Keen for a bit of adventure without leaving the Eastern Cape, a Daily Dispatch reporter and a photographer – armed with a notebook, camera and bucket loads of enthusiasm – took to the road.
Our mission: Hit the N6, pass through Stutterheim, then on to Alice, Hogsback, Seymore, Whittlesea to Komani (formerly Queenstown) and report back on all the excitement and thrills.
Our first overnight stop was in Hogsback, a quaint little town situated high up in the Amathole Mountains.
After negotiating the twists and turns of the winding road which leads to the town, we were greeted by the sight of a little village so beautiful it resembles a scene from a movie.
Heeding autumn’s call, most of the leaves on much of the lush vegetation were a mixture of orange and yellow, with mountain views visible from almost every corner of the town.
Despite there being no available tourism office to assist visitors on the sights and activities the town has to offer, there is a map available from some of the stores in town which has local activities clearly marked.
With the town having a single main road, it is easy enough to navigate.
Activities in Hogsback include a walk to the 9m-wide, 2000-year-old tree known as the Eastern Monarch, an opportunity to view a series of sculptures and paintings in the Eco-Shrine, a visit to one of the oldest gardens in the region to see the trees in the Arboretum, as well as beautiful hikes, including one to a waterfall and a spiritual walk in what is said to be the world’s biggest labyrinth’s situated at The Edge.
There is also a tranquil meander through the Fairy Realm – a 500m walk through a charming garden dotted with several fairy sculptures and dragon fountains.
For the more adventurous, the town also offers abseiling, cycle tours, archery and horse-riding.
Fairy Realm owner Patrick Smith said eight years ago he began carving and moulding an assortment of fairies, dragons and gnomes based on images from his dreams. He decided to give each sculpture a name and has laid them out in the garden of his bed and breakfast establishment with a brief explanation of which energies he believes they bring to one’s life.
As the sculptures, made from cement, steel or clay, proved popular with visitors, he started making more, giving rise to the walk which takes in all 130 creations.
A few minutes from this fantasy garden is the Hobbiton camping site which offers guests dormitory accommodation plus a host of outdoor activities which include abseiling, zip-lining and guided hikes in the surrounding forest.
Not ones to shy away from a challenge, photographer Sino Majangaza and I gave in to the goading by Hobbiton instructor Xolani Nxuzula and decided to try abseiling for ourselves.
Getting kitted up and climbing up the steep staircase to the man-made abseiling platform was easy enough. But viewing the world from 9m up was a life-changing experience. I was immediately dizzy and it took much convincing from Nxuzula to trust the safety of the ropes and to lean back so I could begin my descent.
After several deep breaths, I took the plunge, shouting out with pure exhilaration as I discovered the rush the activity offers.
From there, it was off to a hike through the dense vegetation of the Tyume Indigenous Forest Trails to find one of the waterfalls Hogsback has to offer.
We decided to visit the “Madonna and Child”, a waterfall which got its name from the shape of the rock face which is said to resemble a mother and a child. The hike to the waterfall is down a somewhat steep 150m trail dotted with handrails and stairs.
For me, the mere sight of the waterfall is majestic enough, but for an adrenalin junkie like Neels du Toit, the owner of Hogsback Adventures, a 35m abseil down the waterfall rock face is a must.
Du Toit also offers guided mountain bike tours and archery.
Speaking to the Dispatch team, Du Toit said there were very few local tourists who visit the town, with most of his clientele from overseas.
A tourist from Austria, Katrina Lautrup, said abseiling down the waterfall was a complete rush everyone should try at least once in their life.
The veterinary science student, who is temporarily based in Chintsa, said she and her friends visited Hogsback every two weeks to check on animals and experience some adventure.
“It’s such a rush. It’s really scary to go over but after that it’s an easy way down. I think everyone should try something like this at least once in their life.”
To pay homage to Mother Nature, artists Diana Graham created The Shrine, a circular brick structure lined with both paintings and sculptures which speak about the relationship between humans, plants and animals.
Graham calls it a place of respect for planet Earth as a whole.
Each painting or sculpture is labelled with a different name and placed in such a way that it faces away from the sun.
The shrine was built by Graham more than 20 years ago, with a little help from a local builder.
One painting depicts a woman’s body with trees and water inside her body. This, Graham explained, is to show that humans should not lead by ego alone but always remember nature is an important part of life too.
“This is a very spiritual place which I think should be suitable for everyone,” she said.
“This does not need to interfere with one’s religion. This shrine is here just to show that all life is connected. The idea to make this came from my involvement in the feminism movement. There was this message women are treated badly by men and nature was being treated just as badly by man.
“Then came the thought that if women ran the world we would be much gentler on the Earth than man had been. The thought led to my paintings which depict women at the centre of creation. But this is not directed at men or women, it’s just directed at humans in general.”
For someone looking for balance in their lives, a walk around the labyrinth situated at The Edge Mountain Retreat may provide just that.
The 11-circuit labyrinth – which measures 29m in diameter with a circumference of 91m – covers a total distance walk of 1.4km to reach the centre.
A labyrinth has been used by many as a path to spiritual discovery, to enhance meditative states, induce prayerful attitudes and increase intimacy between lovers.
Situated in the backdrop of beautiful mountain ranges and surrounded by trees and plants, the labyrinth made the perfect stop ahead of a hectic day. Standing in the centre and breathing in lungfuls of the clean mountain air cleared all the clutter taking up space in my head, allowing me to remain focused.
After that, it was back on the road again.
On our way to Komani, we made a brief stop at the Mphofu Game Reserve, situated roughly 78km from Hogsback. We were unfortunately not allowed to see any animals because of hunting season which only ends in September.
In Seymore, the tourism office had become an abandoned building, without much to see in the town save for the agricultural animals.
Komani tourist guide Tsepo Moerane – of 045.Com Tours and Events – said Komani was a jazz town.
According to Moerane, jazz events are regularly held in the city at certain restaurants or event halls, although for tourists it was by arrangement.
“We also specialise in township tours where we give tourists a glimpse of township life. There are many restaurants where they can eat and relax,” he said.
For animal lovers, the Lawrence de Lange Game Reserve offers an opportunity to view white rhino, giraffe, Burchell’s zebra, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, gemsbok, lechwe, nyala, blesbok, kudu, Cape eland, fallow deer, mountain reedbuck, impala, springbok, duiker and steenbok.
The reserve is situated just north of the town and covers 1700ha which include the Maderia Mountain.
The drive through the reserve was easy enough to navigate as the roads are well maintained, with the animals grazing close to the trails.
We were lucky enough to have a curious rhino meandering close to our car, breaking out into a rapid trot as it came closer, ending off our adventure on a high note of screeching tyres and squeals of fear and laughter. — firstname.lastname@example.org