Tip For Trip - Free State
The Free State lies in the heart of South Africa with the Kingdom of Lesotho nestling in the hollow of its bean-like shape. Between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, this immense rolling prairie stretches as far as the eye can see. This central region is characterised by endless rolling prairies of wheat, sunflower and maize fields, and forms the principal bread basket of South Africa.
With its King’s Park Rose Garden containing more than 4 000 rose bushes, the Free State’s major city, Bloemfontein
, has rightfully earned the nickname ‘City of Roses’. The city also hosts an annual rose festival. The Eerste Raadsaal (First Parliament Building), built in 1849 as a school, is Bloemfontein’s oldest surviving building. Still in its original condition, this historical building is used as the seat of the Provincial Legislature. The National Afrikaans Literary Museum and Research Centre has a repository of works by prominent Afrikaans authors. Exhibits in the Afrikaans Music Museum and the Theatre Museum (part of the centre) include old musical instruments, sheet music, costumes, photographs and furniture. The national museum is notable for its wide collection of fossils, cultural-historical exhibits and archaeological displays, including the Florisbad skull, which was discovered in the 1930s at the Florisbad Spring, about 50 km north of Bloemfontein. The National Women’s Memorial is a sandstone obelisk, 36,5 m high, which commemorates the women and children who died in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer/South African War from 1899 to 1902. Visitors are afforded a glimpse into life in the concentration and prisoner-of-war camps. The research library contains an extensive collection of Africana. The Old Presidency dates back to 1885 and was the official residence of three presidents of the former Republic of the Orange Free State. It houses a museum depicting their respective terms of office, and a cultural centre for art exhibitions, theatrical productions and musical events. The Observatory Theatre in Bloemfontein’s game reserve is a unique attraction. Bloemfontein has a busy cultural and social-events calendar. One of the annual events not to be missed is the Mangaung African Cultural Festival, popularly known as the Macufe Arts Festival, in September. The Sand du Plessis Theatre and Art Gallery at Oliewenhuis are also worth visiting. Botshabelo
(Place of Refuge), 45 km from Bloemfontein on the N8 road to Lesotho, is believed to be the largest township settlement in the Free State – and the second-largest in South Africa after Soweto. Nearby, the town of Thaba Nchu
features luxury hotels and a casino, with the Maria Moroka Nature Reserve surrounding Thaba Nchu Sun and the Setlogelo Dam.
used to be a London Missionary Society station. The original mission buildings still stand. The Pellissier House Museum depicts the history of events in the area. The Gariep Dam, more than 100 km long and 15 km wide, is part of the Orange River Water Scheme, the largest inland expanse of water in South Africa. Situated between the dam and Bethulie lies the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve. On the southern side of the dam lies the Oviston Nature Reserve. Philippolis
, the oldest town in the Free State, was founded as a London Missionary Society station in 1824. It was the first mission station in the province. Trompsburg
is the hub of the Free State Merino sheep-farming industry. The Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve reputedly supports more game than any other sanctuary in the Free State. It is reserved for hunters in autumn and winter. A fountain near Koffiefontein
was a favourite outspan for transport riders in the 19th century. In June 1870, one of these transport riders picked up a diamond near the fountain. This prompted the usual diamond rush and by 1882, Koffiefontein was a booming town with four mining companies.
With its beautiful snow-capped mountains providing a backdrop to numerous romantic hide-aways, this untouched, pristine area with its breathtaking scenery possesses grandeur of majestic proportion. The Basotho Cultural Village in the QwaQwa Nature Reserve is a living museum where visitors can witness the Sotho traditions and lifestyle in the chief’s kraal. Clocolan
is known for its cherry trees, which provide a spectacular sight when they blossom in spring. San rock paintings and engravings are also found in the area. Clarens
is often described as the ‘Jewel of the Free State’, owing to its spectacular scenery. San paintings are found on farms in the area. Close by, the Highlands Route meanders along the foothills of the Maluti mountains. One can also explore the magnificent mountain scenery by bike. The town offers art excursions and painting getaways and has 14 art galleries. Ficksburg
is known for its cherry and asparagus farms. A cherry festival is held annually in November. The town is a gateway to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The Golden Gate Highlands National Park, known for its beautiful scenery, is a very popular holiday destination. A vulture restaurant enables visitors to observe these scavengers closely. San paintings can also be viewed. The Highlands Route follows the Lesotho border via Ladybrand
and ends at Zastron
in the south. San caves and rock art are some of the main features of the route. The birdwatching mecca of Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve near Memel
constitutes a wetland with Ramsar status, and is surrounded by private game and holiday farms.
lies on the banks of the Jordaan River and was founded by the Voortrekkers during the 1840s. The museum in Miller Street depicts the history of the area. The banks of the Jordaan River form part of the Pretoriuskloof Nature Reserve – a sanctuary for birds and small game. Van Reenen’s Pass winds through the Drakensberg, and was originally used by migrating herds of zebra, hartebeest, blesbok and wildebeest. The Llandaff Oratory in the nearby village of Van Reenen
is believed to be the smallest Roman Catholic Church in the world. At Harrismith
, there are various memorials in honour of those who fought in the Anglo- Boer/South African War and World War I. Of particular interest is a memorial for the Scots Guards and Grenadier Guards. Platberg, the 2 394-m ‘flat mountain’, is the town’s landmark. A well-known race, claimed by some to be the toughest in the country, is run annually up, along and back down the mountain. Sterkfontein Dam is ideal for water sports and fishing. The Riemland Museum in Heilbron
depicts the heritage and agricultural activities of the region. The QwaQwa district is a traditional home to the Basotho people. Karakul carpets, mohair, wall hangings, copper, glassware and brass are made and sold at Phuthaditjhaba
. The Metsi Matsho and Fika Patso dams are renowned for trout fishing. Welkom
is known for its gold mines. It is also the only city in the country where traffic circles are used instead of traffic lights. The world’s deepest wine cellar is at the St Helena Mine which is 857 m below the Earth’s surface. Bothaville
is regarded as the centre of the Free State Maize Route. The Nampo Harvest Farm and Festival attracts more than 20 000 visitors each year and is the second-largest private agricultural show in the world. Bothaville also hosts the annual Food and Witblits Festival, drawing visitors from all over South Africa. Winburg
is the oldest town and first capital of the former Republic of the Orange Free State. The Voortrekker Museum, using life-size models, depicts the daily routine of the trekkers. A concentration camp cemetery is situated close by. Sasolburg
originated in 1954 with theestablishment of Sasol, the synthetic fuel producer. Parys
, which is situated on the banks of the Vaal River, is a popular holiday destination. The Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site was caused by the collision of a meteorite with the Earth many years ago. It features unique fauna and flora, including 100 different plant species, more than 300 types of birds and a variety of small mammals. Various hiking and mountain-bike trails are also on offer.
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