The first question for the trek south from Johannesburg to Cape Town was where to stop first and what to explore. Parys, on the banks of the Vaal River and just over an hour south of Joburg provided one option — it seems to be a town on the up — but a speedy yet not-terribly-helpful reply from the Parys Info office was discouraging.
So we settled on visiting Clarens in the Eastern Free State for the first time. And… Wow!… we were not disappointed!
It’s about three hours out of Joburg (320km) taking the N3 toll road to Durban and then heading south on the R712 at Villiers and past Reitz and Bethlehem . The roads were good and as one approaches Clarens the scenery is spectacular! We left Joburg in pouring rain (which lead to flooding after we left) and arrived in a very wet, lush and spectacularly green eastern Free State.
The Maloti Route, and towns like Clarens and Fouriesburg, are a popular staging point for visits into Lesotho and especially the impressive Highlands Water Project.
Like so many towns, Clarens cannot be judged by its entrance. The developers of the Clarens Golf & Trout Estate have done the town a disservice with the new development perched on the mountain slope opposite the town’s entrance, and the road parallel to the R712 (which continues to the Golden Gate National Park a little further on) contains a few shops and eating places… driving along it, one wonders… “Is this Clarens!?”
But driving up Main Street, one comes to a glorious square surrounded by the tourism hub of the town. Eating, drinking, art, fashion and artifact outlets abound and one can wander around and around for hours. Yes, it is commercial and could almost be described as the “Franschhoek of the Free State”. It is very popular and there is a great buzz.
We stayed at Pumula Guest Farm, very comfortable, self-catering accommodation on a working cattle and sheep farm with spectacular views across a dam, opposite the town of Fouriesburg about 30km south of Clarens.
Fouriesburg has it’s own claim to fame as the Kwêla/Rapport Dorp van die Jaar (village of the year) in 2013. Much smaller, less commercial and pretentious than Clarens, it is a town that is coming into its own. Fortunately, many of it historical sandstone buildings are still well-preserved.
But it was at Pumula that Beezus really came into his own. His confidence exploded as he took himself off on long walks and played with far larger, farm dogs. His favourite was Lara, a young Anatolian Shepherd Dog. The sight to be remembered was when two Dobermans decided to join in the fun, and seeing Beezus chase them away up the hill, with much vicious snarling that completely belied his stature!
We were told that Rosendal is also worth visiting — it’s set to become the next Clarens — but although close as the crow flies, from Fouriesburg it was a long drive along a dirt road.