Harrismith is a town on the Wilge River, south-east of the Platberg, 86 km east of Bethlehem, 53 km south-east of Warden and 82 km north-west of Ladysmith. Originally laid out in 1849 at Majoorsdrif, 16 km west of the present site, it was moved for lack of water and established in 1850. Municipal status was attained in 1875. Named after Sir Harry Smith (1787-1860), Governor of the Cape, 1847-1852.

  • Kestell is located  46 km west of Harrismith on the N5.
  • Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, R74, Bergville, is 45 km’s away.
  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located 75 km’s via the R712.

 

A rather charming example of a typical Free State town, Harrismith is probably best known by South Africans as the “halfway house” half way, that is, between Durban & Johannesburg and Bloemfontein & Durban. For years it has served as the midway stop to tank up both on fuel and food. Suffice it to say that Harrismith has remained in obscurity pretty much until recently. Harrismith lies just off the N3, roughly 314 kilometres from Johannesburg and 315 kilometres from Durban, and the N5 from Bethlehem comes to an end in the middle of the town, which serves as the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in the country.

The town hall in Harrismith, a national monument, is a graceful sandstone and brick building built in 1907. This and the Harrismith Wildflower Gardens, founded in 1967 as a botanical garden, with some fine examples of the Drakensberg region‘s flora and a wonderful picnic spot, are reason enough to visit Harrismith. The town also serves as something of a gateway into the Drakensberg Mountains and people use Harrismith to stock up on last minute items or to make speedy reconnaissance trips for dwindling supplies. There‘s plenty to do in and around the town: The Sterkfontein dam close by is the third largest dam in the country and a haven for water enthusiasts; the Platberg Game Reserve adjoins the Botanical Garden and offers some amazing hiking and mountain bike trails; and Swinburne, a little village just south of Harrismith lies in a particularly beautiful part of the country.

Harrismith Tourism

Anglo Boer War Blockhouse

Original sandstone which is a replica of Rice‘s blockhouse in the Commando grounds.
Info Office Number: 058-6223525

Petrified Tree

30 m long and estimated to be 250 million years old. It can be viewed at the Town Hall.
Harrismith Tourism Office: 058 623 0860

Kekenburg battle sites

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

Little Church

Can accommodate only 8 people and it is situated at the border between KZN, FS and the main N3. 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.

  • SMALLEST CHURCH IN SA – The top of Van Reenen’s Pass, on the main road between KZN and Harrismith, you’ll find South Africa’s smallest church – the Llandaf Oratory. The tiny Roman Catholic church was built by the Maynard Matthews as a tribute to his son, Llandaff, who died in 1925 while rescuing 8 co-workers in a mining accident at the Burnside Colliery in Glencoe. Significantly, the little church can only accommodate 8 people. Now a National Monument, the church is open to the public during daylight hours.

Deborah Retief Gardens

A 250 million year old, 33 m fossilized 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.
Harrismith Tourism Office: 058 623 0860

Sterkfontein Dam and Nature Reserve

Situated on the R74 on the Oliviershoek Pass from KZN and Harrismith. From Bloemfontein and Gauteng (via N1) it can be via the N5 or the N3. It is the third largest dam in South Africa providing a perfect playground for sailing and other water-sports. The surrounding landscape is scenically stunning – characterized by rugged mountains, lush ravines and rolling grasslands.

In this beautiful setting is the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve covering 18 000 hectares. Perfect for long walks, hiking (there is a two-day hiking trail) and biking, it also offers excellent game viewing and bird watching. You can tick off oribi, reedbuck, mountain reedbuck, grey rhebuck, the bald ibis, the blue and whitebellied korhaan, the buffstreaked chat, the ground woodpecker and the sentinel. Gaze up to the sky and you could spot bearded and Cape vultures as well as Verreaux’s (black) and martial eagles soaring. Secretary birds can also be spotted in treetops or stalking in the grasslands. Has brilliant birds‘ species and windsurfing.
Reservation Number: 058-6223520

Vulture Restaurant

Cape and Bearded vultures benefit from feeding scheme (vulture restaurant) at the view site overlooking Sterkfonteindam with safe poison free carcasses.
Harrismith Tourism Office: 058 623 0860

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 its kind.
Harrismith Tourism Office: 058 623 0860

Kekenburg battle sites

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.

Harrismith Tourism Office: 058 623 0860

Accommodation

Little Switzerland Resort

The resort boasts a history that spans over a hundred years, from its start as tea garden to a transformation into quaint Alpine chalets and hotel rooms with breath-taking views of what feels to be the pinnacle of the South African landscape.

Little Switzerland really is something special, from the beautifully manicured grounds, to the main building with authentic thatched roofing and local wood framings and furnishings, each with stories of their own. You’ll be warmly welcomed and enraptured by idyllic views of the Drakensberg mountains clad in clouds, shrouded in snow, mellow in mist or crisp and clear.

R74 Oliviershoek Pass
Bergville, KwaZulu Natal
P: +27364382500
E: res@lsh.co.za
W: www.lsh.co.za

Qwantani Berg and Bush Resort

Situated on the banks of the Sterkfontein Dam, 43km from Harrismith, Qwantani Berg and Bush Resort has 53 luxury self-catering chalets. Onsite conferencing and wedding facilities are available and many clients return time and time again to make use of this superb venue. The Marshall Eagle Restaurant provides home-style meals, banqueting, sumptuous buffets and regular specials. There is a daily entertainment programme to amuse the whole family as well as fishing, horse riding, barge cruises, adventure golf and a swimming pool. Qwantani is perfect for those looking to relax amidst breathtaking scenery, isolated from the hustle and bustle of suburbia.

