Nestled in the Amatola Mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape is the charming – some would say mystical – village called Hogsback. Located 138,5 km (86 miles) from East London and 263,9 km (164 miles) from Port Elizabeth, which is the largest city in the Eastern Cape, the exact origin of the settlement’s name remains a mystery. One theory is that ‘Hogsback’ is a reference to the shape of the three main mountain peaks, which resemble a hog’s back, while another maintains that it was named after Captain Hogg, a commander of nearby Fort Michell.
The area is home to a community of artists, sculptors and free spirits, all of whom are inspired by the peace and magical allure of their natural surroundings. One of those artists is Patrick Smith, who has created the Fairy Realm. Visitors are able to meander through the extensive gardens on his property and enjoy hundreds of fairy sculptures displayed in and among the foliage. The tranquil silence of the Fairy Realm is broken only by the sounds of birds and the trickle of water from various water features in the garden. Indeed, a distinct mythical theme is evident throughout the area; the delightful backpackers’ accommodation are called Away with the Fairies, for example.
The name of the the lodging also reflects a wider connection to the writings of JRR Tolkien, who was born in Bloemfontein. Parts of the Hogsback area, such as Middle Earth and Hobbiton (an educational and leadership camp for school children), are a nod to the charming fictional world in his books. Although there are several references to Tolkien’s works, he never actually visited Hogsback. Another monument to Mother Earth, art, science and the thread that links them all can be found at the Eco-Shrine, built by artist, Diane Graham. Visitors are able to view dozens of oil paintings and mosaics displayed in intricate sculptures with the mountains and valleys providing the perfect backdrop.
Hogsback offers visitors the opportunity to view several impressive waterfalls, and the various hikes to the these cater to different levels of fitness. Firstly, there is the comfortable and short walk from the main road to 39 Steps Falls, obviously named for its step-like formation. The walk leads through the Arboretum, which is filled with trees from across the globe. Secondly, there is a somewhat steep hike through an indigenous forest to the Madonna and Child Waterfall, which is my personal favourite. It’s a walk that seems even more strenuous on the way back up. These falls are named after a jutting rock formation that is meant to represent the Madonna and her newborn baby. Visitors are able to get right under the waterfall, providing opportunities for stunning photographs, while the more adventurous might choose to take a dip in the pool below the falls.
Swallowtail Falls is the third must-see waterfall in the area. The walk to the top is an enjoyable one, and the horizontal path follows a steadily flowing stream. One is able to stand at the very top of the falls, but those who suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights are advised to stand back from the edge. The final recommended cascade is Kettlespout. It presents visitors with a spectacular spray of mist, which resembles the steam escaping from a kettle, if there is a steady flow of water.
The Labyrinth at The Edge is the ideal spot for those in need of self-reflection and a serene spot for contemplation. The Labyrinth, one of the largest of its kind in the world, was designed to mirror the one in the Chartres Cathedral in France. It is located near the edge of a cliff, so walkers of the maze can enjoy the scenery of the mountains and the valley below, and they may even spot some of the region’s bird life. There is a restaurant and accommodation at The Edge, as well as a small market and a plant nursery.
Hogsback epitomises the expression “off the beaten track,” yet every visitor is guaranteed to fall under its spell. It has also managed to preserve its magical ethos by remaining rustic; it has not been commercialised or overrun by five-star hotels and shopping malls. There is a beauty and peace here that is unlike anywhere else in the world. Even for those who don’t believe in fairies.