In the shadow of the Malutis

Clarens is a bit of an oddity. Despite being positioned in the peaceful and picturesque Thabo Mofutsanyana region of the Free State, it has become one of the country’s leading cultural centres. And to new visitors this is quite surprising.

One would expect to find beautiful scenery and tranquil surroundings in the Free State. One would not, however, expect to discover a bustling hub of the South African art world. Yet this is exactly what Clarens is. It is a bohemian town filled with impressive art galleries, trendy coffee houses, fascinating shops and wonderful restaurants.

And since the town is located on the scenic Highlands Route that follows the Lesotho border through Ladybrand and ends at Zastron, it is a wonderful camping destination as well. Four campsites in the area allow you to combine outings to Clarens’s shops and galleries with excursions into the Free State highlands and Maluti mountains.

One of the most popular camping destinations in the Thabo Mofutsanyana region is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The park covers 11 600ha and is about 20km from Clarens.

Camping accommodation is offered at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp, which is centrally situated in the reserve (the campsite is about 50km from Clarens). Stands are shaded and have electricity, though this has to be arranged in advance. The camp also has clean ablution facilities, braai areas, a scullery and a laundry room.

Situated about 2km from Fouriesburg (and also about 50km from Clarens) is the Meiringskloof Nature Reserve. And like the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Meiringskloof boasts excellent stands in a peaceful, natural setting. Sites can accommodate six people and have electricity. Braai facilities are also provided.

If you’d like to stay a bit closer to Clarens, the Bergwoning Guest and Adventure Farm is an ideal option. The farm is just 16km outside the town and has a well-maintained campsite. It has clean ablutions, electricity at the stands and a camp kitchen. Most importantly, however, a maximum of 25 people is allowed, which means that the camp is usually peaceful. Of course, this also means that bookings have to be made well in advance.

The last option for campers is the Camelroc Guest Farm just outside Fouriesburg. In addition to clean ablutions and electricity at stands, this campsite also boasts thatched shelters with lights and tables. And if you leave your camping gear at home, don’t worry. Camelroc also offers tents and mattresses for hire.

Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the Thabo Mofutsanyana region. And considering the awe-inspiring scenery, this is hardly surprising. The Rhebok Hiking Trail is a two-day trail that starts at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp and ascends to Generaalskop, which is 2757m above sea level.

But be warned, the Rhebok Trail is quite strenuous, so if you’re looking for something a bit more sedate there are a few other trails to tackle in the park. The top of the Brandwag Buttress can be reached in about one hour and is a highly recommended trail. The ascent is pretty steep, but the view definitely makes it worth the effort.

The other three campsites also boast attractive hiking trails. Camelroc in particular has two beautiful trails that offer spectacular views of the Maluti mountains.

If the thought of trudging up mountains fills you with dread, perhaps a 4×4 excursion is the answer. Bergwoning, Camelroc and Meiringskloof all boast challenging and scenic 4×4 trails.

These campsites also have plenty of other activities to keep you busy. Bergwoning Guest and Adventure Farm in particular offers a wide variety of things to see and do. Abseiling, quad biking, mountain biking, horseback riding, paint ball games and cave picnics can all be arranged.

The Thabo Mofutsanyana region of the Free State is the ideal destination for an impromptu camping holiday. And Clarens is an ideal base from which to explore the natural beauty of the Maluti mountains. Not only isĀ  this charming town located close to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, but it also has loads of wonderful galleries, shops and restaurants. Best of all, Clarens is relatively close to Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban. It is about three hours’ drive from all three cities – so you can easily sneak away for the weekend.

Clarens (known as the Jewel of the Free State) is a vibrant town in the Thabo Mofutsanyana region. It is situated in the foothills of the Maluti mountains and is about 300km from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban. The town has plenty of restaurants, coffee houses, art galleries and shops. The 11 600 hectare Golden Gate Highlands National Park is close to the town.

CAMPSITES: The Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a popular campsite. Other campsites in the area include Bergwoning Guest and Adventure Farm, Camelroc Guest Farm and Meiringskloof Nature Reserve.

CONTACT: Tel. 058 255-1000 (Golden Gate);; Tel. 058 256-1124 (Bergwoning);; Tel. 058 223-0368 (Camelroc);; Tel. 058 223-0067 (Meiringskloof);

ACTIVITIES: Due to the beauty of the Maluti mountains, the area is a popular hiking destination. Countless trails can be found in the area. However, there are lots of other things to do as well. Attractions include 4×4 trails, mountain bike trails, canoe trips, game drives, San paintings, quad bike trails, abseiling, white river rafting and cave picnics.

Howling Moon, the company famous for its canvas camping gear, also offers two excellent rooftop tents.

When deciding between Howling Moon’s two tents, the Deluxe and the Tourer, it is important to consider your holiday plans. Will you be constantly on the road? Then the Deluxe tent is the answer. It is easy to erect and allows you to leave your sleeping bag, duvet and pillows in the tent when it is packed away. Access is gained via an external ladder.

If you’ll be spending extended periods at one campsite, then the Howling Moon Tourer Rooftop tent has a lot to offer. Not only is it very comfortable, but it also has loads of space – particularly when extension tent is erected. The extension tent allows for extra accommodation and space and is attached via a hood. The hood provides protection from the elements when entering or exiting the tent via its internal ladder.

The Deluxe tent retails for R (TBA). The Tourer costs R (TBA).

Howling Moon Rooftop tents are available at Campworld Dealers nationwide. For more information visit