Your Guide to the Drakensberg and Natal Midlands

Harrismith South Africa

Harrismith is the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in Southern Africa. It was established in 1849 and was named after the glamorous and hard riding British Governor, Sir Harry Smith. Unfortunately, the first location for Harrismith proved to be deficient in water and the town was moved to the present site, in January 1850. During the diamond rush at Kimberly, the town became a busy staging post on the Natal transport route and hotels, stores and public buildings sprang up. In 1892 the railway from Natal to Harrismith opened but due to politics, did not go any further for several years.

HarrismithA major base during the Anglo Boer War, Harrismith has progressed since then to a delightful, spacious town, with several handsome churches and public buildings. The Plattberg 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 and donated a floating trophy to the first person to reach the top in a race every year. It now covers several peaks in the area. 

 Harrismith is among the best places in the eastern state to stock up on provision for outdoor adventures, including steaks; the town is the capital of the country's top red-meat producing region. Contact the Harrismith Taxi Association (623 1188) for more information.


Orientation and Practical Information about Harrismith

Harrismith is just off the N3 between Johannesburg (314 km) and Durban (315); the N5 from Bethlehem points west and terminates in Harrismith. Coming from Johannesburg, the N3 exit to town (after the Intabazwe township) joins Warden St., which runs into the city square. From Durban the exit (near the Spar Village) joins McKechnie St.; turn right onto Piet Retief St. to get to the city square. Downtown Harrismith is a mini-grid of just a few streets; most stores are in the few blocks around the square. The Tourist Office (622 3525; fax 623 0923) is on Pretorius St., at the back of the city hall. (622 3525; fax 623 0923. Open M-F 8am-5pm, Sa 9:30am-12:30pm.)

Services include: 

  • First National Bank, 25 Southey St., on the corner of Southey and Warden St. (tel/fax 622 1044; open M-F 9am-3:30pm, Sa 8:30-11am); 
  • ABSA Bank, 31a Southey St., near the corner of Southey and Stuart, with a 24hr. ATM;
  • laundromat, 76 McKechnie St. (612 1292; open M-F 7:30am-4:45pm);
  • weather, 082 162;
  • emergency services, 10 177; 
  • the police station, on Piet Retief St. next the post office (622 1050; open 24hr.);
  • Harris Pharmacy, 26a Piet Retief St. (622 2612; open M-F 8am-5pm, Sa 8am-1pm); 
  • the Harrismith Provincial Hospital, on Mauritz St., east of town (622 1111; open 24hr.); 
  • Internet at Cyber Cafe in the Yes Print and Copy Shop, 49 Stuart St., opposite the post office (open M-F 8am-1pm; R10 per 30min., R20 per hr.);
  • the post office, on the corner of Piet Retief and Stuart St. (622 1200. Open M-Tu, Th-F 8:30am-4:30pm, W 9am-4:30pm, Sa 8am-noon.) Postal code: 9880.

The Intabazwe Township Tour demonstrates how the effects of apartheid survived its demise. With a population of 60,000 black South Africans, Intabazwe is smaller than the townships surrounding the larger cities. Tours include revealing snippets of day-to-day life at the township's schools, shebeens (taverns), and spaza shops (improvised general stores). Local children put on traditional dances or drum performances. You can book 3hr. or overnight tours through the tourist office, a day in advance. Overnight tours include a stay with a host family. (Day tours R25; overnight tours R130 including dinner, bed, and breakfast.)

Accommodation in Harrismith

  • Search for accommodation in Harrismith
  • Nature Reserve , which has self-catering chalets with sweeping panoramic views of the dam and Drakensberg, as well as camping. All the chalets are equipped with kitchen and fireplace, and some have TVs. They also offer bird-watching, vulture feeding, and game drives. (622 3520 fax 622 1772. Chalets may have to be booked in advance. 4-bed chalets R170; 5-bed chalets R210; 8-bed chalets R320. Campsites R30, with power R40. R20 entrance fee.)
  • At President Brand Park , you can pitch your tent within walking distance of downtown and still be lulled to sleep by the gurgling of the Wilge River. From the center of town, take Murrat St. west. Pass under the railroad bridge, and the park will be on your left. (622 1818. Reception 24hr. Camping R30 per site for two, each additional person R10; with electricity R35; caravans R50.) With a spacious garden and a bar full of outlandish odds and ends, 
  • The Princess and the Frog , 17 Voew St., serves some of the best grub around (R25-60) in what is almost a fairy-tale setting. (622 2476. Open Tu-Sa 10am-late.) For refreshingly light and creative breakfasts and lunches, as well as terrific milkshakes, try Odell's Street Cafe , on Stuart St. across from the post office. (Open M-Sa 8am-4pm.) The sparkling Harrismith Spar, east of downtown on Hamilton St., is the place to stock up on rations for the back country. (622 3045. Open daily 7:30am-8pm.)
  • Harrismith Backpackers , 44 Piet Retief St., is a pleasant home downtown converted into a backpackers. More a spot just to hit the hay than a destination in its own right, it's the perfect place for budget travelers in transit. (623 0007 or 083 412 6728; . Dorms R50; doubles R130. Camping R25.)
  • Grand National Hotel , on the corner of Warden and Boshoff St., is more than a century old and full of character. It may be a little dingy, but the atmosphere grows on you. (Tel/fax 622 1060. Breakfast R20. Dinner R40. Singles R100; doubles R180; singles and doubles with bath and TV R150/R220. Weekend prices negotiable.)  
  • The pricier Harrismith Inn , behind the Spur Village in the southern end of town, has atypically large rooms that include a bath, phone, double beds, TV, and, in some cases, couches. The fairly luxurious establishment also sports a pool, restaurant, and "Sir Harry's Bar," a good post-dinner meeting spot. (622 1011; fax 622 2770. Reception 24hr. Check-out 10am. Restaurant open 6:30am-9:30pm, later on F and Sa. Breakfast R20-R30. Lunch and dinner R30-50. Bar open 3-10:30pm. Singles R199; doubles R279 including breakfast.) 
  • About 23km from Harrismith on the R712 to Qwaqwa, off the N5 to Bethlehem, is the Sterkfontein Dam

Transportation in Harrismith

  • The minibus taxi depot is behind (and downhill from) the city hall, between Southey and Bester St. 
  • Minibuses run to Qwa qwa (R15), Bergville (R20), and Johannesburg (R50). Buses can be booked through Hirundo Travel (622 2579, open M-F 8am-12:30pm and 1:30-4:30pm), in Spur Village. 
  • Greyhound goes to Cape Town (18hr., daily, R355) via Bloemfontein (5½hr, R145), Durban (4¼hr., daily, R140) via Pietermaritzburg (3¼hr., R130). 
  • Intercape goes to Cape Town (17¼hr.; Su, M, W, F, Sa 9:45pm; R355) via Bloemfontein (4¼hr., R130), Durban (4¼hr., daily, R125) via Pietermaritzburg (3hr., R110), and Pretoria (4½hr., daily, R125) via Johannesburg (3hr., R125). 
  • Translux goes to Cape Town (17¾hr., daily, R365) via Bloemfontein (5hr., R140), Durban (5¼hr., daily, R125) via Pietermaritzburg (3hr., R75), and Pretoria (6¼hr., daily, R125) via Johannesburg (3¾hr., R125). R20 booking fee.





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