EVEN if you live at the coast, beach holidays are usually the stuff of dreams, be they exotic beaches in places like Mauritius or Zanzibar, or more locally, the beautiful child and dog-friendly beaches which stretch from Chinsta to Kini Bay and beyond.
But every now and then there’s a need for a holiday with a difference – but where to go to, especially if you are looking for a child and animal-friendly destination which is not too far from home?
The answer is pretty obvious really. Hogback, with its stunning walks, fresh air and a host of things to do is a mere three-and-a-half hour drive from Port Elizabeth. It’s also just two hours from East London.
Passing through Alice with relative ease – where the sprawling spaza shopping complex has been replaced with a pristine new shopping mall – you begin winding up the hill where the scenery changes dramatically.
Suddenly you find yourself enveloped in an English-style village, which offers a whole array of accommodation options to choose from.
If, however, if you want to spoil the family, look no further than the impressive King’s Lodge, which is pretty much your first stop as you enter the village.
It has all the amenities, from an indoor pool for winter to a spacious outdoor pool for summer splashes. And while it may be a tad chilly in Hogsback at this time of year, there is a genuine warmth to the reception t you will receive on arriving at King’s Lodge, where log fires stave off the chills and the relaxed management style of husband and wife team Craig and Lana Els make you feel instantly at home.
In fact, the guest information book in your room urges you to feel right at home and it’s an invitation that’s hard to ignore. The queen-sized beds in the cosy en-suite rooms feature lots of fluffy blankets and pillows. For the evenings, there are oil heaters and electric blankets and, appropriately enough, a king-sized bath in which to wallow before exploring the rest of the hotel. It’s also a great refuge after tackling one of the walks Hogsback is famous for.
The hotel itself has double rooms which are ideal for couples, and, while cots can be added on request, families with children are better advised to book into the fully-equipped self- catering cottages which are perfect for families – and which allow children the freedom of being able to run around outside.
Pets are also welcome in the self-catering cottages. If you go the self-catering route, you would be well-advised to book at least one or two meals in the restaurant or cosy bar, with resident chef Adam Tomkins cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
There are informal pub meals around the fire, with the menu including home-made soup, deep- fried prawns (highly recommended), burgers, chicken wraps and vegetarian options.
There’s also a simple but tasty dessert. With comfort food like macaroni cheese also on the menu, it’s well worth trying and very affordable.
But it is the Sunday lunch that should be a must on any visitors to-do list, even if you are not staying at King’s Lodge.
On the Sunday we were there it was warm enough to sit in the courtyard and, while soaking up the winter sun, enjoy a three- course buffet lunch.
Starters were salad and home-made olive bread, followed by a veritable feast. On the carnivore side there was rare roast beef, succulent pork with tons of crispy crackling and roast chicken. Accompaniments were roast potatoes, a Mediterranean veg medley, rice, carrots and, of course, lashings of gravy. It’s honest, tasty, home-cooked food – and a lot of it at that for the modest R80 price tag, and includes brownies and home-made ice-cream.
Still on food, don’t miss out on the delicious breakfast buffet of cereal, bacon and egg or, should the mood take you, have Adam whip you up a mouth-watering omelette.
But Hogsback is not all about food and comfort, it’s also about the opportunity to explore one of the most stunning parts of the Eastern Cape.
We were lucky enough to be driven around by Adam’s wife, Sugne, who has spent most of her life in Hogsback and is therefore a natural guide – but actually she is co-owner of a sawmill.
First she took us to the Wolfridge Dam with its dramatic backdrop of one of the three Hog Mountains, after which the area is named. This area used to have attractive picnic spots but lack of funding has sadly seen these, and other facilities, fall into disarray.
From there we went to the 39 Steps, an easy walk for just about all-comers to one of the area’s many pristine waterfalls.
After that, with Sugne keeping us informed of important people and happenings, we popped in at the recently restored St Patricks on the Hill church.
It’s predecessor burnt down on June 20 2011, with the new church being extended to accommodate more worshippers of all regions.
A contemplative prayer walk is also now featured in the grounds.
From there, we headed off to the microwave tower, where the scenery changes dramatically from the traditional forest to mountain-top views and from where we watched in awe as the setting sun cast warm winter glows on the land before finally setting in majestic splendour.
It was with reluctance that we left but the chills were well and truly settling in so it was back to King’s Lodge for a hot bath before joining locals in the cheerful pub where a roaring log fire and delicious pub meal awaited us. Then it was off to the rooms for a great night’s sleep to prepare for more exploration the following day. But more of that in a few weeks.