Cosmos is Greek for people. Cosmopolitan meaning many people. Meantime in the Free State they are everywhere, on the sides of the roads, between fields, popping out of bushes and waving at the passers by. Beautiful little people of the fie
Eastern Free State Cultural Background The most reliable piece of advice I could give to any first time visitor to the Eastern Free State Highlands is this:  Be prepared to be surprised! The name “Free State” to most South Africans incites a joyless image of a relentless tarmac ribbon stretching away into a hazy expanse of elusive horizons.  But don’t be fooled!  Our national roads were not laid out with cultural, historical or scenic meanders in mind.  Once you move away from the main arterial routes, the Free State begins to reveal some of its well kept secrets. Something many first time visitors remark on is how prevalent English is in this area.  This is in part due to Clarens having burgeoned in the last decade or two because of a population influx from commercial centres like Gauteng. This has introduced a cosmopolitan culture to the area, a hint of urban sophistication, dispelling any sense of “Vrystaat dorpie-ness”. Our picture today shows a small parade of poplars beside the approach to a river crossing.  Lombardy Poplars – an English introduction to our valleys.  These poplars (Populus nigra var. italica) originate in northern Italy and, way back in the mid seventeen hundreds, were introduced to England as ornamental trees, becoming popular in English parks and gardens. The British, historically, tended to adapt their new environments to their traditional British lifestyles.   Around the world the evidence lives on in colonial homesteads graced with imported Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian furnishings.  Even in wartime, their gentlemen officers took the comforts of their living rooms onto the battlefield, the purpose-made campaign furniture providing a setting fit for British chivalry amid the turmoil of combat. The English country garden was also transported far and wide, and these lovely poplars, as well as the weeping willows that line our water courses, were given root by early British settlers in our Eastern Free State valleys.  A questioning look perhaps passes over the faces of some who do not much associate the Free State with English speakers! On the contrary, the Free State and Britain have had a long association.  It was a Scot, Colonel Robert Gordon, who named the Orange River after the Dutch Prince William V of Orange (an ally of Britain) during the late eighteenth century. In 1848, amid the early conflict between the Boers, Basutos and Griquas, Sir Harry Smith (after whom the town Harrismith is named) initiated the proclamation of British sovereignty over the area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers, and the region became known as the Orange River Sovereignty. Surprise surprise An odd turn of events in 1852 resulted in the Orange River Sovereignty being short lived.  A referendum was held to determine the mood of the Boers in regard to British “rule” in the area.  British authorities were completely taken by surprise when the referendum delivered overwhelming support for the established British Sovereignty in the area. This was not what the Colonial Office in London had expected and arrangements had already been made to hand over the area to the Boers for self-governance.  This went ahead, despite support for British governance, and the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State was established, in 1854. Relations with Britain continued amicably, and in London the Free State became known as the “model republic”, a “country” where peoples of various origins, Dutch, English, Basuto, Griquas and others, had evolved into a relatively harmonious society.  Even the diamond debacle around 1870 didn’t derail good relations, despite Britain’s shady manoeuvres to annex the diamond fields in Kimberley, which were at that time within Free State territory. The Free State President’s restraint was prudent during this shrewd revision of the political boundary at Kimberley, devised on the drawing boards of London’s Whitehall.  He astutely avoided the inevitable backlash that would have resulted from any attempted obstruction of the diamond fields’ migration on paper to the British Cape Colony. Around this time, and as a result of border disputes between the Free State Boers and the Basutos, Britain gave protectorate status to Basutoland and the new Basuto stronghold became a British Crown Colony in 1884, resulting in an increased English presence and influence both within its borders and beyond, deep into the Eastern Free State farmlands. A seditious bust-up between the Free State Boer and the Brit came in 1899.  War was declared and the Free State threw its weight behind President Kruger and went into battle against Britain.  This was hardly a surprise.  There were still some hackles raised in certain quarters over the diamond affair; now the British eye was on the reef’s gold. After more than a century of provocation by Britain – after generations of compromise and reluctant cooperation by the Boers, after repeated migrations ever deeper into the interior to escape British decree – the hinterland Boer had had enough. Britain’s illusions of an easy victory were quickly shattered.  Rudyard Kipling, the illustrious English author, famously wrote that Britain was, in war, taught “no end of a lesson” by the Boers.  