Exploring South Africa – The Free State Province

In the third week of March 2018, I was part of a group of South African Tourism’s trade partners and selected media from Ghana and Nigeria for a one week tour across three of South Africa’s provinces, namely Free State, Kwazulu Natal and Gauteng. The fully sponsored trip was made possible with the collaboration of South Africa’s national carrier, South African Airways.

After our arrival at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and formularizing with each other, the team, led by Mohammed Tanko Kwajaffa, South African Tourism’s West African Trade Relations Manager and the West African Regional Manager, Hloni Pitso, embarked on a three hour road trip to the Free State.

Though that was going to be my second time in the Free State, I was particularly excited to once again experience the amazing atmosphere at Clarens, a small town located in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains nicknamed the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State”. Although most of the Free State is notoriously flat, the eastern portion of the province offers fun riding with its smooth roads.

After checking into the Protea Hotel in Clarens where we were to lodge for the next two days, I went on a walk with a couple of the team members. From the President Square, we visited several arts and craft shops – gift shop and gallery, pottery, leatherwork, cat rocks, candles, ethnic art and upholstery.

Clarens is rich in beauty with an aura of peace and tranquility which is rare to find in other parts of South Africa and around the world.  The town is endowed with various tree species – the fresh, light green willows and colourful blossoms of many fruit trees are an unforgettable sight with the many sandstone buildings adding to the picturesque atmosphere.

The team visited the Golden Gate Highlands National Park which offers some of the most spectacular scenery. Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast on the park’s sandstone cliffs. The 11,600 hectares of unique environment is a true highland habitat, providing home to a variety of mammals including black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell’s zebra and birds such as rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the bald ibis.

Also located at the Golden Gate Park is the Basotho Cultural Village which takes you down memory lane and accurately depicts the lifestyle and architecture of the South Sotho people from the sixteenth century to the present. As part of the Basotho hospitality, we were offered the traditional beer of the Sotho people and also listened to their music – rangoon and lesiba.

Our trip in Clarens wouldn’t have been complete without a series of activities at the Clarens Xtreme, popularly referred to as the Great Adventure People. Our first activity was a guided quad bike outride which followed a route along the outskirts of town, brushing the township toward the foothills of the mountains surrounding Clarens.

After quad bikes, we went on to the Adventure Park for the zip line, which is a new glorified name for “Foefie slide”. It was a fun filled slide on the four zip lines through the little valley, a 170m, 162m, 150m and 148m slide.

 

Drakensberg

Our next stop was Drakensberg. Drakensberg is the name given to the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central Southern African plateau. The Great Escarpment reaches its greatest elevation in this region – 2,000 to 3,482 metres.

There are an estimated 35,000 individual recorded images at over 600 sites which can be seen in the Drakensberg region – making up 35% of all of South Africa’s San rock art sites. The two hour drive from Clarens to Drakensberg was startling with spectacular scenery throughout the journey.

We checked into the Drakensberg Sun Resort which is located in the heart of the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains. The Drakensberg Sun Resort is one of the world’s most scenic holiday destinations. This family-friendly Drakensberg resort is the perfect place to explore the region’s many fascinating attractions or simply to relax and unwind in one of South Africa’s most picturesque settings.

At Drakensberg, the team experienced how nature had been taken nature to new heights at the indigenous forest of the Central Drakensberg. It was time for the Drakensberg Canopy Tour!

Situated in the shadow of the towering Cathkin Peak, the Drakensberg Canopy Tour boasts of Africa’s first elevated rock face walkway with a good mix of both cliff face and treetop platforms, and cable slides over the forest up to 60 metres high. The Drakensberg Canopy Tour automatically go to the top of your “must do” list.

You will experience nature like never before as you slide through the forest canopy and enjoy a unique birds-eye view on the world around you. Set within the magnificent Blue Grotto forest, the Drakensberg Canopy Tour is guaranteed to take your breath away. The forest is home to over 150 species of birds including the rare Bush Blackcap.

Led by trained guides as you glide between platforms perched in trees and on cliff faces, the inspiring nature of the majestic Drakensberg, the ancient indigenous forest, waterfalls and the cascading stream make this an opportunity not to be missed.