Terra Khaya Backpackers
Deep in the magical wonderland that is Hogsback, perched up in the Amathole mountains far along a rutted farm road lies Terra Khaya Backpackers, an eco-friendly backpackers on Chillington Farm.
Terra Khaya Backpackers Quick Facts
Accommodation type: Backpackers with dorms, camping and private double rooms - self-catering and catering.
Where: In the tiny village of Hogback in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Drive through the village of Hogsback. Turn left into Plaatjieskraal Rd. Follow Plaatjieskraal through 2 dips. At the top of the second valley turn right at the 'Mafika Pottery' sign. Immediately turn right again down the concrete strips. First left up the hill. At the top of the hill you will find Chillington Farm & Terra-Khaya. Drive slowly on Plaatjieskraal Rd, especially in wet weather.
GPS Coordinates: S 32 34 50 E 26 54 44
Sleeps: Singles to families
Rates: Camping from R60 per person a night,Dorms from R120 a night. Doubles R285, Triples R405, Quads R525 per person a night (all including breakfast).
Catering: R70 per dinner a night, self-caterers will be charged R15 per night towards costs.
Secure Parking: Yes
Green in Africa Eco-rating: 5/5
+27 (0)82 897 7503
Terra Khaya is the real deal - off the grid with just enough solar power to charge minor electrical appliances, water sourced from the stream and wattle-powered heating and cooking, offering accommodation that is a balm for the soul, with comfortable township-style shacks made from rubbish and wattle that look out over strikingly beautiful views.
Compost toilets, a permaculture garden and both rain and grey water harvesting complete the wholly eco-friendly picture.
“Terra”, meaning ‘earth’ in Latin and “Khaya”, being Xhosa for house is how this small piece of paradise acquired its name. It’s apt - given that the buildings are modeled on traditional rondavels (Xhosa houses) made from clay, mud and thatch.
This fusion of cultures and ideas - earth home, home of the earth - encapsulates Terra Khaya’s ethos - living in harmony with mother earth.
Owner Shane Eades had a catering business and home in Cape Town, before he decided to sell everything and relocate to Hogsback - where he’s been busy ever since, following the learn by doing approach to permaculture, cutting down wattle and building earth ships (natural buildings using recycled materials such as plastic and glass).
There are 4 spotlessly clean shacks with double beds in each - bejeweled with Jaggermeister bottles, wallpapered with newspaper clippings, each one unique and artfully decorated, while giving guests a window into the cultural traditions of the region.
The main rondavel provides dorm accommodation - high ceilings allow for bunk beds and there’s a loft upstairs, accessible by climbing the tree that forms the centerpiece of the room.
Though rondavels typically only have tiny windows and a door, Shane incorporated some modern touches to ‘bring the outside in’ - creating huge windows out of recycled car windows that sport sweeping views.
Budget travelers can camp in a well-organised camp-site - though campers should beware of friendly cats with sharp claws seeking a warm place to cuddle!
Shane has also built double-story volunteer accommodation, where finishing touches include old movie films, photographic printing material and newspaper waste.
All in all, they can currently accommodate and feed 30 people (home-grown food off the farm of course) as well as take in additional volunteers.
Guests can even help cut down wattle (an invasive Australian Acacia tree - fast growing and incredibly water thirsty) for a few hours in exchange for a free meal, or an additional night’s stay.
You can also get involved with the ‘Friends Forest’ - by bringing and planting an indigenous tree or buying one to plant. Each tree will be labelled with your name, the date it was planted and its common and Latin names. Not only will you be offsetting your carbon footprint, you’ll also get an extra night’s free accommodation.
If chopping down wattle and planting trees isn’t your thing, chilling out is a big part of a stay at Chillington Farm. Taking in panoramic views of farm, forest and mountain range, the deck at the backpackers is a great place to hang out, read or play board games.
For us, narrowly missing the snow - sitting indoors around the fire was the only way to keep warm, though a leisurely hot bath “under the stars in the middle of nowhere” sure helped keep out the winter chills.
But what really makes Terra Khaya special is this immersion in simple, rural living. It’s so far away from the city that urban life seems absurd in comparison.
Here, everything is reduced, reused or recycled - there’s containers for different bottles, metal lids, bottle tops, strings, PET 1, plastics, tins, containers for screws or broken glass (separated by colour), wire, rubber, corks, and more - everything that can’t be used goes to East London to be recycled.
