The Free State
- Tourist Information & Activities
Free State Province, South Africa
State Accommodation Images © South
THE FREE STATE
PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICA
The plains of South Africa's interior plateau between
the Vaal and Orange Rivers form the Free State Province.
This tranquil land of the ever-present windmill is the geographic and
agricultural centre of South Africa. Of all the provinces, this one presents
the classic scene of the sunny veld, the high-lying, spacious grass-covered
prairie land with deep-blue African skies, majestic cloud formations
in summer and a skyline broken by the occasional flat-topped koppie (hill-like
The Free State is fast becoming a tourist
destination in its own right. Famous for its warm South African hospitality,
Afrikaner farm-style cuisine) and decidedly slower-paced lifestyle, this
province has become a mecca for holiday-makers intent on exploring small-town
Known, locally, as South Africa's 'bread basket', the Free State is
cultivated by more than 30 000 farms to produce over 70% of South Africa's
grain consumption. It is also home to the most productive gold and diamond
mines in the world.
The Free State lies in the heart of South Africa, with the mountain 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. Formerly
known as the Orange Free State, this province has had its share of
battles – most importantly, perhaps, the Anglo Boer War. This
was the last full-scale war to be fought on South African soil and
was not only a turning point in the history of the modern wars of our
time, but also the last of the gentlemen’s wars.
The Free State
is the third-largest province in South Africa. However, it has the
second-smallest population and the second-lowest population density,
housing some 2,8 million people on about 129 480 km2 of land. Many
of the towns display a mix of culture clearly evident in street names,
public buildings, monuments and museums. Dressed sandstone buildings
abound on the Eastern Highlands, while beautifully decorated Sotho
houses dot the grasslands. Some of South Africa's most valued San (Bushman)
rock art is found in the Free State.
This summer-rainfall region is warm and temperate in the summer but can be
relatively cold during the winter months, especially towards the eastern
mountainous regions where temperatures can drop as low as 9ºC. The western
and southern areas are semi-desert.
GETTING TO KNOW THE FREE
The southern Free State shares the true Karoo semi-desert and its barren
landscapes, while the north is blessed by the liquid gold of the Vaal
River. The western Free State traverses savannah and substantial mineral
wealth, whilst the Eastern highlands offer a wealth of scenic splendour.
The province’s capital, Bloemfontein, has a well-established institutional,
educational and administrative infrastructure, and houses the Supreme
Court of Appeal. The province has a well-known university and many other
The Free State Province boasts an extensive system of parks and reserves,
including one national park (Golden Gate) and more than 80 provincial,
municipal, and privately owned nature parks, nature reserves, game
reserves, and game farms. Activities include bird and game viewing,
trophy and biltong hunting, hiking, horse-riding, biking, 4x4 off-road
driving, camping and climbing.
Major attractions in the area
The Free State has much to offer the tourist
in search of insight and adventure. As a result, various tourist routes
have been suitably packaged to meet the needs of the on-the-road traveler.
• The Maluti Route
This route follows the scenic Highlands of the Free State and over the
border (passport essential) into the magnificent Maluti Mountains of
Lesotho and ends at the Seekoelvlei Nature Reserve.
• The Goldfields Route
Follow the fascinating history of the many gold mines of the Lejweleputswa
• BBT Heritage Route
Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu are in close geographical relationship
to each other and, yet, have an extreme diverse cultural and political
heritage. This route offers the true indigenous heartland of the province.
• Diamond & Wine Route
Follow the route of the diamond prospectors of the past and present.
A man-made diamond hole at Jagersfonteing of 760m beats the better
known Big Hole of Kimberley for size. Also visit the wine cellars of
Landzicht and Wilreza in the scenic Jacobsdal area.
• N6 Route
Take the N6 highway to either exit or enter the Free State from the south.
This route goes through quaint Xhariep and Eastern Cape towns and on
to East London, the Wild Coast and Garden Route.
• Steam Train Route
Steam train enthusiasts can take a trip down memory lane, along the
historic Bethlehem-Bloemfontein Railroad to destinations such as Maseru
and Ladybrand. Excursions are relatively short, allowing passengers
to enjoy the scenery and facilities along the route.
• The Battlefield Route
The province contains many historic sites related to the Anglo-Boer War,
including 13 battlefield sites, 8 military monuments, 2 war museums
and 3 war and concentration camp cemeteries.
• The Golden Gate Highlands
An area of highveld and montane grassland, covering 12 000 hectares
is well-stocked with eland, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, blesbok
and zebra. This is one
of the few places in the country where one stands a good chance of seeing
the Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture.
• Clarens and the Mountains
The beautiful town of Clarens lies just west of the Maluti mountain
range and is the perfect country retreat. Known as the `jewel of
the Free State’, Clarens is very popular with the artistic
Clarens can be found on the way to Golden Gate – where the famous
ochre and gold sandstone outcrops offer up some of the most spectacular
scenery in the country.
• Fossil Hunting
The Free State has rich deposits of fossils, and visitors to Clarens
area can go on fossil-hunting expeditions. You may be lucky
to find dinosaur bones, dinosaur eggs or dinosaur teeth; you'll
almost certainly find the fossils of smaller creatures dating back
to well over 200 millions years.
• Rock Art
Throughout the Maluti mountains, one can find caves and cracks where
the San people took shelter in a not-quite-so-distant past. Countless
examples of historic rock-art are to be seen at Spitskop (Brandfort
district), Sterkstroom (between Rouxville and Aliwal North), Stowlands
(near Christiana), Tandjesberg (close to Clarens and Golden Gate),
Sterkstroom (between Rouxville and Aliwal North) and at Stowlands (near
• Water sports
The Free State has three major watersports venues: the Vaal River (northern
Free State); Gariep Dam (the largest dam in the country) and Sterkfontein
Dam (near Harrismith). Activities such as fishing, camping, and watersports
can be arranged on request.
Information courtesy of South African
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