa woman from the area who shared myths of flying snakes rising out of the mountains, and his son later stayed in nearby Queenstown and often sent him sketches of the landscapes.
However real the claim, it’s easy to be inspired by Hogsback. The name itself is derived from the geological term to describe the ridge of rocks that sit atop the mountains across the valley. Hog 1, 2 and 3, as they are known, overlook the small town, and for the more adventurous, offer a challenging mountain hike.
But Hogsback is also a place to kick back and take it easy. There is a certain alternative ‘vibe’ about the place — where else can you visit an eco-shrine, or walk one of the world’s largest labyrinths? Part of the thinking here is to tread lightly, and it’s good to see that most businesses here have taken a sustainable approach.
Much of the attraction of Hogsback is the ability to reconnect with nature, and there are various ways for visitors to do this. Hiking, bicycling, horse riding and abseiling down waterfalls are popular activities, but you can also take a casual stroll through the Arboretum, and go hug a 100-year-old Sequoia sempervirens tree, if you prefer.
There is only one hotel, one shop (selling just the basics) and only a few places to eat (and they are not always open), so many visitors do the self-catering option when staying here. Luckily, the backpacking options in Hogsback are excellent, and if you ask ahead of time, they can usually rustle up a decent meal.
Away With The Fairies — coincidentally, the place where one visitor described the glow-in-the-dark fairy experience — is a popular choice for visitors, and you’ll find a mix of en-suite cottages (‘Frodo’s Rest’ is the best room there), dorms and camping areas at this backpackers’ establishment. Pizza is on the menu most nights, and you can even take a hot bath outside in the garden if you like.
Terra-Khaya is further up the road, hidden from, well, pretty much everything, but the newly finished main building (Terra-Khaya meaning ‘Earth House’) is an amazing structure, and the food cooked there is excellent.
Elundini Backpackers is located further back down the valley in a small rural Xhosa village. For foreign visitors or South Africans who are open to experiencing traditional Xhosa culture, and are keen to meet the locals and get involved with the community, the lodge — run by Xhosa husband Elliott Sonjani and Belgian wife Lieve Claessen — is the place to visit.
Whether you go for the fairies, the tree-hugging, the adventure of mountain biking and abseiling, or to simply get away from the bustle of city life, Hogsback feels like a very special place in South Africa. It’s about a four-hour drive from Port Elizabeth or two hours from East London, through the wild, wide open spaces that are the Eastern Cape. It’s a ‘one road in, one road out’ kind of town, and one that leaves a strong impression on all who visit.