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Location: South Africa » Free State » Eastern Free State » Platberg Reserve » Harrismith

Harrismith is the Free State gateway to the Drakensberg and

Harrismith is a small, charming country town, founded in 1849, but discovered by tourists only recently. Visitors remark on its cleanliness, and the friendliness of its inhabitants.

Harrismith is the ideal destination to break a long trip, hold a conference or escape from the stresses of city living and recharge batteries in tranquil surroundings and excellent facilities.

Indulge in open air hobbies like birding, biking, 4x4, hiking, climbing, golfing, history, water sport and lots more.

The town is well known for its factory shops, gardens (both domestic and wild flower gardens), golf course (the oldest in South Africa) and links with the South African War, with close by battle sites, blockhouses and a military cemetery.

There are also Boer, Brit and sandstone architecture to be seen.

Activities near Harrismith include trout fishing, water sport on the Sterkfontein Dam (the third largest dam in South Africa), bird watching and visiting well stocked game farms.

The Drakensberg range and Maluti Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to Harrismith. Day visit opportunities include: Royal Natal Park, the base of the Drakensberg Sentinel, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Basotho Cultural Village, Boer War battlefields and hiking trails.

Accommodation in Harrismith

  • The View

Attractions in Harrismith

  • Crafts
    Distinctive southern African curios anf arty things are available at Marqwahouse.
  • Debora Retief Garden
    A 250 million-year-old, 33m fossilised treelies in this garden next to the town hall
  • Golf courses
    The 18 hole course is the third oldest in South Africa.
  • Harrismith Wildflower Gardens
    Founded in 1967 as a botanical garden these contain about 20% of the Drakensberg regions flora.
  • Kerkenberg
    The Voortrekkers camped in the area, whilst their leader, Piet Retief, negotiated with the Zulu leader Dingane. After receiving reports of what the Voortrekkers interpreted as successful negotiations Retiefs daughter wrote his name, and the date, which was also his birthday, on the rock where they held a church service.
  • Harrismith Museum
    A small community museum in the Market Hall at the back of the Harrismith Town Hall.
  • Platberg
    The 2 394m flat mountain is Harrismiths landmark. A famous race, claimed by some to be the toughest in South Africa.
  • President Brand Park
    A picnic area along the tranquil banks of the Wilge River.
  • Sterkfontein Dam
    The third largest dam in South Africa, and unusual as practically all the water is pumped up the escarpment from KwaZulu-Natal. Built before the Lesotho Highlands water scheme was developed, this was a vital source of water for Gauteng.
  • Swinburne
    Now looking insignificant compared to larger brothers, the second oldest bridge in the Free State, a National Monument, spans the Wildge River. At the official opening in 1884 it was claimed that, as it was the furthest of its kind towards the interior, it marked a distinct advance of the forces of civilization.
  • Harrismith Town Hall
    A graceful sandstone and brick building built in 1907, and a National Monument.
  • Township Tours
    Self drive day tours or overnight stays enable visitors to experience what was described in the dark days of the early 1990s as a township which was a haven of peace.
  • Van Reenen Llandaff Oratory
    National Monument which seats eight people, and was built in honour of Llandaff Matthew who tragically lost his life in an act of bravery in a coal mining disaster.

This town is one of the oldest in the Free State with a rich history dating back to prehistoric times. The town was established due to the location’s strategic position, and was used as a major base by the British during and after the Anglo Boer War. Founded in 1849, British Governor Harry Smith tried to persuade disillusioned Voortrekkers not to abandon Natal. The town named in his honour is now an important crossroads in South Africa’s land trade routes. Harrismith is conveniently situated midway between Gauteng and KwaZulu- Natal, making it an ideal stopover. Excellent facilities provide the perfect mixture of tranquility and beauty to efficiently recharge your batteries. With game farms and water sport at the nearby Sterkfontein Dam, the leisure options in this picturesque town are endless. Harrismith is a gateway to the Drakensberg Mountains, and whether you choose to stroll through it’s foothills, or enjoy a drive along the various spectacular mountain routes, you will find the magnificent scenery unforgettable.

GENERAL INFORMATION

How to get there

Bethlehem 57 km, Bloemfontein 317 km, Cape Town 1330 km, Durban 315 km, Golden Gate National Park 121 km, Johannesburg 314 km, Ladybrand 255 km, Ladysmith 47 km, Port Elizabeth 961 km, Senekal 161 km

Banks – Absa, Fnb, Standard

ATM’s – 4

Dams – Sterkfontein

Rivers – Wilge

HISTORICAL VIEW

78 Warden Street

The British influence is still discernable in the architectural styles in town. The oldest house in town.

Blockhouse - Built by the British near the Botanical Garden

Debora Retief Garden

A 250 million year old, 33 m fossilised tree lies in this garden next to the town hall. Memorials honour those who fought in the Anglo Boer War and the First World War. Of particular interest is a memorial to the Scots Guards and Grenadier Guards.

