This picturesque little town, “The Jewel of the Free State”, nestles snugly against the foothills of the sandstone Rooiberge (“Red Mountains”) and is protectively surrounded by the mighty Maluti Mountains. It was established in 1912 and named after the Swiss town where President Paul Kruger spent his last days in voluntary exile after the Anglo-Boer War. Apart from the town’s spectacular location among the mountains, the scenery is further enhanced by the many trees planted in and around the town. During autumn the sight of the poplar trees in their different shades of red, orange and brown awaits visitors, to be replaced during spring with shades of white, pink and lime-green, as the many fruit trees start blossoming and the weeping willows push forth their first tender leaves.
Fly-fishermen, artists and photographers all stream to Clarens for its beauty and tranquillity. Clarens has recently been acclaimed as having the best maintained fly-fishing waters for yellow fish, wild rainbow and brown trout in the country. Clarens is also spectacular horse-riding country and white-water rafters are guaranteed full water throughout the year. It is also conveniently close to the entrance of the renowned Golden Gate Highland National Park.
Adventure And Sport
Abseiling: The mountainous areas surrounding the town present many opportunities for abseiling.
Angling: No angler should leave his rod and tackle at home, with bass angling on offer at the Kloof Dam and trout and fly-fishing at venues such as the Townlands Dam, Bergwoning, Craigrossie, De Molen, Groenhoek, Zaaihoek and St Fort.
Hiking: There are many hiking trails that will allow you to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and its mountains. Several hiking trails traverse the Golden Gate Nature Reserve.
Holiday Farms: There are several holiday farms in the area. Bokpoort Adventure and Holiday Farm, with its interesting San rock art and nearby battlefield site, is deemed by many people to be one of the ten best holiday farms in the country.
Horse-riding: Horse-riding trips are offered at Schaapplaats and Bokpoort Adventure and Holiday Farm where there are three different routes to follow. Horse-riding is also offered on other privately owned farms in the district and in the Golden Gate Nature Reserve.
Hunting: Hunting trips can be undertaken on Rebellie Game Farm and Bokpoort Game Ranch.
Mountain-biking and 4×4 Routes: Traverse the areas of the Rebellie Nature Reserve, Bergwoning and Bokpoort Adventure and Holiday Farm where you can choose between three different trails varying in length from five to 56 km.
River Rafting: Water from the Khatse Dam in Lesotho is pumped through the Trans-Caledon tunnel into the Asrivier (“Ash River”) at a speed of 54 cubic metres per second. This causes spectacular rapids, ideal for rafting, to form on the river.
Sport: The town offers bowls, tennis and squash facilities to locals and visitors alike and also has a neat golf course.
Quad biking: Sethuthuthu Quad Bike Safaris offer bikers numerous biking trails laid out on several different farms with spectacular vegetation and views.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Fossil and dinosaur tours: Early species of dinosaurs roamed these plains and hills until volcanic activity threatened their existence. The information office in Clarens will supply you with details regarding guided fossil and dinosaur tours.
San Rock Art: An important San rock art site is located at the foot of massive sandstone outcrops on the farm Schaapplaats, in the Clarens district. This site is famous because it was once thought that the images depicted Phoenicians, making the art European in origin. This notion has long been abandoned as researchers pointed out the very obvious resemblance to San beliefs and other examples of San rock art. The paintings are in a very good state of preservation, most probably on account of the fact that the shelter is several metres deep and out of the direct sun. Other San rock art sites can be seen in the Golden Gate National Park.
Art And Crafts
Arts Amble: Join the Arts Amble and meet some of the local artists in their own studios and galleries.
Art Galleries and Craft Shops: Clarens is famous for its craft shops and for the approximately 18 art galleries in which the works of renowned South African artists, as well as those of several lesser known local artists, are exhibited.
Clarens Art Festival: The Clarens Art Festival is held annually in May and many local and national artists exhibit their work.
Fauna And Flora
Flower farm: Hypericum flowers are cultivated on a farm in the district and exported locally and to Europe. Guided tours can be undertaken to view the plants, hot houses, cold storage and sorting areas.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park: This 11 500 ha nature reserve, proclaimed in 1963, is situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountain Range. The park’s name is derived from the dying rays of the setting sun bathing the imposing sandstone formations and the grassy plains in a golden glow. The park is home to the rare bearded vulture, which has an impressive wingspan of about 3 m. As far as game is concerned, the visitor will be able to see relatively large herds of black wildebeest, eland, oribi, mountain reedbuck, rhebuck, zebra and buffalo. In summer the area is awash with colourful watsonias, fire lilies, red-hot pokers, arum lilies and many other wild flowers. During autumn the indigenous trees are clad in shades of red, green and yellow. The reserve offers excellent accommodation in the form of bungalows, cottages and camping areas. Horse-riding is a popular activity and there are many different walking and hiking trails in the reserve.
Scenic view point: Ash River Outfall is one of the Highlands Water Scheme’s view points on the Bethlehem Road, approximately eight km from Clarens. Take time to stop off here for spectacular views of the surrounding area!
History And Architecture
Basotho War: Five men belonging to Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Commando were killed near the town during the Basotho War of 1866. A monument in their memory stands in the central square of the town.
Surrender Hill Battlefield: Historic Surrender Hill, an Anglo-Boer War site, is situated 10 km from Clarens on the Fouriesburg Road. This is the spot where 4 000 Boers surrendered to the British. Local folklore has it that the grass at the site where the Boers were disarmed and their weapons burnt, still refuses to grow to this day.
Clarens Museum: The museum documents the history of the area and is housed in the Information Centre.
Historic Buildings: There are many historic corrugated iron and sandstone buildings in the town. The Dutch Reformed Churches, the Rectory in Hoof Street and Lake Clarens Guest House are fine examples of typical sandstone buildings.
Kruger Memorial Hall: The Kruger Memorial Hall honours Paul Kruger, the much admired President of the small Boer Transvaal Republic that took on the mighty British Empire during the Anglo-Boer War.
Mushroom Rock: This interesting rock formation can be seen 3 km from the town on the Fouriesburg Road.
Titanic Rock: The rock overlooking the entrance to Clarens resembles the hull of a ship and was dubbed the “Titanic” because Clarens and the Titanic were both in the news in 1912!