April, 2017: High up in the mountains above the eastern cape of South Africa is a rather random but no less gorgeous village called Hogsback. From the bustling town of Alice the R345 winds it’s way through rolling grassy hills, past cattle farmers and up into misty forest. Rumour has it that none other than J.R.R. Tolkien got inspiration for his epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings from the Amathole mountains surrounding Hogsback. Whether this is true or not is debatable but it gives you an idea of the stunning scenery which makes this kookie little place so special.
We drove into Hogsback late on a typically rainy afternoon. The soggy ground and continuous drizzle made us quickly give up on the idea of camping. Instead we happily took a few cosy beds in one of Away with the Fairies dorms and promptly moved to the fire lit bar for a cheeky pint. Away with the Fairies holds a beautiful spot on the edge of an escarpment with outstanding views into the mountains. While at times the staff seemed to put their backpacker’s name a little too much into action it’s arguably one of the more beautiful hostels we have stayed in. It also has an open air bathtub with an unbelievable view.
At some point some enterprising soul has taken a normal old bathtub and erected it on the edge of the escarpment. The bath was then hooked up to a ‘donkey’ to provide hot water. More on the donkey shortly. Guests at Away with the Fairies can book a 30 minute slot between 10am and dusk to enjoy the best bath in Africa…actually, maybe the world. The bath is down a secluded walkway where, if you find a rope strung across the path, it’s quite likely that some nude backpacker is enjoying a hot tub. I may or may not have got nude but damn it was a pretty amazing spot.
So about that donkey. A donkey is basically a 44 gallon steel drum laid on it’s side over a wood fire with a float valve that ensures it’s always full of water. The key is, you need to allow enough time for the water to heat up over a well stoked fire. Our first bath ended up cooler than you’d want as the donkey only had 30 minutes to reheat the water after a previous bather. We didn’t make the same mistake twice so the next day we booked the first time slot and I went down an hour early and ensured that the donkey was well and truly stoked up. When it came time for our bath, the water was scolding hot and the view was clear and epic. A better bath I don’t think either of us have ever had.
The other thing which Hogback is known for is as a base for hiking in the Amathole mountains. The 5 day Amathole track can be started from Hogsback along with a bunch of lovely day hikes. While we didn’t have time to do the Amathole trek we did spend a highly enjoyable few hours exploring a waterfall and moseying along the pretty forest clad trails. If only we didn’t have a key stress where we thought we had lost the keys to our rental car it would have been a magic afternoon. As it turned out we basically ran the last few kilometres back to Away with the Fairies only to find the offending keys on the kitchen bench. Luckily the bar was open and the beer cold. We pulled up a bar stool and spent the rest of the afternoon chewing the fat with a few other thirsty punters.
What started as a one night visit extended to three. Thankfully the rain cleared away and we got some beautifully clear days to enjoy Hogsback. Truth be told we didn’t really move far from Away with the Fairies but happily so. It’s that kind of place. Perfect for doing not much at all.
The fine print
- During our stay we slept in a different room each night due to capacity issues and well, the staff being away with the fairies. On the positive side, this meant we sampled their 6 bed dorm (R160pp), an entry level private room (R200/double) and their deluxe suite (due to mix up we got this at the same price as the entry level room). While not the cheapest, all were very comfortable with lovely views.
- The staff at Away with the Fairies seemed full of information about the local area and the various hikes you can enjoy. Whether you want to go the full monty and do the whole Amathole hike or just a couple of hours like we did.