The Hogsback Trails have gone next-level thanks to some sweet trail-building by Neels du Toit. Yup, go get your crank on along the Puffadder, Stihl and Veldfokus Runs. Photographs and words by Jacques Marais.
You can’t help sensing the enchantment of Hogsback when you drive into this hideaway village high within the Amathole Mountain ranges of the Eastern Cape. A scattering of rustic cottages and historic inns slumber here amidst foundling forests and cascading waterfalls veiling down steep cliffs, and it is arguably as close as you’ll ever get to ‘The Shire’ from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels.
A GPS glitch en route diverted us onto a ‘mission impassible’ bundu bash along Mitchell’s Pass, in itself a helluva mountain bike ride via Seymour. In the end we made it there thanks to the internal combustion grunt of the TrailBlazer, which negotiated a gauntlet of rocks and dongas to get us to the brilliant Hogsback Arminel Hotel, ever so slightly shaken and stirred.
It did not take long for us to settle into their secluded chalets, set deep within the natural woodland surrounds, before setting off to explore the many treasures of Hogsback. Off the bike, you can explore the Fairy Sanctuary walks, go on waterfall treks, brave high-ropes courses at Hobbiton, or meander along the labyrinth at The Edge.
The snow did not arrive, but the icy weather and morning frost made for a real ‘Xmas in July’ feel. Indulge at a number of eateries and delis, but take into account that this is a ‘slow village’, with no hurries or worries. Butterfly Bistro is an excellent spot with great pizzas and excellent coffee, plus they have Emerald Vale Pale Ale craft beer on tap.
Spring is a great time to hit ‘The Hog’, especially if you can wait for the trails to dry out a bit after the great winter wet. The trail network has been gradually upgraded; first by Stuart Forsyth (www.awaywiththefairies.co.za) and more recently by adventure operator, Neels du Toit (www.hogsbackadventures.co.za).
Everything goes, from leisurely gravel road cranks to super-tubing a selection of forest singletrack especially crafted by MTB-minded folk such as Neels. The man himself unfortunately couldn’t ride with me due to a broken collar bone, but he soon put me in the picture as to the latest singletrack additions.
Your best bet is to stick to the original trailhead from the village, following Oak Avenue out towards Robinson Dam (6.5km). Turn left just before the dam and keep left on a jeep track at the fork for a couple of kays of steep climbing, until you see the start of the Stihl singletrack to your right (9.8km).
Give it gas along this rooty descent, kick-assing amidst alien stands of rooikrantz until you blast back into the open. A short gravel track connects you onto Veldfokus (13.4km), an open, gritty track leading back past the dam before blasting you all the way to the start of the Puffadder Run (15.1km).
This is kiffness personified, with loads of lazy, zigzag tracks tripping through old-growth forest and over mountain streams. Watch the slippery wooden bridges and steep exposure as you ghost the tranquil woods until you eventually T-bone with a gravel road (19.1km) that doglegs to the right onto Wolfridge Road (19.8km).
You could add two further short single-track sections (the Pine and Blackwood Runs), plus a number of other footpaths. Local knowledge is your best bet, though, so join Neels for a guided tour of around 3-4 hours to meander past the many waterfalls and Hogsback viewpoints down in the valley. Most of the single-track sections are clearly marked with yellow ‘Cycle Roots’ arrows or you can download a basic map from the web.
Trailhead is at Hogsback Information Centre. Turn off the N2 at King William’s Town onto the R63, follow it north west before turning north onto the R345 to Hogsback. The Hogsback Information Centre is on the main road on your left .
FAST FACTS BLOCK: Hogsback Puffader Run
GRADING: Intermediate (technical in a few places)
CONFIGURATION: Circular/Return options of 18-31km
START POINT: Hogsback Adventures, at 9 Main Road
TERRAIN: Gravel road, jeep-track and superb single-track
POST-RIDE BEER: Wizard’s Sleeve Inn | www.awaywiththefairies.co.za
MUST-DO EVENT: Lord of the Chain Rings Stage Race | www.ecmtb.co.za
ACCESS: Permits cost – R30 from Hogsback Adventures
CELL RECEPTION: Good reception along most of route
ACCOMMODATION: Can’t beat the Arminel Hotel – www.katleisure.co.za
GPS Coordinates: 32.598233 S / 26.938633 E
Where Are We?
Hogsback is a quaint village in the Amathole Mountains of the central Eastern Cape. First mention of the town comes from the diaries of the painter Thomas Baines and alongside its rather English weather; efforts were made during Victorian era to recreate an English country feel to the village, especially through gardening.