Springbok Diaries - 8 December 2020


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Africa » South Africa » Free State » Clarens
December 9th 2020
Published: January 21st 2021
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After another early morning safari we were ready for a change of topic. The Drakenberg mountains were awaiting us with the town of Clarens as our destination for the day. The 200km drive will take us through the Golden Gate National Park. Before we had to drive over the Van Reenen Pass. Named after the little town of Van Reenen, standing guard at the top of this majestic pass, which winds its way through the Drakensberg mountains between Ladysmith and Harrismith along the N3, the main connection between Durban and Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the only record that the pass can lay claim on is, that it is the most dangerous pass in South Africa with the heaviest truck traffic density on any national road. (see the borrowed picture taken during the winter months). However it provides also a beautiful scenery as one drives this border area of KwaZulu Natal and the Free State. Nui did enjoy the scenery, whilst Nenad back in the driver seat, enjoyed swearing at the African truck driver dynamics.

Once we left this busy N3 artery it was back to solitude on the road and full enjoyment of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. It covers an area of 340 km2. The park's most notable features are its golden, ochre, and orange-hued, deeply eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops, especially the Brandwag rock. Another feature of the area is the numerous caves and shelters displaying San rock paintings. Wildlife at the park is with the exception of birds rather limited. However this only National Park of the Free State province it is anyway more famous for the beauty of its landscape than for its wildlife. Numerous paleontology finds have been made in the park, including dinosaur eggs and skeletons.

Once through the park we reached the town of Clarens. Clarens is a small town situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, part of the Drakenberg massif. It is nicknamed the "Jewel of the Eastern Free State". It was established in 1912 and named after the town of Clarens, a village between Montreux and Vevey in Switzerland, where exiled Paul Kruger, the former President of the Boer State of Transvaal, spent his last days. During the Free State - Basotho War of 1865 (Basothos are the people from Lesotho), five "burghers" from the Transvaal were murdered by them. Paul Kruger, together with a commando of burghers took revanche and defeated the Basotho at the Battle of Naauwpoortnek (near Clarens). Hence the connection. Today Clarens is an artists' haven with many well-known artists either living in or frequenting the village, with many art galleries scattered around the village square and the town. The tranquil village ambience combined with scenic views and a mild climate has made Clarens a popular getaway for city dwellers from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban. Clarens is known for its spectacular sandstone mountains and wonderful climate. It is one of the starting spots for a Lesotho tour. Clarens, they say, is one of the most picturesque spots in South Africa and has recently been acclaimed as the best Trout Fishing waters in South Africa. We wondered what the people from Dullstroom would say to this claim. Remember we visited Dullstroom on our way to Hazyview. They named Dullstroom the capital of trout fishing in South Africa. Marketing is everything ! With an exquisite water quality it is not surprising that Clarens has a very famous micro brewery as well, situated in the main road, called the Art Street. Beer degustation and pub food (burgers, fish & chips) was that night on our menu.

As
nearly everywhere, so also in Clarens tourist numbers were way down and many of the galleries were closed. We initially wanted to visit from there Lesotho. Unfortunately Lesotho due to Covid say locked its borders to any tourist traffic. A huge storm late afternoon approached us from the Drakensberg mountains, forcing us to enjoy the beer & burgers and retire to an early night. Having had a 5AM rise and having to drive all of the next day, we actually did not mind.


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