Harrismith, Free State
Did you know?
The Platberg that looms over Harrismith is the location for the annual Berg Marathon, a cross-country marathon.
The fact that Harrismith lies halfway between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3 highway is both a blessing and a curse. The ‘curse’ part is that motorists mostly just stop off for fuel and a bite before continuing on their seven-hour journey.
The ‘blessing’ part is that should you decide to pull over and spend some time in Harrismith, you’ll discover one of the eastern Free State’s diamonds in the rough.
Surrounded by rows of serried Drakensberg peaks and quiet pastoral valleys, rural Harrismith is like a village from a Thomas Hardy novel. It’s real ‘Farmer Brown’ country, and on any day in the town centre you’ll find tractors vying with sedans for road space. The people who live in the area are artistic, resilient and often blessed with the kind of eccentric sense of humour that allows people to survive the coldest winters.
Precisely because of its location, Harrismith was a pivotal centre during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War). Held by the British, the town was also at the apex of a series of blockhouses initially built to defend the railway line.
Evidence of one of the British battalions that bivouacked in Harrismith still stands on a nearby hill, which bears the inscription ‘42’. The First Battalion Royal Highlanders (also known as the Black Watch) stayed here for nearly a year. That hill is now part of Intabazwe township, and a lively local community.
There’s always something on the go in the township of Intabazwe, especially on Mponeng Street. The locals call it ‘See Me Street’, because if you live in Intabazwe and you have something to show off to your neighbours, you parade it down Mponeng. It can be a pretty girlfriend, a smart phone, a new car or simply some music that you show off by playing it at top volume while cruising down ‘See Me Street’ ...
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)58 623 0860
How to get here
Harrismith is just off the N3 between Johannesburg (314km) and Durban (315km).
Best time to visit
If you like snow, come here in winter (July-August), as it often snows at this time of year.
Around the area
Sterkfontein Dam, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Clarens and Bethlehem are all within day-drive distance.
It's best to drive yourself, but Harrismith also lies on major bus routes.
Length of stay
Use Harrismith as a day-drive base for travels through the area. The town could be a two-day destination.
What to pack
In high summer (December and January), all you are going to need is light clothes. Winters (May to August) can be very cold, so dress accordingly.
Where to stay
There are lots of options here, including campsites, chalets in nature reserves, rooms in heritage hotels, B&Bs, and even a convenient packpackers' lodge in town. Contact the information or tourism numbers listed below as they can help you with your accommodation.
Harrismith has a busy social programme, so check the websites listed for activities and events.
Local artworks, from artists like Thelmi Bekker, Adam Truscott and Madeleine Roos.