Nestled in the breathtaking Free State Province, just a stone’s throw away from the charming town of Harrismith, lies the remarkable Mount Everest Game Reserve. Despite its modest size, this privately owned reserve offers a gateway to an unforgettable experience that will leave you with bragging rights and an ‘I’ve climbed Mt. Everest’ t-shirt to prove it.
However, before you conjure images of the towering Himalayas, it’s important to clarify that this isn’t the famous Mount Everest, also known as Sagarmatha or the ‘head in the sky’ – the highest peak on Earth. Instead, within the boundaries of this game reserve, you’ll find a collection of sandstone crags gracefully adorning the landscape. Set amidst a diverse array of wildlife, including rhinos, ostriches, waterbuck, and mountain zebras, these rock formations have become a beloved destination for avid climbers from around the world.
Situated approximately 20 kilometers northeast of Harrismith, this hilly region in the Free State Province offers climbers and hikers access to a network of sandstone crags, outcrops, and boulders. As you embark on your ascent, you’ll encounter these natural wonders, each adorned with captivating names such as the Ostrich Egg, Refrigerator, Cyclops (an exhilarating climb at number 19), and Horned Toad. Keep in mind that the rock quality may vary from superb to somewhat questionable, but fear not! The reception at Mount Everest Game Reserve provides a handy routes handbook to assist you in selecting the perfect climbing spot.
For those seeking an immersive experience, one of the campsites within the reserve offers a variety of accommodation options, including houses, huts, and camping facilities. Imagine waking up amidst the tranquil hilltops, ready to embark on another exhilarating day of rock-climbing adventures. Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a beginner, the reserve boasts a range of climbing routes to suit all skill levels. From sport routes to single-pitch routes, and from easy jaunts to challenging ascents, Mount Everest Game Reserve has something to offer every enthusiast.
Located in the foothills of the majestic Drakensberg, the nearby town of Harrismith serves as a convenient stopover for those en route to Durban. It also serves as the perfect place to replenish supplies before venturing deeper into the hills. In fact, both the Amphitheatre and Mont-Aux-Sources, renowned natural wonders, are easily accessible from Harrismith, allowing you to explore the beauty of the surrounding area.
Activities and tourist attractions in and near Mount Everest Game Reserve
Mount Everest Game Reserve is not only a haven for thrill-seeking climbers but also a destination that offers a diverse range of activities and attractions for all types of travelers. From exploring the natural wonders within the reserve to venturing out to nearby points of interest, here are some highlights that will enrich your visit:
Guided Wildlife Safaris
Embark on an unforgettable safari adventure within Mount Everest Game Reserve. Accompanied by experienced guides, traverse the rugged terrain and encounter a myriad of fascinating wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of rhinos, ostriches, waterbuck, and the majestic mountain zebra. With luck, you might even catch a glimpse of elusive predators like cheetahs and leopards. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the African wilderness as you observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Scenic Hiking Trails
Lace up your hiking boots and set off on a journey through the picturesque landscapes surrounding Mount Everest Game Reserve. The region is blessed with an array of hiking trails that cater to different fitness levels. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll or a challenging trek, there’s a trail for you. Enjoy panoramic vistas, meandering rivers, and vibrant flora as you explore the rugged beauty of the Free State Province.
Rock Climbing Adventures
As mentioned earlier, the sandstone crags within the game reserve provide a playground for rock climbers. With a range of routes to suit various skill levels, climbers can test their mettle against the natural formations while taking in breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Whether you’re a beginner seeking an introductory climb or a seasoned climber hungry for a new challenge, Mount Everest Game Reserve offers an exhilarating experience for all.
Just a short distance from the game reserve lies the charming town of Harrismith. Known as a gateway to the Drakensberg Mountains, Harrismith offers a blend of historical charm and modern conveniences. Take a stroll through the town’s streets, lined with beautifully preserved Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Browse local boutiques, sample delicious cuisine at quaint cafes, and immerse yourself in the town’s rich heritage. Harrismith is also an excellent base for exploring the nearby attractions.
The Drakensberg Mountains
A visit to Mount Everest Game Reserve wouldn’t be complete without exploring the majestic Drakensberg Mountains. With its towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and deep valleys, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a nature lover’s paradise. Discover an abundance of hiking trails, ranging from leisurely walks to challenging multi-day treks. Marvel at the rock art of the San people, created thousands of years ago, which provides a glimpse into the region’s ancient history. The Drakensberg Mountains offer a multitude of outdoor activities, including horseback riding, mountain biking, and birdwatching.
