Only 20k from Clarens, The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is well known for its scenic beauty and interesting geology as well as its wildlife and birds. Click here to see the full list of mammals found in the park. Click here to see the list of birds found in the park  Click here to see the list of plants found in the park Self-drive: (Maps available at the Information Centre opposite Glen Reenen Rest Camp). The R712 connecting Harrismith to Clarens passes through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.   The route winds its way through Lichens Pass (2041m) past interesting sandstone rock formations.    The Golden Gate is aptly named, and makes for a scenic drive, especially in the late afternoon when the setting sun shows off the sandstone colours at their most vibrant. There are two loop roads off the R712 which are worth exploring:    The Blesbok Loop  (6.7km) features the Zuluhoek lookout point and Generaalskop view point.   The Oribi Loop (4.2km) offers views of the Drakensberg, and a stopping point at the Vulture Feeding hide.    For more information  See Self Drive route Clarens to Vulture Feeding Site. Activities: Hiking Choice of various hikes ranging from a 45 minute walk to the 2 day Rhebok Hiking Trail.  To read more about the hikes available in the Golden Gate National Park visit our Hiking page.  You will also find excellent descriptions of the unguided hikes written by Falko Buschke The Solitary Ecologist. Horseriding Golden gate offers 1 hour rides along a scenic trail within the park. Riders are escorted by a guide.   Morning (9h00, and 10h30) and afternoons (14h00). To book phone:  (058) 255 0951. Swimming There is a natural swimming pool near the Van Reenen’s Camp site.  (Ask at the information office.) Mountain Biking Cycle from Clarens and then take the Blesbok and Oribi Loops.  Tar all the way. (Click here for more information on Mountain Biking in the Clarens area) Basotho Cultural Village While you are in the park you should visit the Basotho Cultural Village.   Click here to find out more. Tours: The following companies offer tours in The Golden Gate Highlands National Park Maluti Tours Tour of Golden Gate (half day) which takes in parts of The Golden Gate Highlands National Park which are not open to the general public.   Lots of opportunity to photograph game and birds. A visit to the Basotho Cultural Village included. Contact details Clarens Xtreme Tours of the Golden Gate Hilghlands National Park and the Basotho Cultural Village.   Contact details Sethuthuthu Tours Game drive  (4×4 game viewing vehicle) through what used to be the Qua Qua National Park (which now forms part of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.)  A chance to explore one of the last untamed wilderness areas in the Free State. Lots of plains game to be seen.  Contact details  Further reading:   Golden Gate National Park (Article by Mary Walker) Golden Gate National Park Geology:  (Sanparks website) Life Lines: Layers of the Past in Stone   (Article Supplied by: Nikki Tilley – media@malotidrakensbergroute.com)Historical incidence of the larger mammals in the Free State Province and Lesotho (Clarens News) Exploring the Golden Gate with Maluti Tours (Clarens News)
As with most mountainous areas, weather conditions can change very quickly no matter the season.   Visitors to Clarens are advised to take this into account: always have a hat, sunscreen, and something warm to hand.  Days throughout the year are usually sunny and bright, but  temperatures can drop sharply once the sun disappears behind the mountains, and winter night temperatures have been known to drop to -14°C.  (On the upside – the stars are particularly bright on cold winter nights.) Rainfall occurs mainly in the summer months, and storms are mostly of a very short duration. Clarens is in a low-rainfall area, and the atmosphere is therefore generally very dry.  Visitors from moister climates are advised to pack some skin moisturizer. Summer: (November to February) Clarens summers  (November to February) are mild, and whilst you may encounter the occasional thunder storm, temperature and humidity levels are such that you can enjoy most activities throughout the day without getting too hot. The evenings are slightly cooler, and you may need a light jersey if you wish to sit outside – and why not – Clarens is a malaria-free area. Autumn: (March – May) Night temperatures start dropping in Autumn and the deciduous trees take on their autumn colours, making Clarens one of the most photographed destinations in South Africa. Winter:  (June – August) Winter nights  can be very cold, and whilst the days are usually clear and sunny,  there is often a bite in the wind coming off the snow-capped mountains. Spring: (September – October) Spring in Clarens is particularly beautiful as all the fruit trees come into flower. The days start warming up and the wind looses its bite. The countryside however is usually still dry and doesn’t turn green until the summer rains arrive. As with most mountainous areas, climatic conditions can change very quickly.   Visitors to Clarens are advised to take this into account: always have a hat, sunscreen, and something warm to hand.  