Owner Shane Eade’s bond with nature can be felt everywhere you go - from the shacks he built by hand with the help of local labour to the organic vegetable garden and food forest, or the well-loved dogs, horses, chickens, pigs, geese and cats that form an integral part of the farm.
Shane also runs Amathole Horse Trails, which practices natural horsemanship, which means a symbiotic relationship where the horses don’t wear bits, and are backed instead of broken, trained to allow someone to ride their back instead of being forced.
It was clear that the horses were more chilled than most. Shane explained that modern horsemanship puts horses in ‘solitary confinement ‘where they can’t see out, while the horses at Terra Khaya are ‘stabled’ under a shelter which includes a roof with half walls so they are able to see all around. This makes them much more content - “they don’t kick or bite people”.
We couldn’t miss taking a sunset ride, galloping through the twilight forest into a vast clearing lit with the red-toned hues of the sun. Shane also offers multi-day horseback safaris for those with more time on their hands (definitely on the bucket list).
Magic is part of the package at Terra Khaya - a trip to rescue a fallen horse found us hiking to the top of a secret waterfall at the convergence of two valleys, overlooking an indigenous forest. It's a place that few have ever seen - locals keep its location closely guarded lest it become a tourist attraction.
Though horse-riding and hiking are the main activities at Terra Khaya, you can also explore the area with a mountain bike or along 4x4 trails.
Venture further into the tiny village of Hogsback for more of the beautiful waterfalls, forbidding mountains and mystical forests that inspired J.R. Tolkien as a child, or some of the delicious little eateries, craft markets, botanical gardens and galleries that characterise the village.
Highlights include the Labyrinth at the Edge, the Eco-Shrine, Stairways Pottery and the Rose Theatre, or the Fairy Realm, while a visit to the local pub or Away with the Fairies backpackers shouldn’t be missed.
But most travellers come to Terra Khaya to stay - it’s the destination for the eco traveller in Hogsback. So if you’re after an alternative and conscious experience, to forge a deeper connection with nature, to learn and be inspired, Terra Khaya is for you.
It is however, (dare I use the word again) ‘rustic’ and special, not for those to whom ‘roughing it’ is an altogether foreign concept. There’s only one compost toilet (more of a long-drop) to service guests, and the outdoor bath and showers are wood-fired - which means you might have to wait awhile for your water to heat up.
The paths can also get muddy in the rainy season. But for the nature-loving eco-tourist - these are small impediments to a really incredible experience.
Terra Khaya: Eco Credentials
Shane experiments with building cheap accommodation that’s authentically South African, using recycled materials. “Half of South Africa already lives like this”, he exclaims. “Shacks are a very green way of building”.
Using everything he could find off the land, supplemented with scrap metals and rubbish including zinc roofing, wood offcuts, bottles and repurposed road signs and banners, to old car windows, silver foil insulation and green isotherm material (made from recycled PET bottles), every structure at Terra Khaya testifies to a commitment to ‘waste not’.
Jaggermeister bottles packed with beer bottles in between help form rather decorative walls - “it’s better to re-use glass than to recycle it, it saves a lot of energy”, Shane explained.
Mud, thatch, wattle and stone form the structures, while Shane merges natural building techniques learned from the locals living nearby (such as cow dung treated with linseed oil to help bind it) with conventional building - minimal cement forming a lip around the rondavel to preserve the wood in wet weather and stop grasses growing up, as well as brand new roof sheeting to prevent leaks.
All the windows (barring the ones in the front of the dorm) are made of recycled glass.
The buildings follow the natural curvature of the earth as far as possible. There have been some mistakes though, the self-taught Shane confessed with a grin, “I didn’t make the overhang long enough so when it rains the water hits the wall”.
Terra Khaya is completely off-the-grid, using solar panels for charging, wood-fired stoves for cooking and heating water, and paraffin lamps for lighting.
Shane has found that water availability has increased in the four years they’ve been regenerating the land - largely due to wattle reduction. A fully established wattle tree drinks 600 litres of water a day, draining the soil of its moisture.
However, Shane has learned that one shouldn’t clear too many trees too quickly - rather leave some for shade and their leaves for mulch to help the newly planted indigenous trees grow beneath them.
Using earth-friendly products allows him to use unfiltered greywater on his plants, while drinking water is harvested from a spring and rainwater is collected from the buildings.
Apart from reusing and recycling everything, Shane also has set up a compost toilet - essentially a long-drop where ash is used to help biodegrade the ‘material’ and mask smells (personally I prefer sawdust as I found the ash not as effective).