Amphitheatre and Mont-Aux-Sources
Situated near Harrismith, the Amphitheatre and Mont-Aux-Sources are iconic landmarks of the Drakensberg range. The Amphitheatre is a breathtaking cliff face that spans over five kilometers and rises to an impressive height. Take in the awe-inspiring views and witness the majestic Tugela Falls, one of the world’s highest waterfalls. Mont-Aux-Sources, meaning “Mountain of Sources,” is a peak renowned for its natural beauty. It is the source of several major rivers, including the Orange and Tugela rivers. Hiking to the summit rewards you with panoramic vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see.
The Hound and Hare
If you find yourself craving hearty pub food during your journey between Johannesburg and Durban, make sure to plan a pit stop at The Hound and Hare in the Eastern Free State. This delightful country pub offers a delectable menu that will satisfy your taste buds and provide a much-needed break from the road.
As you step into The Hound and Hare, you’ll be greeted by the enticing aromas of mouthwatering dishes. The menu boasts a range of delectable options, including cheesy garlic snails, tender tongue in sweet mustard sauce, succulent Kassler chops, and flavorful chicken Cordon Bleu. Whether you’re a meat lover or a vegetarian, there’s something to please every palate. For those craving a taste of local flavors, the pub also serves aromatic curries that will transport you to the heart of South African cuisine.
However, the true highlight of the menu lies in its homemade malva pudding. This traditional South African dessert, characterized by its warm, spongy texture and sweet caramelized sauce, is the perfect way to end your meal on a sweet note. Indulge in a slice of this decadent treat, and you’ll understand why it’s a beloved favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Beyond the mouthwatering cuisine, The Hound and Hare also offers a welcoming atmosphere where you can mingle with friendly locals. Take a break from your journey, relax in the cozy pub setting, and strike up a conversation with fellow travelers or the welcoming staff. This country pub serves as more than just a place to refuel; it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local community and get a taste of the Free State’s warm hospitality.
So, whether you’re traveling from Jozi (Johannesburg) to Durbs (Durban) or vice versa, don’t miss the chance to experience the charm and culinary delights of The Hound and Hare. Make it a memorable stop on your journey, savor the flavors of their delectable dishes, and create lasting memories in the heart of the Eastern Free State.
Bald Ibis Trail
For nature enthusiasts seeking a captivating hiking experience, the Bald Ibis Trail offers a two-day adventure that immerses you in the stunning landscapes surrounding Mount Everest Game Reserve. With its base camp located just 25 kilometers outside of Harrismith, this trail promises an unforgettable journey through the rugged beauty of the Free State Province.
The trail begins at the base camp and spans a total distance of 27 kilometers, taking approximately two days to complete. While the overall fitness level required is moderate, it’s important to note that the first day of the hike can be strenuous, demanding both physical endurance and mental determination. It’s recommended to be adequately prepared for the challenges ahead.
As you set off on the trail, you’ll discover the allure of Rensburgkop, a prominent feature that gained popularity through its appearance in the television drama series “The Mountain.” This portion of the hike showcases magnificent sandstone kranzes, towering rock formations that dominate the landscape. Along the way, keep an eye out for sightings of raptors, including the iconic bald ibis, adding a touch of wildlife fascination to your journey.
If you prefer a less demanding hike, the trail can be adapted to shorter day routes, offering three to five-hour walks that still allow you to appreciate the natural beauty and serenity of the surroundings.
Base camp serves as a convenient overnight option, offering comfortable accommodations in a converted barn. Inside, you’ll find bunk beds, mattresses, and a cozy fireplace, perfect for chilly Drakensberg evenings. The campsite also provides the luxury of hot showers and flush toilets, ensuring a pleasant and refreshing stay. For hikers opting for the two-day option, Twin Caves near a waterfall offer an alternative overnight spot. Equipped with beds, a braai grid for barbecuing, and the option to collect firewood, these caves provide a rustic yet charming experience. Consider bringing a gas stove for added convenience.
Day one of the trail spans just under 18 kilometers and takes you up the mountain, leading to the impressive krans (cliffs). From there, the trail follows the base of the krans until reaching Windy Corner. As its name suggests, this section can be quite windy, posing an additional challenge. However, the effort is rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views from the top. Along the way, you’ll encounter a vast cave adorned with well-preserved San paintings, offering a glimpse into the region’s rich history. Remember to respect and admire these ancient artworks without disturbing them.
Day two of the Bald Ibis Trail is relatively easier, covering a distance of only 9 kilometers. This leg of the journey takes you on a scenic walk below the towering cliffs of the mountain, allowing you to appreciate the grandeur of the surroundings while enjoying a more relaxed pace.
