It was two days after Christmas with the temperature in Johannesburg sitting at a boiling 37 degrees. Abby (my American pit bull terrier) and I were desperately looking for some activity or adventure to keep us occupied during the holidays, and I knew that staying in Johannesburg was not going to be an option. We needed somewhere to go. It was time to hit the road!
Trying to find accommodation during one of the busiest times of the year was going to be a challenge (so I thought), and I figured looking for backpackers was going to be our best option.
Our requirements were simple: Find somewhere pet-friendly, with camping, preferably a backpackers’ or eco-lodge, ideally near the coast. It’s not always easy to find pet-friendly spots, but I knew I was going to need to spend some time researching to find the right place. There were a few spots that I liked, but in the end, I found out they weren’t pet-friendly—bummer.
There was one location that kept coming up during my internet searches that for whatever reason I kept ignoring: Hogsback. The town roughly 900 kilometres south of us, and at first glance, from a Google Maps perspective, it didn’t look appealing to me. Eventually, I found an article that mentioned an eco-lodge (Terra Khaya) that is fully self-sustainable, tucked away in a beautiful natural forest area of Hogsback. That description was exactly what I needed to hear. We were stoked!
Abby and I hit the road the next morning at 4:00 a.m. in our Ranger with a full tank (roughly 140 litres) and we spent a long, chilly 10 hours cruising the wide open roads of the Eastern Cape. Although the day was long, we were relaxed and had no timelines ahead of us. All of the roads that day were tar until we got to the last 60 kilometres to Hogsback which turned to dirt (my favorite). There was a welcoming stretch that skirted alongside cow pastures, hills, and wide open fields leading down into various rivers with small mountains in the background. As we got closer to Hogsback, the forest began to creep up on us. We wound down the road covered in shade from the trees above, with small, hand-painted wooden signs advertising various galleries and lodges—something only found in a few gems of South Africa. I knew right away that this place was going to be special.
We arrived at Terra Khaya that day around 2:00 p.m. and I parked the truck at the gate, shutting it behind me to make sure the horses didn’t get out. I found a spot to park, let Abby explore around a bit, and we followed the signs that led up to reception. It’s a rad 200- to 300-metre walk on a clay dirt path off into the woods, up a hill, down over a river and then up a steep hill with various campsites tucked amongst the trees to the beautiful lodge, built by the owner alongside a group of volunteers. I checked in as a tour of the place for a family that had just arrived from Cape Town was beginning.
During the tour, they remind you that this is an eco-lodge that is self-sustaining as it runs off of solar power. They utilize their gardens for the meals served in the evenings, have long drops for toilets, and there is a massive room adjacent to the kitchen with over 20 buckets used for recycling all types of products. I was very excited about all this.
Abby and I made our way back to the truck where we found a spot to call home for the next week. Finding level ground was a bit challenging, but I wasn’t too concerned with that. After an hour of setting up camp and letting Abby meet some of the horses and other dogs on the farm, I cracked open a beer, got my hammock set up, and began to settle into the feels of vacation.
Shortly after came the crazy part. As I lay in the hammock, I heard a new arrival meet up with his friends. As he walked past, we glanced at each other and immediately stopped ourselves. I knew this guy from somewhere. He remembered me and said, “Joe?” Warwick and I had met just two weeks before at our friend Ryan’s house the day before our Sabie Bubble Run. Ryan is our cinematographer, and I popped over to his house to drop some things off, and Warwick was there on the couch. We spoke for maybe 30 minutes and off I went.
After the shock of the serendipitous meeting 900 kilometers from home, I asked him what the hell he was doing in Hogsback. He and a few mates were travelling from Johannesburg for two-three weeks doing some rock climbing in various locations around South Africa (Hogsback, Montague, and finally ending at Table Mountain in Cape Town). Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved climbing things and had dreams of rock climbing one day. For as long as I can remember, one of the things I wanted to own was a climbing harness.
When Warwick mentioned they were spending the next few days climbing Hogsback Mountain, I immediately asked if he would mind if Abby and I joined them. He didn’t mind at all but warned me that they’d be leaving at 5:00 a.m. the next day. I’m an army veteran, and no one threatens me with an early morning call time! I was ready for the challenge! The rest of his crew was Mike, Steve, and Steve’s dog, Whiskey. I walked over to meet them, and I think they were just as surprised as I was that they’d have another guy joining them for climbing the next day. I felt this was going to be a good team.
