TAKE A HIKE
On this trail through ancient, indigenous forests you can see three waterfalls!
Explore the damp and magical forest surrounding Hogsback.
THREE LITTLE PIGS (above). This trail starts in the mountain village of Hogsback, from where you can see the backs of the three “hogs”.
FOREST AND FALLS (opposite page, clockwise from left). The Madonna and Child Waterfall might not really resemble Rembrandt’s famous painting, but it’s an astonishing “artwork” in its own right. You can’t miss the Big Tree, a 37 m-high, ancient yellowwood, on your hike. The trail weaves its way through indigenous forest. (This photo was taken on the section between Swallowtail and Bridal Veil falls.)
MADONNA AND CHILD WATERFALL, HOGSBACK
There are two starting points for this magical hike from the village of Hogback through indigenous forest to the Madonna and Child waterfall. You can pick up the trail at the parking lot on the main road at the lower end of Hogsback, just next to the police station. Or, as we did, you can start at the cliff-top viewpoint just below Away with the Fairies Backpackers. Before setting off, take a moment to appreciate the view across the deep valley with the Tyume River at the bottom, to the golden cliffs of Hogsback itself (1 845 m). The mountain was apparently named during the Frontier Wars by British soldiers who thought that the rocky ridges on its summit resembled the bristles on a wild boar’s back. To the left is Hog 2 and behind is Hog 3, officially called Mnyameni Peak, which is the highest hog at 1 936 m. From the viewpoint, the path contours around the boundary fence of the backpackers’ then drops steeply down some wooden steps into evergreen indigenous forest. The afromontane forest feels similar to the Knysna Forest – with its lofty ironwoods, stinkwoods and yellowwoods, many of which are labelled for easy ID – except that this forest is alive with big, green Cape parrots. The best time to hear and see these rare, highly localised birds is at dawn and dusk. Knysna turacos can also be seen hopping from branch to branch. Even more unusual are the oversized worm heaps that you’ll probably slip on. The African giant earthworm that produces these heaps is typically over a metre long! After about 500 m you’ll pass some old saw pits. This section of forest was harvested commercially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Continuing down the escarpment on the rocky path takes you into proper virgin forest, which is said to be the oldest in South Africa. Ancient trees tower over you, forming a dense canopy, while the lower branches and saplings are draped with moss and lichen. Fallen boughs on the forest floor are covered in colourful fungi. It’s a dark, damp and bewitching place. After about 40 minutes of hiking (about 2 km), you’ll arrive at the Big Tree. This ginormous yellowwood is the biggest and oldest in the Eastern Cape, standing about 37 m high with a girth of nearly 10 m. No one knows
exactly how old it is, but estimates range from 800 to 2 000 years. The fruit of the yellowwood is the favourite food of the Cape parrot; if you haven’t seen one yet then pause here for a while. Keep your eye on the canopy and you might also see an elusive narina trogon; look down and an orange ground thrush could be hopping about. About 400 m further on, look for a less distinct, unmarked path to the left that leads up to Swallowtail Falls. Getting to the base of this inverted, V-shaped waterfall involves a 15-minute scramble up the steep and slippery banks of the Swallowtail River. Return the same way and rejoin the main path – now a contour path on the slopes of a ridge – until you reach another stream. (This stream is about 3,5 km from the trailhead.) If you scramble up the path to the left for another 15 minutes or so, you’ll get to Bridal Veil Falls, which – you guessed it – fans out like a veil when the river is flowing well. Admire the falls, retrace your steps and continue to a boardwalk where you’ll descend again. As you approach the Tyume River, look out for another boardwalk that branches off to the right. This short detour leads to a wonderful swimming hole and a cave at the foot of another small waterfall. It’s a good place for a break, and for a dip if you’re feeling brave. Once you’re back on the main boardwalk, the trail climbs steeply to Madonna and Child Falls, the biggest waterfall in the area, which is named after a rock feature that apparently once looked like the famous Rembrandt painting. If your imagination doesn’t allow you to spot the likeness, don’t worry: Apparently the “Madonna” part fell off about 50 years ago! Only the “Child” remains… From this point you have a choice. Carrying on involves a steep, 460 m climb to another trailhead on the Wolfridge gravel road. From there it’s about a 3 km walk west back into town. A better alternative is to retrace your steps. Walking in the other direction allows you to discover the forest all over again. You’ll notice all sorts of treasures that you might have missed on the way in, like groves of ferns, patches of moss, birds, butterflies and other forest creatures. There’s a steep climb out of the forest at the end, but refreshments are not far away.