Harrismith, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Harrismith is a reasonably sized town.


Harrismith is a reasonably sized town situated about halfway between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3. Most people only know it as a convenient refuelling stop for both vehicles and people but it does have more to offer. In the foothills of the Drakensberg, it is close to the Northern Berg and the Amphitheatre and Mont aux Sources are easily accessible from here. Both offer excellent hiking and day walks. Also close by is the Sterfkontein Dam, which is very popular with fly fishing enthusiasts keen on testing themselves against an indigenous yellow fish (which makes a rainbow trout seem like an overfed koi).

Harrismith is an important crossroads in South Africa's land trade routes. The town was founded in 1849 by British Governor Harry Smith who tried to persuade the disillusioned Voortrekkers not to abandon Natal. 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.

A major base during the Anglo Boer War, Harrismith has progressed since then to a charming, spacious town, with several 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.

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. Harrismith is also the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in Southern Africa.

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 a look at the 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.