TAKE A HIKE

On this trail through an­cient, in­dige­nous forests you can see three wa­ter­falls!

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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.

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