Is this the Shire? Finding oneself in scenic Hogsback

“I was taking a leak in the forest last night, and I swear, I saw a fairy! It was glowing in the dark!” [written 17 September 2014]

Stuart Buchanan
4 min readJan 19, 2018
Whether it’s fairies or landscapes you’re after, Hogsback’s got it

It only takes a few stories like this from the occasional visitor to Hogsback to keep the magic and mystery of this beautiful corner of the Eastern Cape alive.

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.

The view of one of the hogs from the garden at Away With The Fairies
The area is covered is dense forest and lush vegetation, making it a must-see for nature lovers

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.

Clay hogs can be purchased from local craftsmen in Hogsback’s main road

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.

Fog rolls in over Hogsback’s famous labyrinth

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.

Talk a stroll through the Arboretum, and visit the 39 Steps waterfall, and the giant redwoods
Sequoia sempervirens, better known as the California redwood, can be found in Hogsback. The five redwoods in the Arboretum are all over a century old

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.

Rush hour on Hogsback’s main road
This sign outside Butterfly’s Bistro demonstrates the laid-back spirit of the town

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.

The cliffside bar at Away With The Fairies provides a perfect spot for sundowners

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.

Local entertainment in the form of Voices of Tselamanzi, a group from a village near Alice, perform at Elundini Backpackers
Walking tours through the small village of Elundini start at the backpackers

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.

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