This ‘compost’ is then dried out and processed through vermiculture (worms), while urine is kept separate (so that contraceptives using the ladies don’t cause issues down the line).
Shane told us how the 38-hectare property was infested with wattle when he first moved onto the land. In true pioneering style, he camped down at the bottom of the hill, cleared a road and then built a rough and ready township-style shack as his house.
After clearing the water-hungry wattles by hand, Shane found that the river flow actually increased.
It’s a tough job though - an area cleared in 2005 is once again teeming with wattles. Shane isn’t one to be deterred, over the past few years, he has planted over a thousand indigenous trees himself, and plans to do a re-greening with local organisation Greenpop - who will help bring hundreds of volunteers to help clear invasives and replace them with indigenous trees.
The ‘Friends Forest’ includes guests in the tree plantings - they can either bring or buy an indigenous tree and help plant it - recreating an indigenous forest in a dedicated area of the farm- and receive a free night’s accommodation in return.
“I bought an extremely scarred piece of land”, said Shane. “So planting yellowwoods is not about planting for me, it’s about regenerating land”.
Interestingly enough, Shane doesn’t believe in obliterating wattles. “Everyone is very anti-wattle in the world; there is a huge campaign against it in SA. I came here hating it, but I’ve learned that you’ve got to work together. I slowly cut it back and use it to build fences and staircases, for cooking and heating”.
“Wattle is beautiful in its own way and useful - it’s an extremely renewable resource and we need to respect it”, he continued. “Would we have as much indigenous forest in Hogsback if we didn’t have wattle? People would cut down indigenous yellowwood if there was no wattle!”
Keeping the supply chain green: Earth friendly permaculture
The backpackers also makes use of earth friendly and biodegradable products and has a veggie garden and food forest to grow their own food. “We feed over 30 mouths here and we want to grow it all ourselves”, said Shane.
Guests are also encouraged to eat together. Not only does this give them an opportunity to connect with other travelers, but it also saves on the resources and energy used to prepare and serve meals to large groups of people.
However, growing conditions are difficult, with high rainfall, frost and snow in the region. To combat this, Shane is building 17 hot-houses, which will provide better conditions to grow vegetables and help keep the chickens warm.
A newly implemented food forest helps recreate the forest environment - with peaches, pears, plums, apricot, tree tomatoes, mulberries, olives, kiwi fruits, quinces, pomegranates, apples, lemons, figs and more planted between three swales. The pigs help clear the land so that crops can be rotated, while bees and worms make honey and compost.
In future, Shane dreams of building a geodesic dome - but in the meantime he plans to plant bananas on the bottom swales near the kitchen, with a plastic roof above to create a hothouse effect.
Naturally everything follows the principles of companion planting - onions flourish between lettuce, carob adds nitrogen to the soil, sour fig is planted on the edges to form a great ground cover and keep the soil moist, while also stabilising the soil.
Vetiver grass serves the same purpose, while comfrey, rue, wilde els, carob are enclosed by a natural fence of kei apples, plecanthras and rosehip to keep baboons out.
Between all is a natural depository for plastic bottles - where they are repurposed as natural irrigation - allowing for easy watering and a slow seep of water into the soil.
This care for the land extends to the community too - Shane is committed to employing local Xhosa workers from the region, who have much-needed skills to share. He’s also bringing in a Xhosa manager to work with him from Cape Town.
The desire to share knowledge is also paramount. Terra Khaya has successfully hosted a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and plans to hold further trainings and workshops.
Challenges and learnings
Self taught and eager to learn from others, some of Shane’s biggest challenges have been learning patience and how to adapt financially. “One realises that nothing happens as quickly as you plan, especially when you live so remotely. If you run out of nails you have to wait until you go to town. The financial challenges require constant positivity to build resilience.”
Then of course there’s the wattle and kikuyu (an invasive grass). Seeing wattle as a resource rather than a pest has helped, as has planting pasture grasses for horses, perennial rye and evergreen grasses to replace the kikuyu.
“You get things like ink bush which is considered a prolific weed. But what is a weed to most is really just a plant in the wrong place. When you clear like this you realise mother earth is a mother who doesn’t like to be lying round naked. So, everything, even a lowly weed, has a purpose.”
Volunteering at Terra Khaya Backpackers
Terra Khaya is part of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), meaning that you can sign up and volunteer to help out on the farm, doing whatever work you’re best suited for in exchange for accommodation and a place to stay.
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