South Africa travel information accommodation guide
  www.South-Africa.org.za
 Free State Province
 
Free State Introduction
 
Free State Province, South Africa

Situated in the heart of South Africa, the Free State lies between the awesome Orange and Vaal rivers. It is a region renowned for its natural beauty and majesty, surrounded by rural farmlands, mountains, goldfields and towns. The Free State was originally a settlement for pioneers in search of its rich gold deposits, and many of the old towns are still in operation today, attracting visitors to enjoy the quaint mining villages and farms.

Being in the middle of South Africa, the Free State is bordered by the Northern and Eastern Cape, the North-West Province, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, as well as the independent Lesotho. The Free State is dominated by a rolling 1500 meter plain, punctuated by flat-topped hills and the mountainous border with Lesotho. The Southern boundary is formed by the Orange River, a popular spot for kayaking and river rafting. The Free State is filled with South African history and unique cultural opportunities, a must for the discerning traveller wanting to take a step off the beaten track.
 
Top Ten Attractions
 

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

The Golden Gate Park lies at the foot of the Maluti Mountains, and offers visitors over 11000 hectares of true highland habitat, and is home to an array of animals, including black wildebeest, eland, springbok, Burchell's zebra, the rare bearded vulture and bald ibis. The park gets its name from the bright rays of golden sunlight cast on the park's sandstone cliffs – truly a sight to behold. Enjoy the scenery on a short nature trail or game drive, and cool off in the natural swimming pool at Glen Reenen – the Golden Gate is a true haven for nature lovers.
 
Basotho Cultural Village

Nestled in the heart of the Qwaqwa national park lies the Basotho Cultural Village, a place that time forgot where the Basotho still practice their traditional ways today. Explore the traditions of the village as you step into the ‘khotla', the gathering place of men, or enjoy a taste of traditional African beer. Alternatively hear the wise words of the traditional healer before watching the women grind maize in their decorated huts. Visitors can also browse and purchase arts and crafts at the local market to take home as a souvenier to remind them of the Basotho hospitality.

 
Vredefort Dome
Over 2000 million years ago a gigantic meteorite hit the earth, leaving a 40km crater in its wake. This crater at Vredefort is considered the oldest and largest meteorite impact site in the world. The area offers many activities for visitors, including river rafting, river tubing, abseiling, horse riding and mountain biking. The area is also home to a number of Anglo Boer War sites, the largest wild olive forest in South Africa at Venterskroon, and a Witblits distillery – a potent South African liquor that only the strongest of constitutions can enjoy! Vredefort is worth a visit for the beautiful scenery and multitude of activities.
 
Bloemfontein Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens consist of a mix of planted and indigenous environments, with two dams, reeds, small hills and indigenous Karee and Wild Olive trees. It also includes an orchid house said to be the most modern of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Enjoy the beauty of the waterfalls and pools surrounding the over 6000 orchids, or tantalise your senses with the fragrance garden designed for the visually impaired. The park is also home to over 100 species of bird, and is a perfect place to spend a relaxing day enjoying the scenery.

 
Lejweleputswa Gold Mines

In 1938 scores of people flocked to the Free State when a borehole sunk in search of water struck lava, a deep flowing source of gold ore. Today the region's attractions centre around the gold mines, with Welkom being the main town. Visitors have the opportunity of traversing to the depths of the earths in a local gold mine, an unforgettable experience. Visit mines in Welkom, Virginia or Theunissen, or simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings and game opportunities in this historic region.

 
War Memorials & Monuments

The Anglo Boer War, which broke out in October 1899, was a turning point in South Africa's history, and the last full scale war fought on South African soil. The Free State offers a number of war monuments and memorials, including various battlefield sites, monuments, museums and war and concentration camp cemeteries. The War Museum in Bloemfontein has a host of information for visitors, offering extensive detail on battlefield sites – including what to see and how to get there.

 
Oliewenhuis Art Museum

Originally a residence for Governor Generals and State Presidents of South Africa, the museum collects only South African art and has a excellent compilation of historical and contemporary paintings, sculptures and graphic art. The underground reservoir, built in 1904, is now a general space for workshops, exhibitions and conferences. Visitors can not only enjoy the fine artworks on display, but will also be entertained on weekends by local musicians while enjoying light lunches or walking trails through the surrounding areas.

 
Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve

A trip to this 18 000 hectare reserve is a must for nature lovers, who will enjoy the rugged mountains, lush kloofs and clear lakes. The reserve is home to an array of wildlife including the oribi, reedbuck, bald ibis, woodpecker, cape vultures and secretary birds. Vegetation includes the yellowwood, wild peach and various types of fungi and lichen, as well as the Protea and sugarbush. The reserve is a popular camping spot, offering a range of activities such as sailing, angling, hiking, biking and game viewing – the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.

 
Steam Train Excursions

The Sandstone Steam Rail Company has made it its mission to restore steam trains for tourists to enjoy excursions along the historic Bethlehem-Bloemfontein Rail road. Enjoy timeless travel through unique African destinations such as Maseru or Ladybrand, with many stops to explore and enjoy the scenery – an unusual yet relaxing way to explore vistas and history of the Free State.