Yet, during the century that followed this most infamous of wars, which became the final nail in the Imperial coffin, British families continued to migrate to the Free State, to settle amongst their former foes, a people for whom they bore a guarded respect and a reluctant admiration. Cultural Ambassadors The Free State never relinquished its nurture of English culture and language.  The Free State’s first newspaper was the English broadsheet called The Friend, which continued until recent times.  The oldest girls’ school north of the Orange River is St Michaels Anglican School in Bloemfontein.  There have been many other fine English institutions, both educational and otherwise, around the Free State. Emily Hobhouse, the great British philanthropist and wartime campaigner, whose actions and influence brought relief and hope to so many Boers during the South African War, has the status of a national hero amongst Afrikaners.  The Free State town, Hobhouse, was named in her honour, and her ashes were brought from England after her death in 1926 to be buried at the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein. One of South Africa’s greatest philosophers and writers in the English language, Sir Laurens van de Post, an Anglicised Afrikaner and a champion of the British way of life, grew up on a Free State farm.  And, fortuitously, the author of the second most sold book in the world’s history of published fiction, JRR Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame, was born in the Free State. To this day numerous descendants of original English families in the Eastern Free State continue to live in the area, and English names of farms and towns remain.  Nothing could be more English sounding than Westminster! - a name which has English peerage connections, and which, in the Eastern Free State, refers to a village, a country estate, a golf course, and even a railway siding. The Eastern Free State Highlands continues to reflect the diverse character and tradition of this province.  Afrikaner, English speaker, Sotho, Zulu and mixed race folk live harmoniously alongside expats from Britain, Europe, the Americas, Asia and other African states.  Here in the Highlands we seek to defend our diversity, to celebrate our history and cultures, and to promote a harmonious and cooperative society; and perhaps we too on occasions have a sense of, or even catch a glimpse of, that “model republic
  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)
Clarens invites you to relax and have fun, and village life is geared towards making sure that our visitors can relax and enjoy every moment that they’re here. The Clarens Community – the people who make it all happen – are here mainly because they love living here, and this is probably why  Clarens has such a warm and friendly atmosphere.   An atmosphere which together with a scenic setting, the crisp clear air (thanks to the lack of factories), and the surrounding nature areas has attracted many artists to Clarens, and Clarens is known as one of South Africa’s best loved art centres.  Clarens is a very popular  holiday destination, and this has led many of its residents to becoming involved in the hospitality industry:  Clarens abounds with accommodation establishments, restaurants and coffee shops, and, since, the environment  invites adventure, Clarens adventure companies and professional guides have also settled here.  Shopping is another major attraction to the town – and there are many shops which specialize in crafts (some of them made in Clarens) which are not easily available elsewhere in South Africa. Many Clarens residents came to live in Clarens simply because they want to live in a beautiful, unspoilt environment, and there are also those that have come to live in Clarens because they need somewhere quiet to work. All of which adds up to a varied and vibrant community, made up of people who care about and are committed to Clarens. To get a feel of what Clarens citizens are talking about visit our Clarens News Facebook page. There can be no doubt that most of the people of Clarens are committed to the town, and this is reflected by the many individuals involved in community organizations.  These organizations  go about their business, for the most part away from the public eye, not only making sure that every Clarens citizen has access to basic needs, but also uplifting and encouraging all.  The people of Clarens are, in the main, friendly and welcoming no matter which part of Clarens you visit.   We believe that it is thanks to this community spirit that Clarens has remained  a relatively crime-free a
  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.     &n
http://clarensguide.co.za/places/south-africa/free-state/clarens-1/hiking-1/ Clarens is well known for the many hiking trails available in the area - ranging from short easy trails, ideal for an evening stroll with the family,  to longer or more demanding trails for those looking to get some exercise or simply spend some time in the fresh air. Clarens Village Nature Reserve The trails are well marked and easily accessible from town.  