Harrismith, South Africa -- this small, sleepy town on National Route Three, between Johannesburg and Durban -- seems to get overlooked by many foreign travelers on their way into the Drakensberg or to the coast. It gets scant coverage in guide books, but has so much going for it. It is easily worth spending a couple of days here.
The town is dominated by the just-under two-thousand-four-hundred-meter Platberg Table Mountain sitting to the east. This nine-kilometer-long monster can be hiked in under five hours round trip, yielding magnificent views from the top. The hike traverses private land, so it is essential to get detailed information before you set out. The fifteen-kilometer Harrismith Mountain Race, to the top and back, is an annual event each October.
Harrismith was also the center of many important skirmishes during the Second Boer War at the turn of the twentieth century. The municipal cemetery has a large section that is dedicated to the many fallen British servicemen, including a couple tombstones inscribed for unknown soldiers. There is a military blockhouse, still in good condition, used by the British during the war, that you can visit; get detailed directions, as it is hard to find.
The red sandstone Town Hall, built in the early twentieth century, dominates the Town Center; you can see several other old buildings dating from the thirties on Warden Street.
The Platberg Nature Reserve (also known as Platberg Eco Park), sits on the southeastern edge of town and is privately run. There are some hiking trails, one of which leads up to the top of Platberg Mountain. The small reservoirs are nice places for a picnic and bird watching. The reserve is a mountain biker's dream, with many trails signposted and is also host to a mountain biking festival -- The Platberg Classic -- every August. The reserve is also home to eland (antelope), blesbok (antelope), zebra, and mountain reedbuck, as well as a multitude of alpine plants.
Harrismith is a popular destination for domestic tourists, and has many guesthouses as well as choices for Harrismith, South Africa hostels with dorm accommodation. It is also a good stopover on the way to the Drakensberg Mountains and the many hostels there. Trips into the mountains can be organized in Harrismith to the local area. Your Harrismith, South Africa hostel or guesthouse will have excellent information on these and other trips, such as the drive to the beautiful town of Clarens, just over ninety kilometers southwest of Harrismith. The drive south to the Drakensberg Mountains takes you from Free State, South Africa, into Kwazulu-Natal, past the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, and over the Oliviers Hoek Pass, a lovely drive.
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