Days throughout the year are usually sunny and bright, but given the lack of cloud cover temperatures can drop sharply once the sun disappears behind the mountains, and winter night temperatures have been known to drop to -14°C.  (On the upside – the stars are particularly bright on cold winter nights.) Rainfall occurs mainly in the summer months, and storms are mostly of a very short duration. Clarens is in a low-rainfall area, and the atmosphere is therefore generally very dry.  Visitors from moister climates are advised to pack some skin moisturizer. Snow: Snow in Clarens is very unpredictable.  The mountains around Clarens are often dusted with snow during the winter months, as are the Maluti Mountains, and given the clear skies this makes for postcard perfect photographic opportunities. During winter visitors can go skiing at Afriski in Lesotho – only a few hours away – and there is a regular shuttle service between Clarens and Afriski during the winter mon
Features to look out for are: CLARENS SQUARE. (Situated at the heart of the town, you could hardly miss it.) The square gives Clarens it’s village feel, and is used for many village events. The monument at the centre of the square commorates the five burghers who were killed at the Battle of Naauwpoort. (In September 1865 a commando led by Paul Kruger camped overnight at Naaupoort Nek. The commando was on its way to Witzieshoek where they intended to take on the cannibal chieftainess Mantatisi who had been creating havoc in the area. During the night they were attacked by Basotho warriors and 5 boers were killed in the ensuing battle. The monument commerating this battle was originally erected at the battle site in 1895, and then moved to its present position on the Square in 1962.) Also on the square is a plaque commemorating the construction of the tunnel for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Click here for more information on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Titanic Rock at the entrance to Clarens on the Bethlehem Road: Clarens was incorporated as a town in 1912, and this was also the year that the Titanic sank, a tragedy which caught everyone’s attention – even here in far-off Clarens. A local resident suggested that the prominent rock feature at the entrance to Clarens resembled the bow of  a ship, and this outcrop has been known as the Titanic ever since.  Titanic is clearly visible from the road, but should you wish to explore Titanic  more closely, one of the Clarens Village Nature Reserve trails takes you round the base of mountain and finishes at the top.  (Please note that the final leg of this trail is not suitable for inexperienced hikers.) (Trail maps are available from several outlets it town.) Naauwpoort Nek.  The road that brings you in to Clarens from Bethlehem passes through Naauwpoort Nek and this is where, in September 1865, a battle took place between Paul Kruger’s Commando and the Basotho.   (Click here for more information on this battle.) Naauwpoort /Sias Oosthuizen Road (the dirt road which runs parallel to the R712, between Maluti Mountain Lodge and Main Street.)   This  is the road that early travellers passing through the area on their way to or from Bethlehem, the Golden Gate, Fouriesburg or Lesotho used to take. Of interest is the Uitspan stone with the words Een Uitspanning carved into the stone.  This is a  sort of “Park Here” sign from bygone days for those wanting to unhitch their wagons and make camp for the night.    The little river nearby and ample grazing made this an ideal stop-over.  Close by is Di Mezza blanket shop, which started out as a general dealer and now specialises in blankets (including the well-known Lesotho blankets). The buildings alongside are amongst the earliest to be built in Clarens and date back to 1928.  On the other side of Main Street, are more shops which have been in operation for more than a hundred years – you could say that  the Naauwpoort/Sias Oosthuizen road was at one time the focus for trade and industry in Clarens. Clarens Village Nature Reserve. The Clarens Village Nature Reserve is within easy walking distance of the town square, and there are well-marked trails for hikers to enjoy.   Mountain bikers are also welcome, but need a permit to access the trails. Click here for more information on The Clarens Village Nature Reserve hiking trails. Shopping.  Shopping in Clarens is the antithesis of the shopping mall experience, and Clarens is edge to edge with interesting shops – many of them stocking items which are not easily available elsewhere in South Africa.  Click here to go to the shopping page. Wine and Dine, stop for tea or coffee, enjoy a beer or grab a snack at one of the delicatesens.   Clarens has many excellent restaurants, coffee houses, tea shops, bars and delis.  There is something to suit every palate, whether you’re looking for a fine dining experience or some hearty pub grub, it’s all here in Clarens. Click here There are also many interesting places to visit within easy access of Clarens. Click here for self-drive sightseeing routes you can do from Clarens. &n