There is no entry charge for hikers, but mountain bikers must get biking permits – available from Clarens Xtreme at 530 Sias Oosthuizen Street. The trails are well marked and maps of the trails are  available from Bibliophile, Protea Hotel, Mountain Odyssey, Old Stone Bottle Store, Maluti Footprints and The Gallery On The Square. Scilla Walk (easy 2.4 km): The name is derived from the blue-flowering Scilla (Merwilla plumbea), a protected species found in parts of the nature reserve. Maluti View: (700m) This trail is perfect for a late afternoon stroll and overlooks the Maluti Mountan Range. Ideal vantage point to watch the sun set. Kloof Mountain Trail (moderate: 3.4km) There is some initial climbing but the path across the summit is relatively easy, whilst the lower contour path is slightly more challenging. Stunning views. Kloof Dam Walk (easy: 1,2 km) The Kloof Dam is a popular fishing and swimming spot for locals. This easy walk continues past the dam to the Kloof where there is a pretty waterfall in summer. Leucosidea Trail (easy: 2.2km) An easy walk past the Kloof dam and surrounds. An abundance of spring and summer flowering plants occur in this area. Mallen Walk (moderately easy: 1,1km) The Mallen walk involves some initial climbing followed by an almost level contour path. Recommended walk for day visitors. The trail joins both the Kloof Mountain Trail and the Spruit walk, making for easy further exploration. Spruit Walk (easy: 2,5km)  This popular walk follows the Clarens spruit through ouhout scrub forest, Lombardy poplar and cypress plantations all the way to the Kloof dam. Porcupine Trail (easy: 3.5km) A looping trail which connects the Leucosidea and Kloof Mountain Trails. Enjoy sandstone outcrops and overhangs, open grassland and a wide variety of birdlife. Titanic Walk (moderate: 2km) An easy walk until you get to the final climb – which is not recommended for inexperienced hikers. Good views of Titanic and the surrounding area. Sky Contour Path: (3.4km) Ideal for the energtic and enthusiastic.  (2 hours) Caracal Contour (5.2km) The vistas are simply stunning. Highly recommended:   Go on a guided tour with the Clarens Village Nature Reserve Rangers: These trails are maintained by The Clarens Village Conservancy. Mount Horeb (Clarens Mountain Estate) There is a hiking trail that starts right in the Estate and leads up to Smiley Face, which- as the name may suggest- is a large smiley face painted on the side of Mount Horeb by an anonymous artist. From Smiley Face, another hiking trail leads up to the the summit of Mount Horeb. At the top of Mount Horeb, there is a Trig Beacon and visitors book. The magnificent view includes: Fouriesburg, Clarens, and vast parts of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Once you make it to the top be sure to sign the visitors book.   Click here  to watch the video  Rebellie Game Farm Test your fitness by challenging the mountain slopes to the top where you will meet up with the 4×4 trail. Be sure to take water and/or refreshments as this is serious climbing!  The lower 4 x 4 trail leads to the kloof and a lovely picnic spot under the willows. Relax – enjoy and escape from reality beside the chattering mountain stream. Help yourself to a drink from the uncontaminated spring water, originating high in the mountain. Hikers are welcome to visit Rebellie Game Farm at any time, but there is a small fee for day visitors.  Contact details St Fort For those who love to explore, St Fort offers four expertly laid out hiking trails. Cannibal Trail: For the more adventurous, this trail has sleep-over facilities in a the cave, complete with historic rock art.  For a brisk morning or afternoon walk, there are three shorter trails:The Mushroom Rock Trail, The Batwing Falls Trail and The Kloof Trail. All these trails take you through differing landscapes, from breathtaking mountain views, overhang caves, to river walks with numerous picnic spots, forest ambles and boulder hopping, in and along, gorges. The trails are well marked and provide all the amenities a hiker demands, from comfortable bedding, ablutions with flush toilets and hot showers as well as a reed enclosure with braai facilities.  …….More information  Bokpoort   Hikers can choose from a range of day  hikes ranging from 5 – 34 kms  or alternatively challenge themselves to the 2-day hike along the highlands and shimmering mountain streams. You choose how long you want to hike for and the degree of difficulty. Contact details   Schaapplaats Bushman Paintings and Mountain walk: I can’t think of a better way to start the day than taking an early morning walk to the cave at Schaapplaats.  But before you go – remember to phone Christine Walwyn on (058) 256 1176 or 083 630 3713 to warn her that you are coming. Schaapplaats is, after all, a working stud farm, and so it’s very important that the workers keep certain gates locked and that everyone knows exactly who is where on the farm. There is also an entrance fee of R50 which goes towards the upkeep of the trail and the safeguarding of the Bushman paintings….  Read more  Golden Gate Highlands National Park Choice of various hikes ranging from a 45 minute walk to the 2 day Rhebok Hiking Trail.   Collect your hiking map at the Glen Reenen Reception area before you set off.  We also recommend you visit The Solitary Ecologist website for full details, maps, and stunning photographs of the trails. Cathedral Cave Hike : Duration 4 Hours Guided Hike with a low difficulty grading. Booking essential. Wodehouse Hike: Duration ± 4 Hours Unguided Hike with a high degree of difficulty.  Click here for map (.kml file), gradients, and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Mushroom Rock Hike : Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided hike with a low level of difficulty. Suitable for young children. Click here for map (.kml file), gradients, and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Echo-Ravine Hike: Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided with a medium level of difficulty. Suitable for Children. Click here for map (.kml file), gradients, and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Boskloof Hike:  Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided with a medium level of difficulty.  