Jozi breaks: A Free State road trip

Carina Greeff
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Apart from the trendy rooftop bars, vibey markets and buzz of the city life, one of the things that leave us Capetonians envious is a Joburger's accessibility to the most spectacular attractions in SA and beyond.

With Kruger to the right, Pilansberg to the left and the Drakensberg Mountains and Lesotho to the south, weekend getaways are as simple as hopping in the car and choosing a direction. Next time consider the journey south to one of SA's less-explored wonders - the Free State.

Tranquillity seekers find peace in the long stretches of emptiness and adventurers return time and time again for the pleasure of exploring the Drakensberg Mountains, surveying the slopes of the Maluti Mountains or discovering where the Ash River leads.

We suggest taking the winding road heading to Clarens, The Golden Gate Highlands National Park, The Basotho Cultural Village and Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge.

1. Find adventure in Clarens

A short two-hour drive will take you to the foothills of the majestic Maluti mountains, a stone's throw from Bethlehem and the mountainous Lesotho, to the little arty town, Clarens. Often visited for a tranquil weekend away exploring art galleries and unwinding, some might look right past the opportunity for an adventure! But with the Ash river's year-round flow, a river rafting adventure beckons!

Half-day trips are popular for social and family bonding, team building with colleagues or romantic adventures - trips for groups of two are also welcome. Take on nine grade 3 and 4 rapids while marveling at the natural beauty of your surroundings. Bird watching is a favourite pastime along the river. Included in your Clarens rafting adventure is an experienced guide, necessary equipment, transport and drinks.

Click here for more information.

#rafting #surfing #raft #ashriver #SA

A video posted by matias (@matiassilva87) on

If you're after a sit-down-and-chill, Clarens Brewery will cool you down with their selection of craft beers and ciders and refresh you with charming company. When visiting this part of the Free State, best would be to add something cherry to your diet - no worries, cherry cider is served on tap!

Clarens Brewery is situated in the heart of Clarens, the perfect pit stop during your Clarens exploration. Pay a visit to 278 on Main for a true Free State brekkie, the first art and wine gallery in SA, Art and Wine Gallery on Main and peddle out the Bokpoort mountain bike trail.

2. Explore the Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Adventure seekers and embracers of the Free State's ever stretching vistas will appreciate the unhindered Golden Gate Highlands National Park or "the jewel of the Free State". Visitors to the park usually take to abseiling, canoeing, game drives, nature walks, horse riding or swimming, but the park also welcomes motorcycle fanatics for scenic breakaways. 

Rally your troops and head along the R712 from Clarens to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park by motorcycle.

Our friends from Bonafide Studio in Johannesburg recently put this breakaway to the test and trekked the park from corner to corner. Twisting roads and a hike here and there leads to many remarkable viewpoints in the park.

ALSO SEE: #UnlockYourCity: Exploring Joburg with the Bonafide Beards crew

(Photo: Joe Fleming, Bonafide Moto Co, Johannesburg)

Monique Fleming, Mercia Jansen and Justin Waddington heading up the nicely paved road up to North Highlands Retreat inside the Golden Gate National Park. Heading up this mountain leads to the parks most amazing view point.

(Photo: Joe Fleming, Bonafide Moto Co, Johannesburg)

Looking down from one of the mountains inside of Golden Gate National Park. Beautiful twisty roads with stunning views. Park your bikes and opt for the (slightly steep) hike for remarkable views.

(Photo: Joe Fleming, Bonafide Moto Co, Johannesburg)

Enjoying the view from a cabin rooftop at the North Highlands Retreat inside of Golden Gate National Park. The Highlands Retreat provides especially picturesque views and visitors staying at the accommodation can relax on the roofs of their cabins for sundowners.

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park and its award-winning accommodation is a convenient escape from the city. The Lilizela Tourism Awards 2016 awarded the Golden Gate Hotel & chalets as the winner in the three star Hotel category and the Mountain Retreat was awarded the winner in the three star self-catering exclusive category. Click here to book your stay at the park.

ALSO SEE: Golden Gate proves why it's the Jewel of the Free State with multi-award win

3. A fix of culture at the Basotho Cultural Village

If you’re interested in the Sotho heritage, the Basotho Cultural Village in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a great place to learn about the traditional lives of the Basotho people, who have lived in the vicinity and just across the border in Lesotho. 

As a tribute to this prominent tribe in SA, SANParks has a reconstructed village complete with beautiful Basotho huts and age-old traditions. Upon arriving, visitors can indulge in a tradition meal of samp, beans and tripe, before going on tour run by actors in traditional dress. 

You’ll go around the village to meet with the chief, sample traditional beer, listen to the musicians play and for all your recurring ailments caused by the stressful city lifestyle, you can even visit with a traditional healer.

If you’re in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, you can do a guided, educational tour aimed at cultural heritage awareness through tracing the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting the historical sites of Qwa Qwa. This guided is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Its duration is seven hours. 

Click here for more information and bookings.

4. Discover the Drakensberg from Witsieshoek

An overnight stop at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is your gateway to the Drakensberg. Retreat to the mountain's majestic slopes and enjoy the hiker's heaven that it is.

First timers to the Drakensberg might find the hiking options overwhelming. Witsieshoek provides access to the Drakensberg mountains' most iconic hikes.

- The popular Amphitheatre hike is a surely on your must-hike bucket list. The hike takes you around the top of the Drakensberg for spectacular views. Set a day aside for this seven-hour excursion and be prepared for a climb.

- Fika Patso Dam hike can be arranged by the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. Expect an easy walk and a bit of a climb in this 5 - 7 hour hike. Take the Protea Pass back to the lodge.

- The Gorge hike is one of the most popular hikes and a relatively easy all day hike

- Follow the boundary fence of the Royal Natal Park, leading down to Broome Hill. Expect some climbing in this 3.5 hour hike.

- Swimming pools, falls and a beautiful lunch stop makes Gudu Falls a popular hike. You will want to spend some time there, so set six hours aside.

- For the fit and adventurous, the Sentinel hike will get the adrenaline pumping. The hike is difficult and hikers need to climb the rope ladder.

Click here for a full roundup on hikes in the Drakensberg.

A photo posted by Renae Scott (@rlscott11) on

Apart from the hiking adventures that lie ahead, the facilities of the lodge recently received additions and improvements creating a seamless experience to its visitors.

What to expect:

Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom officially launched and handed over facilities at the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge, to the Batlokoa people in Phuthaditjhaba on 21 November 2016. More than 225 community members from the Moeding, Thibela, Phomolong and Dinkweng villages were employed during the construction phase at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. 

Visitors to the Lodge can look forward to improved driveways, five additional chalets, central heating systems, improved sentinel buildings, and new furniture and fittings. 

“Investing in infrastructure development is not only critical to the growth of tourism, but also to the overall growth of our economy. Through such investments, our government is able to create employment opportunities, transform the sector, and transfer skills to people in the local communities,” said Hanekom. 

Click here for more information on Witsieshoek and book your stay.

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