The next morning, Abby and I woke up, made some coffee, and gathered up our things for the day. Just around 5:00 a.m. I saw head torches coming my way, and it was the guys walking up to Steve’s truck to get the day started. Steve’s truck is a single cab Ranger with a canopy, so he and Mike sat up front which left Warwick, Abby, Whiskey and myself to get comfortable in the back of the truck. It would be an hour or so of bouncing around in that Ranger. There is something truly fun and almost childlike of being in the back of a truck with two dogs, snaking up and down dirt roads with no idea where you’re going. Warwick and I spent the drive getting to know each other a little more, and I asked him a ton of questions about climbing.
We finally arrived at the spot on the mountain where we couldn’t drive any further and continued the rest of the way on foot. We all got out of the truck and started unloading the gear we’d need for the day. The hike in wasn’t too bad—a solid 45-minute walk up to the base of the crags and boy, was it beautiful. Walking alongside the mountain with crystal clear views of the small towns nearby was truly amazing.
Once we got to the base of the crags, Steve started going through his phone looking up a reference document that showed him the various climbing lines of the mountain. He kept using phrases like “multi-pitch,” “tradding,” “there’s a gnarly 21 over there,” and a whole bunch of other climbing speak—I had no idea what the hell he meant by any of it. I let it go for a while, but as the guys started gearing up for their climbs, I started asking questions about what all these phrases meant. I was glad I asked because from then on I had a good idea of what was going on and what routes I would not be able to climb.
Being that I’m not an experienced climber, I let the guys do their thing and offered up my assistance for constructing our shade spot for the day. Steve had brought a massive ground cover, and I had a boatload of paracord; Abby and I walked around to find a good spot where we could all settle down for breaks. The first part of the day was already in the shade, but when that sun finally came around, boy, did it get hot. I was a bit worried about Abby and the heat because anytime I’d go over to help belay one of the guys, Abby would be right there behind me just standing in the sun. She’s not much for letting me out of her sight.
One thing I came to love about the sport was the downtime we took away from the heat. In the middle of the day in full sun, it’s just too hot to climb, and you expend too much energy and lose too much water to manage. So, before starting our next round of climbing for the day, we camped out under our shaded area for a solid three hours listening to some tunes (I always travel with my Bluetooth speaker), wrote in our diaries, laughed, and fueled up our bodies with snacks.
We arrived back at camp that evening just in time for dinner. Abby and I were absolutely famished when we got back. I started the hike to the lodge only to find Abby standing near the truck, not wanting to make the hike up with me. So, I opened up the back seat of the truck for her, made sure her blankets were sorted out for a nap and left her there while I went to dinner.
The following day, we went back up the mountain where the weather was much more in our favour, with solid light cloud cover for the entire day. That evening’s hike after a day of climbing was quite interesting as the summit climb the guys had planned took a bit longer than expected, and we had a mere 15 minutes left before the sun would set with a 45-minute hike ahead of us. That wouldn’t be so bad if the skies were clear, but unfortunately, a storm was coming in, and with it brought a massive cloud of mist the whole hike back. The trail to the climbing wasn’t very well marked and isn’t used that often, so finding our way back in the dark with mist was a bit unnerving even with our head torches. Luckily, we made it back that evening with no problems; it was kind of fun to be tested like that.
That would be the last day of climbing that we would do in Hogsback as everyone needed a bit of rest, so we opted for lounging around camp, going on hikes, and doing as little as possible. Abby and I took a few morning and sunset drives around Hogsback to see what we could find. I’m usually not one for arts and crafts, but everywhere I travel to I search for blankets from that specific area and was able to find one in Hogsback. Since I was a young boy I’ve always carried a blanket with me and to be honest, I get the blankets for Abby.
Abby and I ended up staying in Hogsback for a solid week. It got to a point when I didn’t know what day it was and that’s always a sign of a good holiday). Although I was sad to be leaving, I was filled with an immense sense of joy and felt that this spontaneous trip to Hogsback was precisely what my soul had been looking for. Outside of my happiness, I could see how much Abby had enjoyed our time at Hogsback with the backpackers. She spent days lying under the truck in the shade, following around the horses, greeting all the locals, and eventually, got very used to being carried out of the rooftop tent.
Thanks to the guys I met along the way, I’ve since joined a local climbing gym, bought all the introductory gear, and Abby and I will be heading out on our first official rock climbing trip with Steve and Whiskey to Waterval Boven here in South Africa. Apparently, it’s recognized around the world as an amazing place to climb. Follow our adventures along the way with #AdventuresWithAbby.