Kerkenberg

The Voortrekkers camped in the area, whilst their leader, Piet Retief, negotiated with the Zulu leader Dingane. After receiving reports of what the Voortrekkers interpreted as successful negotiations Retief’s daughter wrote his name, and the date, which was also his birthday, on a rock where they held a church service. This is a national monument

Museum

The town’s people are developing a small community museum in the Market Hall at the back of the Town Hall.

Swinburne

The second oldest bridge in the Free State, and now a national monument, spans the Wilge River. At the official opening in 1884 it was claimed that, as it was the furthest of it’s kind towards the interior, it marked the “….district advance of the forces of civilisation”

The Studio - Ramshackle artistic historic home

Town Hall

A graceful sandstone and brick building built in 1907, and a national monument. Opposite are the Deborah Retief Gardens. See a hitching post, war memorials, a water pump, a red Orange River Colony post box, naval guns (ex Basotho wars and a 250 million year old fossilised tree.

Van Reenen

Llandaff Oratory (national monument), believed to be the smallest church in the world, seating eight people. It was built in honour of Llandaff Matthew who tragically lost his life in an act of bravery in a coal mining disaster.

NATURE

Harrismith Wildflower Gardens

Founded in 1967 as a botanical garden these contain about 20 % of the Drakensberg region’s flora. Located around two dams fed by mountain springs these gardens also contain an Anglo Boer War blockhouse, built to protect the town’s water during it’s occupation.

Platberg

The 9 km, 2394 m high ‘flat mountain’ is Harrismith’s landmark. A famous road race, claimed by some to be one of the toughest in South Africa, if not the world, is run annually up, along and back down the mountains. A British schoolteacher, stationed in Harrismith during the Anglo Boer War disparagingly referred to the mountain as ‘that small hill of yours’. Locals challenged him to reach the summit in under an hour. He did, but only just, and the race was born.

Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve

Rugged, steep krantzes silhouetted against the skyline, mountain slopes snugly, covered with a grass blanket, deep lushly vegetated kloofs and a crystal clear lake are facets of the beauty of this reserve, which covers 180 000 ha. Oribi, reedbuck, and grey rhebuck inhabitat this mountain reserve. The Bald Ibis, the Blue and the Whitebellied Korhaan are conspicuous on the grassy slopes while Buffstreaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker and Sentinel and Cape Rock Thrushes can be seen on rocky outcrops. Bearded and Cape Vultures as well as the Black and Martial Eagles and Secretary bird are found here. The yellowwood, wild peach, koko tree, silky bark, black bark and bush guarri flourish in the sheltered kloofs. Wild grapes has twined into the tree tops where they form a dense leafy canopy that protects ferns and mosses below. Fungi and lichen nestle against living and rotting tree trunks. The mountain slopes are decorated with wild myrtle, sugarbush and the scarce tree fern.

Location, Accommodation and Facilities

The nature reserve is situated approximately 23 km from Harrismith on the Harrismith / Bergville road (R74). The fully equipped chalets all have a breathtaking view of the lake and the mountains beyond. There are 360 camping sites along the shores of the dam. The caravan park is equipped with modern ablution facilities and power points. Slipways and boathouses have been built for boating enthusiasts. A recreation hall with bar and kitchen may be rented.

Recreation

The prevailing winds at Sterkfontein dam make it ideal for sailing and it has become a mecca for water sports. The reserve is also a popular spot for camping, angling, game viewing, biking and hiking. A two day hiking trail has been established. No one wanting to relax and savour the great outdoor sensation and the beauty of the mountain, will be disappointed.

Climate

The weather is very variable, so visitors should always be prepared for unexpected cold spells. The summers are mild, the winters cold. The annual rainfall varies from 750 mm to 1400 mm.

ATTRACTIONS

Annual Events

The Farmer’s Dance

Harrismith Gliding Competition – January

Catamaran Championships – February

Yellowfish Fishing Competition – March

Verkykerskop Marathon

Annual Agricultural Show

Northern Natal Polo Crosse Tournament – April

Polo Championships – May

Sterkfontein Dam Race – June

Harrismith Eastern Free State Stud Stock Sale

Jagersfontein Bicycle Fun Ride

Polo Championship – August

Polo Tournament – September

Platberg Spring Festival

Standard Bank / Harrismith Mountain Race – October

Platberg Nature Reserve Orienteering

Prince Arthur’s Bowling Shield

Golf Open

Sterkfontein Sailing – November

Gliding Tournament – December

Crafts

Distinctive southern African curios and arty things are available at Marqwahouse in Harrismith and Bira Crafts in Swinburne

Petrified Tree

30 m long and estimated to be 250 million years old. It can be viewed at the Town Hall

President Brand Park

A picnic area along the tranquil banks of the Wilge River

Township Tours

Self drive day tours or overnight stays enable visitors to experience what was described in the dark days of the early 1990’s as a township which was a haven of peace.

ACTIVITIES

Outdoors

Fishing, Hiking Trails, Watersport, Sterkfontein Dam

Sport

Golf

The 18 hole course is the third oldest in South Africa

Harrismith

HarrismithHarrismithHarrismith

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