Click here for map (.klm file), gradients and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Holkrans Hike: Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided Hike with an easy to medium level of difficulty.  Click here for map (.klm file), gradients and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Brandwag Rock Hike: Duration ± 1 Hr. Unguided loop hike, suitable for accompanied children with medium degree of difficulty. This hike has a chain to help with a steep accent. Click here for map (.klm file), gradients and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Rhebok Overnight Trail: Unguided with an easy start and a challenging second day. Includes: Rustic Hut, donkey shower, mattresses, fire wood and coal stove. Bring your own cooking facilities, food, utensils and sleeping bags.Distance: 31 km   Booking is essential: To book phone:  (058) 255 0951.  This hike has a chain to help with a steep accent. Click here for map (.klm file), gradients and photographs from The Solitary Ecologist. Basotho Cultural Village – Matlakeng Herbal Trail “Kgotso” we greet you in peace Matlakeng Herbal Trail –  The trail starts at 9h00 The Basotho Cultural Village.  An ngaka (traditional healer) escorts groups on a scenic 2 hour trail, all the while locating an array of grasses, roots, herbs, leaves and bark and explaining how these are prepared and used to cure ailments from toothache to sexually transmitted diseases, as well as their ritual uses in Basutho Culture.  Hikers can also expect to  see wild-life, and also some well-kept rock art. The herb trail is only open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, during the Spring and Summer months, and must be booked 2 days in advance. For more information phone: 058 721 0300 Sentinel/Tugela Falls Hike Stand at over 3000 meters above sea level and take in the view. The day hike  (13km) starts at the Witsieshoek car park (Qua Qua). (Be warned, the last section of road from Phuthaditjhaba to the Witsieshoek Sentinel carpark is very rough)  and takes you to the edge of the Amphitheatre via two chain ladders,  to the Tugela waterfall.    Hikers must be sure that they are well prepared for all weather conditions before starting off: the weather can change extremely quickly and one can go from full sunshine to misty conditions and even snow in a matter of minutes. Maluti Tours: (full day) tour starting in Clarens. Variations (eg. over-night at the top) can be arranged.  Contact details Clarens Xtreme:   (full day) tour starting in Clarens. Contact details Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge:  To book a guide email info@witsieshoek.co.za or phone: 058 7136361  (Advance booking is essential.)
Clarens - a breath of fresh air.    The perfect escape from city life.   Here we have no air polluting factories, no heavy traffic, none of the stress associated with living in a big city:  just lots of fresh air, a beautiful setting, friendly faces and loads of fun to be had in a totally relaxed atmosphere. The scenic setting, mild climate, nature areas, and the rather special Clarens village vibe all contribute to making Clarens a natural choice both for the people who live here and for visitors from elsewhere in South Africa and around the globe.  The geological history of the area can be read in the sandstone cliffs which surround Clarens and give Clarens its scenic setting and depending on which geological layer you find yourself you may find crystals (in the black rock at the top of the cliffs, or where, as a result of erosion they have washed down into river beds)  or fossils dating back millions of years.  The Rooiberge virtually cradle the town, and to the east Mount Horeb at 2449.5 meters above sea level, overlooks the town of Clarens 639.5 meters below.  (Incidentally Mount Horeb has a yellow smiley face, smiling down on the town.  This is a radio relay station for the Clarens Police Station.) The natural grassland areas around Clarens are rich in wild flowers which add an extra dimension to the enjoyment of the many hiking trails in the area. (Plants found in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve are a regular feature on the Clarens News website. Click here to learn more about the plants found in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve.) Clarens also has The Golden Gate Highlands National Park on the doorstep:  scenic drives, game viewing, hikes ..... and lots more. Art and craft:  Clarens is often referred to as the Art Mecca of South Africa.  And given that Clarens has over  20 art galleries and that so many artists have chosen Clarens as their base, this is hardly surprising. Visitors are invited to do the Art Route, or simply stroll from gallery to gallery to enjoy the wide variety of artwork on offer. Many of the galleries and artists offer also offer art courses giving and aspiring artists have a chance to explore a wide variety of media, find inspiration or simply have some fun. Click here to go to the Art page More and more crafters are now also making their home in Clarens, and you will find interesting articles - many of them made in Clarens - on offer in some of the shops. Crafts vary from leatherwork and glass work, to hand-made knives, candles  and soft furnishings. Adventure: Click here to see the wide range of activities on offer in Clarens.   Those wishing to venture further afield (to Lesotho or neighbouring towns) will find a wide range of tours on offer, or alternatively, they can explore the area on their own.   (Click here for self-drive routes you can do from 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 Conservancy (which manages the Clarens Village Nature Reserve) and here for news on the Nature Reserve in particular. Click here for more information on hikes available in the area. 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 Clar
