Despite having been two hours away from Hogsback for the past three years, I visited it for the first time with my family in March. It took me only half a day of being there to realise that it isn’t simply a place of natural beauty. It’s mystical.
Situated in the Amathole Mountains of the Eastern Cape, Hogsback was once rumoured to be the inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Called Qabimbola by the amaXhosa before white settlers arrived, the name Hogsback is supposedly derived from the three peaks that appear to be shaped like, you guessed it, a hog’s back.
About three hours away from Port Elizabeth, Hogsback was originally inhabited by the Khoi and San people. The Amathole region later became a site of conflict between the British colony and the amaXhosa tribes for a staggering 100 years. Today, Hogsback is a sanctuary from contemporary life. Trevor Webster, author of The Story of Hogsback, writes that the town “has restorative powers that draw out the good in people through its simple, natural way of life”.
St Patrick’s Chapel
On our first day there, we visited the quaint St Patrick’s Chapel. Originally a small round church, it burnt down in 2010 but was rebuilt, and is possibly the only church in South Africa that’s always open and without locks. There, we came across an affectionate young dog that accompanied us on the Prayer Walk, which overlooks the greenery of the Afromontane forests.
The same dog joined us again two days later while lunching at the Butterfly’s Bistro, a vibrant restaurant that boasts a diverse menu and exciting pizzas.
Crystal Corner shop at the Mirrors gardens
The small community of Hogsback is made up of an eclectic group, from retirees to hippies, and combinations thereof, but they all seem to possess the same tranquil energy. Photographer Ken Harvey (a believer-in-fairies and giver-of-hugs) welcomed us with sheer openness at the Crystal Corner shop at the Mirrors gardens. He took us around his property, which is home to a wishing tree, labyrinth and stone circle, as well as a gallery of his magical photographs of Hogsback.
The residents ostensibly live their lives around the landscape. Diana Graham, an artist who’s been living in Hogsback for more than 20 years, built her artwork, the Eco-Shrine, as homage to the environment. Graham guides each visitor through her set of sculptures and paintings, using it as a tool to educate people about how our global culture has accelerated climate change.
In the Arboretum, one of the oldest gardens in Hogsback, is another site of prayer. An outdoor “church”, simply made up of logs to sit on, lies in an open area amid gigantic 100-year-old Californian redwoods. A few minutes away is the 39 Steps Falls and a path to the bottom of Tor Doone, which, should you wish to attempt its difficult summit, will take you three to five hours, but provides a 360-degree view of Hogsback.
Swallowtail and Boiling Pot
Walking, biking or more adventurous activities such as abseiling are part of the Hogsback experience. The Swallowtail and Boiling Pot walk takes you to the top of the plummeting Swallowtail Falls and provides a glorious view of the Alice region. A steep and rocky descent leads to the Madonna and Child Falls, Hogsback’s highest waterfall. A longer route there goes past the Big Tree, an ancient yellow-wood known as the Eastern Monarch.
An easier, but more confusing walk, can be found at the Labyrinth, different to the one at Mirrors gardens. Located at the Edge Mountain Retreat and overlooking the road leading out of Hogsback, the Labyrinth is one of the largest in the world with a walking distance of 1,4 km. Time stops as you wind yourself to its centre, only to find a painting of green mountains and blue sky ahead of you.
Time seems to have never moved in Hogsback. Life flourishes and energy flows seamlessly. Some, like Harvey, claim to have seen that energy in the form of fairies. The Fairy Realm, home to the Camelot cottages, has a 500 m meander called the Fairy Walk. Along this garden path, you’ll find sculptures of different fairies, some watching TV, others laughing playfully. Signs indicate each fairy’s name and what they are the fairies of (love, fun, peace). Others say things like, “A rustle in the wind tells us a fairy is near!” Even a unicorn appears.
I did not see a fairy, but I suppose if I was to ever see one it would be in Hogsback.