Everything you ever wanted to know about Harrismith
Harrismith is a small, charming country town, founded in 1849 and named after the glamorous and hard riding British Governor, Sir Harry Smith. Unfortunately, the first location for Harrismith lacked water, and the town was moved to the present site in January 1850.
During the diamond rush in Kimberly, the town became a busy staging post on the Natal transport route. Hotels, stores and public buildings sprang up at every turn. In 1892 the railway from Natal to Harrismith opened but due to politics, did not go any further for several years.
From serving as a major base during the Anglo Boer War, Harrismith has since grown into a delightful, spacious town, with several handsome churches and public buildings. The Platberg is the location for the annual Berg Marathon, one of the most prestigious cross-country running events in Southern Africa. The race began when a Boer War Major referred to the Platberg mountain as “That little hill of yours”. One of the locals took exception and challenged him to reach the top in under an hour.
Major Belcher accepted and won easily. He graciously donated a floating trophy to the first person to reach the top in a race every year, which now covers several peaks in the area.
Even though this is a 168-year-old town with a deep, rich past, its beauty has only recently been discovered by tourists.
Harrismith is the ideal destination to take a well-deserved break. Some view it as a pit stop toward your destination, but De Oude Huize Yard would like to see Harrismith becoming the destination. Here you can escape from the stresses of city living and recharge your batteries in tranquil surroundings and excellent facilities.
This quaint gem is the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in Southern Africa and plays host to the third largest dam in South Africa, the Sterkfontein Dam, an 18 hole golf course which is the second oldest course in the country and, a 250 million-year-old, 33 metre tall fossilised tree that lies in the garden of Deborah Retief, next to the town hall.
You can indulge in open air hobbies like birding, biking, 4x4ing, hiking, climbing, golfing, historic tours, water sport and loads more to entice you. The town is also well known for its factory shops, both home and wild flower gardens, and links with the South African War, with nearby battle sites, blockhouses and a military cemetery.
There is also Boer, Brit and sandstone architecture to be admired.
The Drakensberg range and Maluti Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to Harrismith. Day visit opportunities include the Royal Natal Park, the base of the Drakensberg Sentinel, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Basotho Cultural Village, Boer War battlefields and hiking trails.
In Harrismith, it’s not easy to be bored with the wide range of things to do, including:
- Trout fishing
- Water sport
- Bird watching
- Visiting well stocked game farms
- Finding distinctive southern African curios and art pieces at Rheola’s.
- Kerkenberg. The Voortrekkers camped in the area while their leader, Piet Retief, negotiated with the Zulu leader, Dingane. After receiving reports of what the Voortrekkers interpreted as successful negotiations, Retief's daughter wrote his name, and the date, which was also his birthday, on the rock where they held a church service.
- Platberg. The 2394 metre 'flat mountain' is Harrismith's landmark.
- Sterkfontein Dam. The third largest dam in South Africa, and unusual as practically all the water is pumped up the escarpment from KwaZulu-Natal. Built before the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme was developed, this was a vital source of water for Gauteng.
- Swinburne. Now looking insignificant when compared to larger brothers, this second oldest bridge in the Free State, a National Monument, spans the Wilge River. At the official opening in 1884 it was claimed that, as it was the furthest of its kind towards the interior, it marked a distinct advance of the forces of civilization.
- The Town Hall. A graceful sandstone and brick building built in 1907, and a National Monument.
- Van Reenen Llandaff Oratory. National Monument which seats eight people, and was built in honour of Llandaff Matthew who tragically lost his life in an act of bravery in a coal mining disaster.