By MICHELLE SOLOMON and JAI CLIFFORD-HOLMES
NESTLED on a plateau of the Amatola Mountains in the midst of a cool, prehistoric forest lies Hogsback, a small settler village with one main street and bursting with personality.
Hogsback residents form part of a close-knit community of environmental activists, tourism professionals, adventurers and creative craft makers. Hogsback has also become the region’s hippie metropolis, as people who’ve ascribed to the subculture’s lifestyle descend on the mountain-top town.
The King’s Lodge Hotel, formerly the Ambleside Hotel and Health Resort, was built in the ’60s, and is a prime wedding and conferencing venue in Hogsback.
Its restaurant provides home- cooked food for those guests who would like a break from cooking for themselves, with an incredible Friday night buffet and Sunday lunch.
The hotel is also family-friendly, offering self-catering cottages for up to four people as well as a babysitting service for parents who want to leave their kids in safe hands while they tackle a hike or go out for dinner.
As autumn settles and moves into winter, the temperature in Hogsback plummets. The many beautiful alien invasive maple trees’ leaves start turning from green to an iridescent orange, and finally a searing red. The leaves from the oak trees and sycamore trees were the first to turn brown and tumbled off the trees with the slightest breeze, covering paths with a thick and crunchy layer of noisy leaves – hours of play time for young ones or the young at heart.
The cool chill of the evenings make walking around the small town a brisk exercise, but worth the walk when you walk into the Butterfly’s Bistro for dinner and drinks. The small restaurant bursts with warmth – both from its fireplace and the people who make their home there.For the introverts who prefer a quiet night in, the invariable Hogsback fireplace is a relaxing spot to snuggle up and read your latest fantasy noir novel or sci-fi thriller.
But Hogsback isn’t only for the bookworms and creative introverts, it also caters for the thrill-seeking adventurer.
Neels du Toit from Cycle Roots has spent years developing and clearing mountain-biking trails .
His trails take cyclists to some of Hogsback’s renowned sites, as well as lesser-known beauties deep in the primordial forests of the mountainside.
Du Toit’s story is inextricably connected with cycling in Hogsback: he stumbled across derelict mountain-bike trials while volunteering at the Away with the Fairies backpackers in Hogsback in 2010, and since then, has been busy clearing old trials and creating new ones. When he began, he approached the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Amatole Forestry Company (AFC) for permission and support, but with no budgets available, Du Toit undertook to clear the trails himself.
Cyclists should be warned that they might be struck with a dilemma while going down these runs: to absorb the ambience afforded by the forest vistas around them requires going slowly, but to take advantage of the tracks as they were designed for, calls for bombing down at invigorating speeds.
From many perspectives, Hogsback is bursting with potential as a mountain-biking destination. One of the better-known races that draws cyclists from around the country is the Lord of the Chain Rings multi-day race.
Traditionally held in November, and with the fabled Tolkien connection with Hogsback in mind, this challenging event offers the promise of a journey worthy of its name.
Many parties are keen to see cycling develop further in Hogsback. This includes Shane Eades, owner of the local Terra Khaya “eco- lodge” and the newly-elected chair of the Participatory Forest Management (PFM) forum for Hogsback.
He describes the PFM as promoting ethical use of the forests, adding in the same breath that the growth of eco-tourism holds great promise for the region.
Originally published in the Daily Dispatch.