This eastern Free State adventure takes you through a time warp from the era when the San lived here thousands of years ago to the era of the cannibals in the 1800s, when clans that were persecuted by Zulu King Shaka fled to this hideout and turned to cannibalism.

Did you know?

For those who prefer a shorter trail, St Fort offers the 1-hour Mushroom Rock Trail to a sandstone rock formation that time has sculpted into what looks like a large mushroom.

On the second night of the Bushman’s Cave Trail near Clarens in the Free State you will sleep in a cave where, in times gone by, your bedfellows could have been either San, South Africa's 1st people, or the victims of cannibals.

The cave has distinct paintings depicting characteristic images in San rock art, such as an eland and a warrior wielding a spear.

The same cave is also said to have been the ‘pantry’ where the region’s resident cannibals stored their victims. The cannibals moved to this area just under 200 years ago when they fled to this part of the Free State from what is now KwaZulu-Natal to avoid being massacred by Zulu King Shaka. Forced to abandon their land and their cattle, the refugees, headed by their leader, Letsoeana, turned to cannibalism in desperation, or so the story goes.

And so it is that cannibals, San paintings and exceptional scenery will fill your two-day hike on this green flag adventure in the eastern Free State. Its green flag status indicates that it is a pristine natural area, in the same way that the blue flag indicates a pristine beach.

The Bushman’s Cave Trail is situated on St Fort Farm, a working farm with sheep, cattle, maize and wheat. It is 5km from Clarens, a popular little country town just outside the spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

A white footprint on a black background guides you along the trail (9km on the first day and 7km on the second). On the first night you either stay in a renovated milking shed with bunk beds, electricity and braai facilities, or one of eight restored ox wagons.

En route you will hike through mountains, along rivers, through forests and across boulders in this evocative region on the border between Lesotho and the eastern Free State.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Ernestine Goldblatt

Owner of St Fort farm

Tel: +27 (0)58 256 1345

How to get here

Directions from Johannesburg (about 3 hours to Clarens, and another 5 minutes to St Fort) - Take the N3 - Heidelberg/Durban road. - Directly after crossing the Vaal River (after the Engen One Stop before Villiers), take the slip-way to the left, which puts you onto the R26. - Follow the R26 to Frankfort. Just before Frankfort, turn right at the T-junction. - Pass Frankfort, and cross the Wilge River. - About 300m further, watch for a signboard - Reitz/Tweeling, and turn left. - Follow the R26. Pass Tweeling and Reitz. - Drive straight through Bethlehem on the Durban road - N5. - About 5km from Bethlehem, turn right onto the Clarens/Golden Gate road (R712). - Travel for about 35km to Clarens.

Best time to visit

All year round if you can take the cold as the nights in the mountains are severe. If you prefer milder weather, only do the trail in the summer months (September to April). It usually snows in this area in winter (May to August).

Around the area

Clarens is a popular country town. There are plenty of arts and crafts outlets, and sports and adventure activities in the area. You should definitely visit the spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park, which is close by. This national park is also good for hiking in.

What will it cost

The 2-day trail costs R200 per person. Food and drinks are for your own account.

Length of stay

Several days as there is so much to do in and around Clarens and after the trail you can base yourself at the comfortable St Fort farmhouse.

What to pack

Sleeping bag, pillow, backpack, bathing costume, hat, mosquito spray, food, water.

Where to stay

Accommodation is provided on the hike, including an overnight stay in an evocative cave. Rudimentary cooking utensils and ablution facilities are provided.