Your adventure starts in Clarens where you meet your guides before driving 12km out of town to begin the day's (or half-day, if you prefer) rafting down the Ash River.
Although white-water rafting can be quite extreme, have no fear as there are “rapids and rafting for everyone”, says Ollie Esplin, owner of Clarens Xtreme, which has been taking visitors down the river since 2005.
“Even if you have never done white-water rafting before, you can do it, and you don’t need to be fit”, he says. “It's a young river and therefore it's a narrow river, where the current is pushing you the whole time, making it easy to navigate the six- to eight-person rafts we use.”
Clarens is about 300km from Johannesburg in the eastern part of the Free State province.
It's best to drive yourself to Clarens. Tours are also available and the rafting companies can let you know what shuttles and packages they offer.
Apart from hiking, horse riding, golf, tennis, mountain biking and exploring the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park, adventurers can do paragliding, zip lining, abseiling, archery and paintball, as well as take day tours to the “fertility cave” where sangomas (traditional African healers) practise their healing arts.
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The various rafting companies in Clarens offer different prices, but a full day on the river, including refreshments and lunch, is priced at around R900 per person.
Clarens is a tourist mecca with plenty of B&Bs, guesthouses, guest farms and hotels. Some of the rafting outfits have accommodation on offer as well, ranging from high-end to camping.
You'll be spoilt for choice in Clarens, which offers all manner of restaurants and eateries.
All year round, but bear in mind the river is icy in winter, hence rafting at this time is called the Polar Bear Challenge. Wetsuits are provided for this.
Spend at least two days in Clarens as there is so much to see and do.
Going down this 18km stretch of the Ash River will take you about a day (or a half-day on the 9km option). The river has grade three and four rapids, including Car Wash, Fish Pond and Big Surprise (because the river makes a 90-degree bend and then, surprise, there’s a waterfall).
Some rafting companies in Clarens accommodate children on calmer parts of the river. Esplin’s company takes those under the age of 10 out of the raft for the rapids, and they then walk or drive to the next section of the river, where they can hop on once again.
In winter (May to August), the ride is called the Polar Bear Challenge because the water gets pretty icy. But don’t worry, you’ll be given a wetsuit to help keep the cold out.
You don’t have to get in the water to enjoy an adventure though. Clarens is adjacent to the scenic Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Famed for its golden sandstone sentinels, this Free State park is a great choice for families who enjoy wide open spaces. It’s located in the foothills of Lesotho's Maluti Mountains and is renowned for its extraordinary landscape, and the caves and shelters that are there to be explored.
Here that you can explore the mountainous terrain and get your boots on for some spectacular hikes. Try hiking up the Brandwag Buttress, or Ribokkop, the highest point in the park, or you could spend the night in the wilderness on the two-day, one-night Rhebok Hiking Trail.
While you’re there, you can also visit the Vulture Restaurant, explore the area on horseback, hop on a mountain bike or go on a game drive. But whatever you do, don’t forget to take the time to stop and enjoy the park’s amazing panoramic views.
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