It’s important to note that the trail markers have eroded over the years, leading to its reclassification as a wilderness trail. As a result, it is highly recommended to carry a GPS device to ensure navigation along the route.
The Bald Ibis Trail offers an opportunity to connect with nature, challenge yourself, and discover the hidden gems of the Free State Province. Lace up your hiking boots, embrace the adventure, and let the breathtaking landscapes and captivating wildlife leave an indelible mark on your soul.
Aansluit MTB Trails
Located within the picturesque Aansluit Landgoed in Verkykerskop, Harrismith, Free State, the Aansluit MTB Trails offer an exhilarating biking experience amidst rolling terrains and breathtaking vistas. This intermediate-level trail network spans approximately 30 kilometers, allowing riders to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Klein Drakensberg’s sandstone hills.
To reach the Aansluit Landgoed, take the R722 north from Harrismith, and after a three-hour drive from either Johannesburg or Durban, you’ll find yourself in the tranquil village of Verkykerskop. Nestled within an 800-hectare working farm and conservation area, this charming village exudes historical charm and provides the perfect gateway to the surrounding biking trails.
The Aansluit area holds significant historical importance as it served as the location for monthly Nagmaal, a religious gathering that formed the heart of community life. The farm’s campsite, situated on the site of the original farmhouse dwelling known as a hartbeeshuisie, carries a rich heritage spanning over 120 years.
Verkykerskop itself is a haven for green living, boasting a cluster of antique shops, a general dealer, and a cozy coffee shop, all housed in historical farm buildings. The village exudes a warm and welcoming atmosphere, where locals and visitors alike feel safe and connected in this close-knit community.
For biking enthusiasts, the Aansluit area is a dream come true, with its diverse landscapes comprising rolling escarpment grasslands, flat-topped sandstone ridges, majestic mountains, gorges, and the occasional wetland. The trail network offers three dedicated bike trails, each with its own unique features and charm.
The 7.8-kilometer track presents a slightly hilly terrain, and from this main track, additional trails branch off, leading riders to stunning cliffs that offer breathtaking panoramic views. Thrill-seekers will find these cliffside paths particularly exhilarating.
The 6.8-kilometer trail guides bikers to the old farmhouse picnic site, where you can take a break and enjoy a peaceful moment amidst the tranquil surroundings. Immerse yourself in the history and serenity of the area as you relax and rejuvenate in this idyllic spot.
For those seeking a more relaxed and beginner-friendly ride, the 6.8-kilometer trail along the edge of the Meul River escarpment provides the perfect opportunity to soak in the awe-inspiring scenery without the intensity of challenging terrains. This route is ideal for beginners or those simply looking to enjoy a leisurely ride immersed in nature’s splendor.
Beyond the designated trails, Aansluit Landgoed offers a plethora of gravel roads and cattle paths, catering to the needs of long-distance riders seeking a more challenging adventure. Combine these paths to create a full day’s worth of thrilling riding experiences, pushing your limits and exploring the hidden corners of the farm.
Whether you’re an avid mountain biker seeking an adrenaline rush or a leisure rider in search of awe-inspiring landscapes, the Aansluit MTB Trails near Mount Everest Game Reserve have something for everyone. Strap on your helmet, pedal through the picturesque terrain, and let the beauty of the Free State Province unfold before your eyes.
Maluti Cave Hike
The Maluti Cave hike, located in the breathtaking Drakensberg region, is a trail renowned for its pristine wilderness and captivating landscapes. Previously unmarked, this trail has now been established, offering hikers an exciting opportunity to explore the area’s natural wonders.
The hike begins at the base camp in Tseki, Phuthaditjaba (Witsieshoek), and offers various duration options ranging from two to four days. The fitness level required for this hike can be described as moderate to difficult, as it encompasses challenging terrains and elevations. It is important to note that the dirt road leading to Tseki can be challenging, particularly after rainfall, so a 4×4 vehicle may be necessary for a smooth approach.
One of the notable advantages of the Maluti Cave hike is the availability of huts along the trail. These huts provide hikers with shelter options, eliminating the need to carry camping gear. In the event of a hut being unavailable due to fire damage, hikers can seek refuge in the numerous caves scattered throughout the area, allowing for a truly immersive wilderness experience.
Starting from Tseki, the hike consists of multiple circular trails that extend east and west of the base camp. Each of these trails can be hiked independently or combined for a four-day adventure. This flexibility allows hikers to tailor their experience according to their preferences and available time.
