To most people, Harrismith is nothing more than a breakfast stop on their way to the seaside. Is there something more to this small town, nestled in the Free State’s gateway to KwaZulu-Natal?
We are so used to passing through Harrismith or just stopping at the Wimpy that we miss the most beautiful places around this border town between the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
We hardly notice Platberg, with the cross on top. But during a conversation with Ben Deysel, a Harrismith businessman, he told me that he would put together a 4×4 trip that would open our eyes about this English-named town populated by Afrikaners.
We took up the challenge and Ben surprised us by putting together a most interesting 4×4 trip.
The owners of 25 vehicles gathered at Sir Harry’s Lodge on a Wednesday. Each day we explored a different area, returning to the beautiful lodge in the evenings for a good meal and a warm bed.
On the Thursday we went into the park that included the mighty Platberg. The oak tree forest impressed us, but then the road led to the start of the steepest climb. The track was laid out with concrete, otherwise no 4×4 would ever get up there. The elevation was 200m but the distance was less than a kilometre!
When we finally reached the top, a flat grass-covered plateau awaited us. Thousands of watsonia plants were just waiting for the rain before flowering. They cover the mountain, and at one end of the plateau is a smallish lake that looks like a crater. It’s always full of water and attracts many water birds.
The plateau is about 15km long and on the southern side there is a dam, built by the English during the Anglo-Boer War to supply water to the troops and horses.
Every year the Harrismith mountain marathon is held here. The route goes up and across the mountain and down on the opposite side. The up route is the real killer. They call it the One Man Pass, because only one runner can get up at a time.
On the second day we visited the farm of Jaap van Niekerk. That was an experience! He has a collection of classic and vintage cars and also model cars, Dinky Toys, old fuel pumps, signs and other collectables. We could not get the men away, but the mountain awaited us.
A long steep climb on solid sandstone was the highlight, and some people were too scared to go up. Later they were sorry that they hadn’t tried, because the view from the top was unbelievable. The full 360 degrees was unspoiled views over the Free State on one side and KwaZulu-Natal on the other. One felt that on a clear day you could see the sea!
Then we took the road to the edge of the escarpment overlooking KwaZulu-Natal. We went down the Normandien Pass and up the De Beers Pass, where we experienced the most wonderful sunset before heading back to the lodge.
The last day we went to the very remote farm, Toronto, belonging to advocate George Galloway. This was an all-new experience, with a steep climb to the top of the mountain where his cattle were grazing.
At some places some drivers needed help and navigation, because it was so steep that you could not see the trail over the bonnet of the 4×4.
One of the local businessmen, Stefan Lombaard, is responsible for building the fire breaks up and down the escarpment between the two provinces, and he told us about many unknown small passes that give him access to the mountains.
We are going to work together to get permission to do a trip, driving on this Tortoise Route over all the small mountain passes. – Francois Rossouw