Clarens made history with the implementation of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – an ambitious (still ongoing) project involving the transfer of water from Lesotho to the Vaal river and the ever-thirsty region of Gauteng. Part of this project included the construction of the Trans Caledon Tunnel: an underground tunnel which carries water from Lesotho under the Maluti Mountains and under Clarens, to a weir (known as the Ash River outfall).
Less than 10k from Clarens, the Ash river outfall is well worth a visit. Take the road to Bethlehem (R712) and look out for a tar road on the left, which takes you to the car park where you can leave your car and wander about the site. One can only marvel at this engineering feat as you see the water gushing out of the tunnel and into a series of weirs. The sheer size of the tunnel is well illustrated by the commemorative segment of tunnel which has been erected on the site.
Should you wish to explore the Ash river further down turn back to the main Bethlehem road, and after about 3kms on this road take the S217 – a dirt road to the left. Follow this for about a kilometre and, as the road dips into the valley, you will see the tree-lined Ash River before you. This is a good spot to pull up, get out and walk onto the bridge.
If you’re an adrenalin enthusiast you might be tempted after seeing these rapids to make a booking with one of the White Water Rafting outfits in Clarens. A positive spin-off from the Water Project is that this part of the Ash River is consistently flowing at more or less this rate on every day of the year. Depending on the time of day that you arrive at the bridge, you are in a prime position to watch the rafts come down over the rapids.