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SSometimes it’s not enough to just soak up awesome scenery, you need to immerse yourself in it, to be able to feel a part of it. In the Free State province, near a little town called Clarens, you can do exactly this. Whether it’s feeling the rush of the rapids with some white-river rafting or hiking up incredible mountains, there are plenty of adventures to have in this scenic corner of South Africa.
AAlthough white-water rafting can be quite extreme, have no fear as there are “rapids and rafting for everyone”, says Ollie Esplin, owner of Clarens Xtreme, which has been taking visitors down the river since 2005.
“Even if you have never done white-water rafting before, you can do it, and you don’t need to be fit”, he says. “It's a young river and therefore it's a narrow river, where the current is pushing you the whole time, making it easy to navigate the six- to eight-person rafts we use.”
Going down this 18km stretch of the Ash River will take you about a day (or a half-day on the 9km option). The river has grade three and four rapids, including Car Wash, Fish Pond and Big Surprise (because the river makes a 90-degree bend and then, surprise, there’s a waterfall).
Clarens, Free State
SSome rafting companies in Clarens accommodate children on calmer parts of the river. Esplin’s company takes those under the age of 10 out of the raft for the rapids, and they then walk or drive to the next section of the river, where they can hop on again.
In winter (May to August), the ride is called the Polar Bear Challenge because the water gets pretty icy. But don’t worry, you’ll be given a wetsuit to help keep the cold out.
You don’t have to get in the water to enjoy an adventure though. Clarens is adjacent to the scenic Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Famed for its golden sandstone sentinels, this Free State park is a great choice for families who enjoy wide open spaces. It’s located in the foothills of Lesotho's Maluti Mountains and is renowned for its extraordinary landscape, and the caves and shelters that are there to be explored.
Here that you can explore the mountainous terrain and get your boots on for some spectacular hikes. Try hiking up the Brandwag Buttress, or Ribokkop, the highest point in the park, or you could spend the night in the wilderness on the two-day, one-night Rhebok Hiking Trail.
While you’re there, you can also visit the Vulture Restaurant, explore the area on horseback, hop on a mountain bike or go on a game drive. But whatever you do, don’t forget to take the time to stop and enjoy the park’s amazing panoramic views.