On day one, hikers will cover a distance of 9 kilometers. This segment of the trail is known for its demanding nature, taking hikers past several caves adorned with captivating San rock art. The presence of these ancient artworks adds an intriguing cultural element to the hike. Additionally, hikers will encounter various water features along the way, offering refreshing breaks and picturesque views.
Day two presents two options for hikers. One option is to follow a marked trail to the summit of the berg and back, covering a distance of 10 kilometers. This trail promises breathtaking vistas and an exhilarating sense of achievement. Alternatively, hikers can choose the circular route with a guide, extending the distance to 15 kilometers. This option includes sections with sheer drops, so it is recommended for those with a head for heights.
As day three arrives, hikers once again have choices to make. One option is to embark on the river route to Tseki Hut, covering a distance of 10 kilometers. Along this route, hikers will have ample opportunities to cool off in refreshing water holes, adding a sense of adventure to the journey. Another option is to take a route to Matsieng Hut, passing through caves adorned with captivating rock art. The highlight of Matsieng Hut is the Thabana-Tshowana Dam, where visitors can witness a variety of water birds in their natural habitat.
The Maluti Cave hike near Mount Everest Game Reserve offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural significance, and thrilling outdoor adventure. Lace up your hiking boots, pack your essentials, and prepare to be captivated by the untamed wilderness of this remarkable region.
Epic MTB Adventure at Platberg Nature Reserve
Nestled at the base of the Free State’s own version of Table Mountain, Platberg Nature Reserve offers an exhilarating playground for outdoor enthusiasts seeking hiking, MTB, and 4×4 trails. Towering at an impressive 2,394 meters above sea level, this flat-topped mountain serves as a majestic landmark on the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, with the charming town of Harrismith located nearby.
The MTB route at Platberg Nature Reserve is renowned for its challenging nature, making it a popular choice for seasoned riders seeking an adrenaline-pumping experience. Although the difficulty level is high, the route is easily accessible, just a short distance outside of Harrismith, and well-marked with clear signage.
The journey begins with a gradual ascent up the lower slopes of Platberg Mountain. However, brace yourself for the ultimate test: Donkey’s Pass. This section of the route entails a vertical climb along dual concrete strips that stretch for approximately 3 kilometers. Don’t worry if you find yourself pushing your bike at times; even experienced riders face this challenge. Considered the sixth highest and second steepest pass in South Africa, Donkey’s Pass is notoriously difficult to conquer, even with a 4×4 vehicle.
The reward for your efforts becomes evident as you reach the top. Behold the awe-inspiring view that unfolds before your eyes. Marvel at the sweeping panoramas of the Drakensberg mountains and Van Reenen’s cliffs, with Sterkfontein Dam sparkling in the distance. The breathtaking scenery serves as a testament to the beauty of the region and a well-deserved respite for weary riders.
Once you’ve reached the plateau, you can opt to continue along the flat jeep track, although finding the trail from Donkey’s Pass can be challenging. Alternatively, some riders choose to stay parallel to the cliffs, following the contour path. This alternative route offers stunning vistas that are nearly as magnificent as those from Donkey’s Pass itself.
Descending from the summit of Platberg is a more straightforward task. Keep an eye out for the illuminated cross that serves as a marker. However, be prepared for the rocky twists and turns that lie ahead. As you navigate this footpath, originally designed for hikers, you may find it virtually impossible to traverse on your bike. Exercise caution and choose your route wisely.
For those seeking an alternative to Donkey’s Pass, staying on the contour path provides a thrilling ride parallel to the cliffs. Here, you’ll still be treated to impressive views that showcase the natural beauty of the area.
Platberg Nature Reserve’s MTB route is a challenging adventure that promises unmatched natural beauty and an adrenaline rush like no other. Set amidst the picturesque landscapes of the Free State, this thrilling trail invites you to test your skills and immerse yourself in the rugged charm of the region. So, gear up, prepare for an exhilarating ride, and get ready to conquer the heights of Platberg Nature Reserve.
As you explore Mount Everest Game Reserve and its surroundings, immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of the Free State Province. Whether you choose to witness the diverse wildlife, conquer the rock formations, or venture further into the Drakensberg Mountains, this region promises an unforgettable adventure filled with natural wonders and cultural gems.
As you embark on your journey through Mount Everest Game Reserve, prepare to be mesmerized by the breathtaking scenery, the awe-inspiring wildlife, and the sheer exhilaration of conquering these magnificent sandstone crags. Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply in search of a unique and unforgettable experience, Mount Everest Game Reserve promises to be an absolute delight. So lace up your climbing shoes, tighten your harness, and get ready to ascend to new heights in this remarkable slice of South African wilderness.