The most meaningful experiences are to be found in the teeny towns and villages, discovering the natural treasures of the region from the locals. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Why you should visit: “Everywhere the light touches is your kingdom…” The Lion King’s Mufasa may well have been speaking about the Golden Gate Highlands National Park! When the golden rays of the sun bathe the sandstone cliffs, they transform into a burnished gold, watched over by the large and proud Brandwag rock formation.
Take to the plains horse riding, enjoy self-guided hikes or view game from your vehicle. Keep your eyes peeled for black wildebeest, antelope, zebra, the rare Bearded Vulture and equally rare Bald Iris.
It’s a year-round destination with diverse and dramatic seasonal changes. The highveld summers have afternoon thunderstorms while the cold, cold winters often see snow, frosting the park into a white winter wonderland. Visitors are well-advised to pack for all seasons in one day.
If you’re a reasonably fit hiker, tackle the 31km Rhebok Hiking Trail. The circular hike takes two days and journeys through ravines and waterfalls.
How to get there: It’s between a three and a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein to reach the park. Day visitors are welcome.
Outdoor adventures in Clarens
Why you should visit: There’s a good reason why locals and enamoured visitors lovingly refer to Clarens as the jewel of the eastern Free State. The tiny town, surrounded by the Rooiberg Mountains and the Maluti Mountains a short distance away, is home to icy-clean streams, crisp mountain air and a tree-filled town.
For those seeking tranquillity, nature or adventure, this is a good spot. Of all its charms, the area is probably most famous for fly fishing and, according to the experts, it offers the best trout fishing in the country.
Adventurers can take their pick from hot air ballooning and mountain biking, to abseiling and hiking. Horse riding is another recommended pastime.
How to get there: Clarens is roughly a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein, 20km from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Basotho Cultural Village, Golden Gate Park
Why you should visit: Step back in time into an 18th-century Basotho Village. The living museum houses reconstructed homesteads. Visitors can meet a chief, his wives and a Ngaka (traditional healer), learn about the rich storytelling culture, sample mqombothi (sorghum beer) and try their hand at morabaraba, a traditional board game.
How to get there: The cultural village is situated off the R712 within the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
How much does it cost: Enquire for pricing.
Bergwoning 4×4 Trails
Why you should visit: If you’re exploring Clarens and the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, take a detour to kick up some dust. Bergwoning offers two 4X4 trails. One is a 6km, two-hour, family-friendly self-drive trail, while the other is a 26km route, guided by the owner, Thys Martiz, an adrenalin-busting adventure for experienced drivers.
How to get there: Contact Bergwoning Guest Farm, 15 km from Clarens, for details.
How much does it cost: Call 082-396-7595 for pricing.
Autumn, art and festivals in Clarens
Clarens is a year-round destination but there’s something particularly special about Autumn, when the town is coloured with red, orange,and yellow falling leaves. March is also festival time with many heartwarming (and heart-pumping) events.
If you’re not visiting during festival time, you can still feed your artistic soul. Wander through President Square and Main Street and pop in at the many art galleries and curio shops. The Art and Wine Gallery is a must-do – reportedly the country’s first gallery, comprising the two elements that pair so perfectly. Blou Donki Art Gallery is another highlight, featuring the work of South African artists. On Saturdays, meet at the Bibliophile Bookshop for the Clarens Country Market.
How to get there: Clarens is only 12,68 km², so wandering through the town centre is the best way to soak up the atmosphere.
Why you should visit: About 2023 million years ago, an asteroid, between five and 10km in diameter smashed into the Earth. The crater left behind, the largest on Earth, is today, the UNESCO World Heritage site Vredefort Crater, situated in, of all places, the Free State.
Join one of Dome Impact Tours’ guided tours. There are a few on offer ranging from general tours to ones tailored to people interested in geology, birding or the history and culture of the area.
How to get there: It’s about a 30-minute drive from Parys and a three-hour drive from Clarens.
How much does it cost: Visit https://domeimpacttours.co.za/ for enquiries.