Farmers living east of Winburg tried unsuccessfully to establish a town in the prosperous Marquard area and only succeeded in their efforts with the help of the Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reverend JJ Marquard. The town was eventually established in 1905 and named after the Reverend. Marquard is situated on Road R708 between Winburg and Senekal and is regarded as the gateway to the Eastern Free State. The town and surrounding district is an eco-tourism, hiking and mountain biking Mecca.

Adventure And Sport

Abseiling and rock climbing: Korannaberg Mountain offers many opportunities for abseiling and rock climbing. Experienced instructors are at hand to take you through the moves.

Angling: There are many opportunities to fish in this area with its many natural and man-made dams.

4×4 routes: The Korannaberg/Merrimetsi 4×4 Trail in the Korannaberg Conservancy is approximately 20 km long and can take up to seven hours to complete. It offers breathtaking views of the mountain scenery and has various obstacles.

Hiking: The Koranna/Merrimetsi Hiking Trails in the 7-000 ha Korannaberg Conservancy vary in difficulty and length. The Koranna is a two-day backpacking trail with an overnight stay in either a magnificent cave or a thatch-roofed hut. You can also visit Magul se Gat (“Magul’s Hole”), high up in the Korannaberg Mountain. Magul, a local bandit, and his gang used to hide out in this cave after attacking the farmers in the low-lying areas. Finally, in desperation, the farmers drilled holes into the top of the cave to blast the gang out with dynamite. However, when the smoke cleared, there was no sign of the bandits. They had escaped through another entrance! The Merrimetsi Trail consists of three, colour-coded, day hikes: the 10-km (blue) route that passes more than 40 different types of trees, approximately 100 of which are tagged; the six-km (yellow) “pincushion/crow’s foot” route, renowned for the presence of these plants, that are only found in three places on this vast mountain, and the 10-km (green) route. There is also ample opportunity to view San rock art along these routes. There are various other hiking trails in this area such as the one-day Christmaskrans Trail on the Holland farm, the Banke Conservancy Trail, the Belvedere Nature Reserve Trail and the 23-km Kameelkop Trail.

Mountain Biking: The area has a number of mountain biking trails with excellent signage, such as the Koranna/Merrimetsi Biking Trails and the Flora MTB Trail. The Koranna Two Mountains Mountain Biking Classic, through the Belvedere Game Resort and up and down the mountainous terrain in the area, is a well-known annual event on mountain bikers’ calendars. The Flora Trail is used during this event as the Fun Riders and Challenging Riders’ trail. The Korannaberg Concervancy area is regarded as one of the ten best mountain biking areas in the country.

Polo: The Sparta Polo Club is well known throughout the South African Polo fraternity for its excellent fields and facilities.

Sport: The town has facilities for soccer, rugby, squash, badminton, bowls, tennis, darts and “jukskei” (a traditional Afrikaans sport).

Archaeology And Palaeontology

San Rock Art: There are many fine examples of San rock art in the caves and mountains in this area.

Fauna And Flora

Belvedere Nature Reserve: The reserve is situated in hilly terrain near the Korannaberg Mountain Range. It houses some 16 species of game and many birds. Accommodation in the reserve consists of two sandstone huts and a unique, thatch-roofed hut built on stilts, almost in the middle of a large dam. Angling, canoeing and boating (inflatable boats) are allowed on the dam.

Korannaberg Conservancy: This conservancy of some 16 000-ha is situated between the towns of Marquard, Clocolan and Excelsior and includes the majestic Korannaberg Mountain Range. Apart from the peace and quiet and spectacular mountain scenery, many species of game and birds can be observed. Several walking, hiking, mountain biking and 4×4 routes have been established in the conservancy. Merrimetsi Lodge, a lovely, restored 1886 sandstone dwelling, offers superb accommodation for up to ten people.

History And Architecture

Dutch Reformed Church: The Dutch Reformed Church, designed by the famous South African architects Louw and Moerdyk in 1929, is a good example of a typical Free State sandstone church.

Voortrekker Memorial: In 1938, during the Ox Wagon Trek Centennial, every resident of the town carried a rock to the Dutch Reformed Church to create the memorial that stands there to this day. A message buried in the memorial will be excavated in the year 2038.

Natural Wonders

Christmaskrans Caves: There is a particularly poignant story attached to these caves, which are situated on a farm in the area. According to legend three Boer women and their eleven children hid from the British in these caves during the Anglo-Boer War. On Christmas Day the women brewed some coffee and an English regiment encamped below the cave saw the smoke from their fire and promptly transported them to the nearest concentration camp.

Other Attractions

Sparta Beef: The Sparta Beef feedlot operation is the largest of its kind in the Free State and has between 38 000 and 42 000 head of cattle in its feedlot and several thousand calves on the Sparta farm. Visitors are welcome, but only by prior appointment.

Azar Estates Farm Tours: The farm tours, which can be arranged by appointment only, are customised according to the season and activities currently taking place on the farm. True “Boere” refreshments and lunch are included in the tour.

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