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Gauteng travellers on their annual sojourn to Durban and other seaside towns generally treat Harrismith as a convenient meal break and refuelling stop. And while the revenue gained is a boost for the town, the major attractions in Harrismith are passed largely unnoticed. Visitors who decide to stay a while longer are pleasantly surprised by the convivial inhabitants, the spotless streets and the historic gems scattered through the town.
Named after British governor Harry Smith, the town was established in 1849 at the foot of the Platberg Mountains where fresh water streams provided the town with water. Harrismith was later to become a British stronghold during the South African War thanks to its strategic position, and today it’s an important junction point linking Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein via a major highway network.
Harrismith has become somewhat of an artist’s retreat and with this comes creative ideas, unusual shops and quirky but most interesting people.
Top 6 reasons to visit Harrismith
1. Take a drive through Harrismith to see the old sandstone town hall, the Deborah Retief Garden, war memorials and immaculate parks. On the outskirts of the town is the British-built blockhouse and military cemetery. Ask a local to point out the bush shed that once served as a hospital for lepers and black typhoid sufferers.
2. Enjoy a round of golf at the Harrismith Country Club that boasts a spectacular 18-hole parklands course designed way back in 1887. For non-golfers, the club has tennis and squash courts.
3. The Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is popular for yachting, stunning sunsets over the water and catch-and-release fishing. The reserve offers the hiker dense forests, gorges and raptors on the steep cliffs high above.
4. Plentiful game fill the Platberg Mountain Reserve and visitors can expect to see zebra, springbuck and the blue wildebeest (gnu). Over 130 bird species are resident in the reserve. The Platberg Wildflower Gardens are also worth visiting.
5. Travel to St Fort farm outside Clarens to attempt the 2-day Cannibal Hiking Trail. It’s said that in the early 1800s a starving tribal clan in the area took to eating their dead relatives. They acquired a taste for human flesh and resorted to cannibalism. This trail provides some of the history that includes caves, ancient rock art, mountain streams, rock pools and a suspension bridge.
6. Looking to renew your marriage vows? Why not do so in the southern hemisphere’s smallest church? The Catholic Church at the nearby town of van Reenen welcomes couples of any denomination and will marry you at any time, day or night!
Harrismith has its own small airport for chartered flights. If flying in via an international airport, take your pick: airports are located in Johannesburg (OR Tambo International) and Durban (King Shaka International), both roughly 300km from Harrismith. The town has 3 car rental agencies to hire a vehicle or order one online. Harrismith is on the inter-provincial bus route for travel to Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban.
Did you know?
Harrismith is apple country and four different cultivars are grown here; the Cripps’ Pink, Sundowner, Braeburn and Fuji apple.
The Deborah Retief Garden commemorates her father Piet Retief, a Voortrekker leader who, along with Deborah, the rest of the family and other Voortrekkers were slaughtered by Zulu king Dingaan in 1837.