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
    Leave Clarens on the R711 south, which is clearly signposted as the road to Fouriesburg.  Soon after you leave the town, you will pass a pretty valley on the left, with a small tree-lined river meandering through it.  This is the Little Caledon River, which has its source far to the east in the watershed of the Golden Gate Highlands.  The sandstone cliffs that frame the valleys in the early part of this drive flaunt typical examples of rock overhangs sculptured by many thousands of years’ weathering. After about 6 kms into the drive you will cross the Little Caledon River, which runs away to the right and snakes its way around a maze of headlands until it crosses under the road again further along the drive.  On the left you will see the turnoff to St Fort, a popular guesthouse and renowned wedding venue.  If you look back you will see the Mushroom Rock jutting above the rock shelf atop the mountain directly adjacent to St Fort.  The drive takes a gradual uphill gradient now and passes various turnoffs to guesthouses and farms. After 14 kms into the drive, look out for the Surrender Hill turnoff to the right.  Here you can get out and view a plaque erected to commemorate the surrender in 1900 of a large contingent of Boers during the Ango Boer War.  This site was originally called Slaapkranz and was declared a national monument in 1986.       At this elevated point there are views across the vast Caledon River Valley that stretches to the distant Maluti Mountains – snow-capped in winter - and Lesotho.  The Malutis and the Drakensberg together represent the largest and highest mountain range in southern Africa, originally formed through massive volcanic eruptions 180 million years ago.  The high slopes, often visible on clear days, are also southern Africa’s most significant water catchment area.  Every day, for more than a decade now, a vast volume of water from these uplands is being diverted to Gauteng by means of a tunnel under the valley before you. At the 18.5 km point, after a straight downhill stretch, two district roads from the left join the main road (separate self-drive routes will be published on these roads in due course).  The left fork winds all the way down to the Caledon River, the boundary between South Africa and Lesotho.  The right fork (S505) is a circular route, through pleasant farmlands with striking views, that eventually re-joins the Fouriesburg road further on.               Sitting here at a picnic table you will have a magnificent view to the south of long flat-topped sandstone mountains.  Standing slightly apart from one of these cliff faces is the remarkable Queen Victoria Rock, which unfortunately cannot be seen clearly from your position on the main road.  (A drive along the S505 route (signposted a short way ahead) and a visit to the Lesoba Guest Farm will afford you a perfect view of it.) To the west, on the far horizon, you will get one of your first good views of the great Witteberg Mountain Range, straddling the far end of the Brandwater Basin.  A short distance further along the road, the circular drive (S505) encountered earlier will rejoin the main road.   At about the 30 km point the Little Caledon River crosses under the road, flowing in a south westerly direction towards its confluence with the Caledon River at the Caledonspoort Border Post.  Very soon after the bridge a road turns to the right into the Rooiberg Mountains.  This is the S325 and features a host of signposts to various points of interest.  Of significance is The Rose Hip, which is the restaurant at The Rose House guesthouse facility, both with a reputation for excellence. (Take a short drive down this road and look out for the vineyard at the entrance to The Rose House.  Despite being relatively young, the vineyard is already producing excellent wine, and promises one day to make the Free State famous for its viticulture.) Directly after the turnoff is the Arpa Dam, part of an adventure farm.  The Arpa Dam is also the venue of a winter charity swim at the end of June, called the Polar Bear Plunge, where swimmers brave the very cold water to swim a sponsored distance in aid of a local charity. The last few kilometers to Fouriesburg are on a gradual incline up the slope towards the town, which is situated against a bluff of the Rooiberg Mountain Range.  To visit the town, turn right at the intersection or, alternatively, if you prefer to do the pretty drive to Caledonspoort, take the left turn.  There are places in Fouriesburg town that serve teas and lunches, to freshen up before your return journey.   Article and research by Mary Walker Clarens News: January 2014     Further reading: War in the Valley (Article by Mary Walker) Clarens - History (Extract from an Article written by Tina de Beer for Open Africa (www.openafica.org/route/Clarens-Route)   Click here to go to the Sightseeing/Self-Drive Routes page &n