Closest Town: Harrismith
Grading: Moderate to difficult | Duration:
Location (Area/Province): Free State and Northern Free State
Configuration: Return Route
Start Point: Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge
Access: Public access
Beware of: Extreme cold in winter
Facilities: Variety of accommodation
Cell Reception: Good
Premium and Curated Trails Only
Witsieshoek is one of those destinations you will only get to if you travel to the very end of the road. You’ll have to mission through the spread of local villages until you hit a steep brick road winding into proper mountain territory. This is where the Drakensberg Mountains ruck up against the Maluti ranges of Lesotho, and you immediately know you’re stepping into thin-air country (when reaching the lodge at 2200m).
It’s brass-monkey cold in winter; the subalpine ridges bristle with high, frost-burnt grass; the air is champagne-sparkle clear; and the Amphitheatre skyline – overshadowed by the ragged buttress of Sentinel Peak – can only be described as an iconic panorama.
On Your Bike
The mountain biking is off the wall too. If you’re into a grinding gravel road climb, the 18km return route from Witsieshoek will drop you down for 1km, before you dogleg left and straight into the ascent. A couple of quickie drops will give respite, but this ride is 90% grunt. Sections of the road are being paved, but this could well take another decade. The blast back is exactly that: get into hyperspeed mode for some impressive gravel supertubing.
If you have something more technical in mind, then the Metsi Matsho Hiking Trail from the lodge is where you want to point your front wheel. This is currently more of a gnarly cattle track ride, but the guys at Witsieshoek are planning on putting some TLC into the route, clearing it of stones and widening or stone-packing some of the deeper ruts.
Off the Bike
Hiking — The Sentinal Hike is one of those legendary mountain walks you have to do at least once in your life. The chain ladders are the challenge and the Top of Tugela Falls, the reward.
Running – Trail running options abound from 5km low gradients to some extreme high-altitude routes to test those lungs.
Birding – the Vulture Restaurant is not to be missed. Every morning a fresh bone is carried out to a small outcrop near the lodge and if you are lucky enough, you will see Bearded Vultures spiralling down for a breakfast snack.
Drive – take a drive out to the Fika Patso dam along a stunning mountain road, visit the Golden Gate National Park or stop in the very local market in Phuthaditjhaba
Telephone: 27 (0)58 713 6361/2 or (0)82 609 8988
GPS coordinates: 28° 41′ 10.50″S 28° 54′ 1.57″E