The Free State, once viewed as that expanse to drive through on your journey to anywhere else, flat, nothing to see, one stop to fill the tank, then on your way. Look again. The Free State is now taking its rightful place as a holiday destination for visitors, both from within South Africa and increasingly, from abroad.
Lying in the centre of the country, access may be gained by an extensive network of roads, railway lines and an airport at Bloemfontein linked to all major airports in South Africa. Hotel, resort, and guesthouse accommodation is plentiful and ranges from luxurious through to the simplest and most basic of camp sites.
The Free State is divided into five sub-regions, each with its own special characteristics. Motheo, meaning ‘Foundation’, lies at the heart and Bloemfontein, capital of the Free State, is the main city. Also known as the ‘City of Roses’, Bloemfontein has many attractions. The Franklin Game Reserve, with antelope, zebra and giraffe, is situated on Naval Hill, from where a panoramic view of the city may be had. Loch Logan Waterfront and Zoo Gardens, Oliewenhuis Art Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, museums, a theatre and many historical sites cater for a choice in interests and entertainment.
Experience the pulse of the people on a trip to Botshabelo and Manguang Townships through the beat of African jazz. Taste traditional home-brewed beer and see, in the arts and crafts, the work of skillful hands.
For seekers of adventure or just to experience nature in the wild, the Caledon and Rustfontein Dam Nature Reserves, Philip Sanders Resort and Maria Moroka National Park are among many offering watersports, canoeing, angling, game- and bird-viewing, hiking and 4x4 trails. Bushman rock art, dinosaur remains and archaeological sites are scattered throughout the region.
Northern Free State, in close proximity to Gauteng and Johannesburg International Airport, is perfect for the weekend getaway. The Vaal River forms the northern border, and with the Vaal Dam, is one of the main features of the area. Many excellent resorts line the banks and make this a popular venue for angling, wind-surfing, water-skiing, paragliding and river-rafting. Bird and animal life abounds in game and nature reserves, or one may visit a game farm where controlled hunting has become available.
The flat plains of this region were thrown into turmoil when a giant meteor struck the earth some 2000 million years ago, forcing the earth into deep gorges and ridges. The Dome, known as the Vredefort Structure, has numerous streams winding through the gorges and there are excellent opportunities for fly-fishing, while hiking and mountain-biking provide recreation for the more active.
From Sasolburg, chemical giant and hub of industry, to the peaceful rural areas, Northern Free State has a wealth of historical, cultural and adventure leisure pursuits to offer.
The district of Thabo Mafutsanyana lying to the east is the most scenic region of the Free State. On the edge of the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, weather-sculptured sandstone cliffs dominate the landscape. Golden Gate Resort and National Park, where shapes and colours, light and shadow reveal nature at its most magnificent, is surely a national treasure and inspiration to the many artists who have made their home in nearby Clarens.
Seekoeivlei, a vast wetlands, named for the hippos recently re-introduced to the area, is a haven for bird-watchers, as many as 350 species having been recorded. Small carnivores, serval, African wild cat and white-tailed mongoose inhabit the area, thriving on birds and rodents nesting in the marshes.
The eastern Free State has a diversity of activities: game- and bird-viewing, fly-fishing, hiking and pony-trekking, abseiling, mountain-biking and 4x4 trails to tempt the visitor. Art and crafts, historic and cultural sites abound, while the cherry festival at Ficksburg, a cheese factory and winemaking add further interest.
Formally known as Goldfields, Lejweleputswa is the treasure chest of the Free State, and some of the richest gold deposits in the world are to be found here. The mines, including St Helena where gold was first discovered, are the main source of wealth to the province. Welkom, the principal town, was designed before any building started and brings residential, industrial and mining areas into accord with one another. Underground mine tours and the gold museums are very popular attractions and well worth a visit.