058 623 0882
info@firstgroup-sa.co.za

Wild Horses Guest Lodge

Five star lodge located in Harrismith (Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve), northern Drakensberg, Free State.  Occupying pride of place within the Sterkfontein Dam district, Wild Horses Lodge is a Sandstone villa facing the breathtaking expanse of the Sterkfontein Dam and the Platberg Mountains.

This Drakensberg Lodge was built with living in mind. Kitchen, lounge, and bar area merge, and regardless of which room you choose to inhabit you are treated to the most magical view. The dining room opens out to an expansive terrace. A private library, wine cellar, Koi pond, rim-flow pool, rose garden and landscaped indigenous garden complete the picture.

Telephone: +27 (0)58 622 7000
E-mail:info@wildhorses.co.za

EAGLE ROUTE

Harrismith is part of the Eagle Route of the Free State.

Following the Free State’s southern border with Lesotho, the Eagle route runs from Ficksburg to Harrismith through some of the most picturesque landscape in the country. Activity highlights include cherry picking, seeing dinosaur fossils and rock paintings, arts & craft shopping, skiing in the winter slopes, horse riding and 4X4 trips.

The towns to explore on the Eagle route are:

 

LEGENDARY LADYBRAND

  • Visit a host of natural wonders, including The Stables (a huge rock shelter used by the Boers to stable horses during the 1858 Basotho War) and the Cave Church (a hollow sandstone outcrop where Anglican missionaries worshipped, and where Africanist churches make pilgrimages).
  • Modderpoort (Lekhalong la Mantsopa) and the grave of the legendary BaSotho prophetess Anna Mantsopa Makhetha.

 

FUN IN CLOCOLAN

  • Fish at the 2 hectare Amohela Ho Spitskop dam and adjacent deep water quarry for rainbow trout, black bass and carp.
  • Catch the unforgettable Vintage Tractor Fair each March.
  • Take a peek at the prestigious Prynnsberg Heritage Home.
  • Don’t miss a visit to Highlands Essential Oils, the Angora Rabbit Farm and the Ben Nevis Cherry Wine Farm.

 

FICKSBURG – CHERRY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

You can’t visit Ficksburg without going to the Ionia Cherry Farm and tasting the famous Ionia Cherry Liqueur. The highlight of the year is the world-class Cherry Festival, which takes place each November. Other Ficksburg attractions are:

  • The Gumtree – SA’s tallest sandstone building.
  • General Fick’s monument.
  • The White Mischief Cruise boat.
  • Organic industries at Green Goose Organics and Ember Down.
  • Meqheleng Township in Ficksburg, where many Basotho from Lesotho come to shop.

 

NATURAL BEAUTY IN FOURIESBURG

  • Visit the mystical Motouleng Cave, a traditional ancestral worship site, and take a drink from the sacred spring.
  • Experience indigenous bird life amidst the sandstone cliffs and caves of Meiringskloof Nature Reserve.
  • See the Surrender Hill Battle Site (where 4,000 Boer soldiers surrendered during the Anglo-Boer War) and a monument to fallen British soldiers.

 

ART, CRAFT AND ADVENTURE IN CLARENS

Famous as an artists’ and crafters’ paradise, Clarens is also a dream-come-true for outdoor enthusiasts. Here are a few reasons why Clarens is called the “Jewel of the Free State”:

  • 18 art galleries, and dozens of arts & crafts shops.
  • The famous Clarens Brewery.
  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
  • The oldest dinosaur nesting site ever found.
  • Sports activities galore, including white water rafting, abseiling, 4X4 or quad bike safaris and golfing.

 

BETHLEHEM’S BIG CATS

  • At Bethlehem you’ll find Lions Rock, an extraordinary wildlife rehabilitation and breeding centre that has rescued more than 60 big cats from all over the world.
  • Also visit the monuments at Sol Plaatje Dam and the Old Nazareth Mission Church.

 

SOTHO CULTURE IN PHUTHADITJHABA

  • See Wetsi’s cave, where Chief Wetsi of the Makholokhoe tribe hid cattle stolen from the Boers
  • Walk to the top of the 850m-high Tugela Falls on the Sentinel Hiking Trail.
  • Visit the Basotho Cultural Village (Tel: 058 721 0300) and experience Sotho life dating back to the 16th century.
  • Drive up to the Witsieshoek Mountain Resort and visit the legendary Vulture Restaurant.

 

HISTORIC HARRISMITH

  • Visit the historic Deborah Retief Gardens and see a 250 million-year-old, 33m-high petrified tree.
  • Relax at the beautiful Sterkfontein Dam Resort and Nature Reserve.

 

MEMEL

Surrounding the town of Memel is the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve, a 30sq km wetland which has international RAMSAR status. At certain times of the year, thousands of water birds congregate here, making the area a true birding paradise.

RESERVES AND RESORTS

Sterkfontein Nature Reserve and Resort – 23km from Harrismith. Tel: 058 622 3520
Golden Gate Highlands National Park and Resort – 17km from Clarens. Tel: 058 255 1000
Meiringskloof Nature Reserve – 17km from Fouriesberg. Tel: 058 223 0067
Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge – Phuthaditjhaba. Tel: 058 713 6361/2

EMERGENCY NUMBERS

Ambulance: 10177
Fire Brigade: 058 713 1777
Police: 10111
Traffic: 058 713 6824
Tourism Contact:  – 058 713 0012


 

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. 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.

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