Adventure In South Africa’s ‘Jewel Of The Eastern Free State’

By the kind courtesy of South African Tourism West Africa, I recently spent a week in South Africa, three nights in one of South Africa’s hidden treasures, a small town by name Clarens. I was part of about thirty players within the tourism industry and media practitioners from Ghana and Nigeria for the 2017 South Africa Specialist experience.

Clarens is situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State province of South Africa and nicknamed the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State”. Established in 1912, it is named after the town of Clarens in Switzerland where exiled and former South African president, Paul Kruger, spent his last days. Clarens can be found 336 kilometers away from Johannesburg and about three hours by road.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, celebrated African legend, liberator and former South African President Nelson Mandela expressed his feelings for the Free State as follows: “the Free State landscape gladdens my heart, no matter what my mood. When I am here I feel that nothing can shut me in and that my thoughts can roam as far as the horizons“.

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, among other places. Clarens is known for its spectacular sandstone mountains and wonderful climate; it is one of the most picturesque spots in South Africa.

The transfer from O.R Tambo International airport to Clarens was organized by leading tour management outfit, Thompsons Africa. The journey was quite shorter than anticipated with Tefo Legobate as our tour guide on the day. He is a true professional with an all-round and deep knowledge about the region, making it a great engagement with him. Themba Ndayi from Thompsons Africa on the other hand will come in as and when need be to give valuable information about the Free State and also answer questions about tour management mechanisms across South Africa and beyond.

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After our arrival in the town and looking around with some members of the team, we had to make my way to the Clarens Wellness Day Spa for a shea aroma therapeutic massage. After the forty-five minute spa treatment, we then made our way to the Protea Hotel in Clarens for dinner before going to bed to get rejuvenated for the next day’s activities.

By 9am the next morning, we were at the Clarens Xtreme to start what will be a day full of excitement. By the way, Clarens Xtreme, the Great Adventure People, as they are called is a team of energetic adventurers seeking to experience the real world with a grassroots approach to adventure and team building. They have created amazing adventures that are meaningful and memorable on the path less traveled with an extraordinary experience.

Individuals as well as groups of up to hundred people can be catered for at Clarens Xtreme. It could either be school or education camps, fun adventure camps or perfect corporate getaways with great activities for all ages, shapes and sizes. Activities offered at Clarens Xtreme include White Water Rafting, Abseiling, Archery, Hiking, Leadership Challenges, Traditional Games and Paintball. Others are Zipline, Geology / Dinosaur Fossils, Volleyball, Soccer, Cricket and much more.

There is also the Clarens Oxwagon Camp, a unique ox wagon camp which is situated 7 kilometers from Clarens on the farm Linwood. Accommodation consists of 14 authentic, restored ox wagons, each furnished with 4 single bunk beds for up to 8 people. Each wagon has a braai with table and chairs.

The wagon is fitted with a light but no electrical point. Communal ablutions include classic bucket showers with hot water available, hand basins and flush toilets. In addition, a communal kitchen for the use of all campers consists of a wash-up area, 4 plate gas stove, fridge and a kettle. The function venue consists of a big hall and lapa area ideal for groups up to 200 people. A terraced bank on the mountain side of hall serves as an amphitheatre, with the side of hall as a stage are. The huge lapa is ideal for end of year functions, unique birthday parties and a great school camp.

Our adventure on the day commenced with the daring white river rafting which turned out to be an amazing experience. It comes with a lot of thrilling moments especially going through the rapids though perceived initially as scary and dangerous. I guess the professional guides on each raft makes participants feel comfortable knowing they are not on their own.

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After hours of rafting going through five categories of rapids downstream, we moved on to the second and last activity for the day, the Mountain Quad Zip-Line. Zip-line, also known in South Africa as foefie slide, consists of a pulley suspended on a cable, usually made of stainless steel and mounted on a slope. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to travel from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable by holding on to or attaching to the freely moving pulley. These two made our day giving us a totally outstanding experience.

Have you ever heard of the Basotho Cultural Village? That was where we spent the third and final day in the Free State, experiencing another spectacle of nature and learning the culture of an ethnic South African group. The Basotho Cultural Village nestles in the heart of the Qwaqwa Nature Park which recently has been incorporated into the world-renowned Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

The Basotho Cultural Village is a real cultural treasure with a simple and fascinating architecture of the South Sotho and a host of activities which tourists can take part in. The village celebrates the culture and tradition of the Sotho people – huts are built and furnished according to time period and one can enjoy traditional dancing, cuisine and some time with the resident sangoma.

A big highlight of a visit to this cultural village was the various walks in and around the area, including the Matlakeng Herbal Trail. This walking trail takes the visitor on a walk through the grasslands and woodlands, with impressive views of gorgeous sandstone cliffs. An Ngaka (healer) and social ecologist guide visitors and locate an array of roots, herbs, grasses, leaves and bark that have healing properties.

Soon, it was time to pack our bags and move to our next destination, Cape Town, the Mother City.

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