Anybody who has visited the Drakensberg will know that the Berg is not exactly the same as the majestic mountains we have in the Western Cape, but the Berg is a close second in Jeanne-Louise Wiese’s books. So follow her advice and when passing through the Eastern Cape take the scenic route through the mountains and detour to the little town of Hogsback.
Funny enough, the name has nothing to do with hogs. Some say that it’s because one of the three peaks that overlook the village resembles a Hog’s Back, which is a geological term describing that particular rock formation. In Xhosa, the surrounding area is called Qabimbola, after the red clay which they used to paint their faces.
The town’s history reaches back to 1848 when Thomas Baines passed through it on his travels through South Africa. One of the first inhabitants was Thomas Summerton, a gardener from Oxford, who attempted to re-create the English countryside at Hogsback. Today you can see this legacy throughout the town with apple orchards, hazelnut avenues and flowering gardens scattered across the landscape. Forestry activities started in 1883 and the Hogsback pass was opened in 1932.It is still the only tar road accessing the town. There are a few gravel roads around the area that lead to the town, all of which can be explored on a mountain bikebut should not be attempted with a small vehicle.
If you really want to experience the beauty of this place, you have to head into the single tracks which lead through the forests, up the mountains, past the numerous waterfalls and up to some spectacular views.There is a 22km Green Madonna Loop, a Blue route, the Tor Doone route and many more options. All information regarding the MTB trails can be obtained from the tourist office in town.
The Amatola Mountains and Amatola Forest in the Hogsback area are often claimed as being the sources of inspiration for J.R.R Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings.You can clearly see why when you trek through the secretive forests. It doesn’t take much to imagine how fairies, trolls, elves and wizards could make their home there.After some challenging climbs, when looking down from the mountains onto the fertile plains of the Tyume Valley, one can see the patches of indigenous forest where a rich variety of birdlife thrives, including wailing cisticola, African pipit, reed cormorant, red-billed duck, loerie and parrot.
These forests are scattered with spectacular waterfalls like the Madonna and Child, Swallowtail and Kettlespout. The Kettlespout waterfall bursts through a natural spout in the rocks and, during windy conditions creates a feathery plume some 9 metres high. The rivers which feed these waterfalls are also mostly stocked with trout and feature crystal clear water, perfect for cooling down after a long and challenging cycling trip around those parts. And if you take some time to quietly sit and wait you might be lucky enough to spot the Cape clawless otter, mongoose, bushbuck, duiker or vervet monkeys.
A word of caution though, when planning a cycling trip in the winter, it is important to remember that these mountains do get a lot of snow, swirling mists and frightening thunderstorms. Which for most adventure seekers would mean an additional thrill and more reasons to visit. Just dress for cold weather. If you need a local contact to help plan your trip, give Cycle Roots a call on 073 567 9487 or drop by the shop in the Hogsback Main Road. The owner, Neels du Toit, set up many of the single tracks around town, so he’s the best possible source of local riding knowledge.
The area is unspoilt and the locals would prefer to keep it that way. So please take care not to litter, stick to the marked trails and leave only tread tracks when riding out in the forests of the enigmatic town of Hogsback.