 

Thabo Mofutsanyana Region

Visit this beautiful untouched region in the Eastern Free State, with its pristine snow-capped mountains and awe-inspiring scenery. The town of Clarens invites visitors to view one of the many art galleries or the tiny Cinderella Castle built entirely out of bottles. Clarens together with Clocolan also offers several Bushman rock paintings, a must see for any visitor. Alternatively visit Harrismith to see a 150 million year old petrified tree – a true wonder of nature.

 
Major Events & Festivals
 
Philippolis Witblits Festival

isit the oldest town in the Free State to share in a proud local tradition – Witblits (white lightning) – a potent local spirit. The festival, held in early April, offers a range of activities, including boeresports (traditional farming sports) for the children, food, stalls, and of course Witblits tasting. Philippolis is also well known as an artist's haven, with many studios on offer to visit the artists in action.

 
Aardklop Arts Festival

Have the time of your life at the five day Aardklop Arts Festival, held every September in Potchefstroom. Feel the beat of the earth as you enjoy a feast of entertainment, be it jazz, classical music, hard rock, cabaret, circus theatre or poetry. The festivities come to an end of the final day with a day of rock – a must for every music lover!

 
Rustler's Valley Festivals
Rustler's Valley in the eastern Free State hosts a number of annual events, including the Spring Equinox Celebration in September and trance, dance and drumming festivals in November and December, as well as a New Year's celebration. Participate it some alternative activities such as a permaculture design course or feel the heat in an African Sweat Hut. The scenery of the Maluti Mountains surrounding the valley is worth the trip alone!
 
Ficksberg Cherry Festival

First held in 1969, the Ficksberg Cherry Festival now attracts around 20 000 visitors annually every November. Enjoy breathtaking scenery while you participate in cherry and asparagus tastings, tours, picnics and music. Watch out also for the Miss Cherry Blossom and Miss Cherry Pip competitions – a truly rustic, traditional festival.

 
Adventure
 
Matlakeng Herbal Trail
Although not a traditional adrenalin pumping adventure, the Matlakeng Herbal Trail offers visitors to the Basotho Cultural Village the opportunity to truly experience tradition cultures. A knowledgeable ecologist and a traditional healer will guide you through the trail explaining the healing and spiritual properties of the various herbs. The two-hour trail offers beautiful scenery, as well as the chance to see wildlife and well preserved rock art.
 
Basotho Pony Experience

The Basotho area is home to the sure-footed Basotho Pony, and anyone visiting this region should take time out to enjoy a four-hour ride through the Qwaqwa National Park. From your vantage point on horseback you will see an array of game in close proximity, including South Africa's national animal, the springbok, as well as the eland, red hartebeest and Burchell's Zebra. You will also visit a Basotho family on the way for refreshments – an unforgettable opportunity.

 
Arts, Culture & History
 
Bloemfontein Museum
Visit the Bloemfontein Museum to see a range of fascinating and rare artefacts, such as a prehistoric skull fragment and remains of extinct animals like the giant buffalo. See the only complete skeleton of the Euskelosaurus, the oldest of the dinosaurs, in the Palaeontology Hall, or measure yourself against a fibreglass cast of an elephant, or the height of the giraffe. There is something of interest for everyone.
 
War Museum of the Boer Republics
This history filled museum in Bloemfontein offers an insight into the Anglo-Boer was that took place between 1899 and 1902, through a range of exhibits and dioramas. Catch a glimpse of life at the end of the 1800's – the boer in the field, battle sites, concentration camps and Afrikaans domestic life. The War Museum also offers the Woman's Memorial, a tribute to those mothers who lost their sons and contributed to the war effort. You will also find information on various battle sites at the museum to enable you to explore further.
 

Transgariep Museum

This museum at Philippolis was opened in 1982, and depicts various themes in the Free State's history. See writings from members of a missionary association, various period antiques and a working horse mill. The museum also carries a display of the tools used in a spin and weave school run by Emily Hobhouse, and Afrikaans farmer's wife who took it upon herself to teach young women to weave in order to revive the flailing economy after the Anglo-Boer War. Learn also about the local people, the Griqua's, and their traditional way of life.
 
Shopping
The main shopping centres of the Free State can be found in the capital Bloemfontein, as well as the mining town of Welkom. Bargain hunters will also find plenty of curious, arts and crafts at smaller traditional villages. Philippolis is also considered an artist's haven, with lots of handmade items on sale.
 
Climate

The Free State has a hot, dry climate, with summer rains, cold winters and lots of sunshine. The Vaal River keeps the Northern farms well watered, while the East experiences snow-capped mountains in winter and green valleys in summer. The West and South both experience hot dry summers and cold winters. The capital city of Bloemfontein has an average summer temperature of 23°C, with temperatures in January sometimes soaring as high as 32°C. Winter temperatures can be as cold as 1D C, but average on 8°C, but sometimes creeping to a milder 17°C.