The Free State’s many nature reserves and resorts are the perfect places to relax and recharge your batteries enjoying Free State Tourism. Take a hiking trail, go on a game drive, or simply put your feet up and spot the passing wildlife from your tent or chalet.
The Cheetah Route takes you through the Mangaung District – the cultural and political heart of the Free State. Abundant historical, cultural and natural attractions make the region a top business and recreational destination.
Towns on the Cheetah Route are:
Born in Bloem
Did you know that the National Party, the African National Congress (ANC), as well as the legendary writer JRR Tolkien, were all born in Bloemfontein? The beautiful city, which is also the provincial capital and the legislative national capital, boasts a massive range of attractions, including:
- The Naval Hill Precinct which is home to a Digital Planetarium, a Fragrance Garden for the Blind, the 250ha Franklin Game Reserve, the iconic 6.5m tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, and a picnic spot. The Hill with its viewing decks affords visitors the opportunity of a panoramic view of Bloem’s urban landscape.
- Fantastic flora at the Botanical Gardens and the Orchid House.
- King’s Park, home of the Bloemfontein Zoo and the 80,000sq m Loch Logan Waterfront – SA’s largest inland mall, set alongside a picturesque lake.
- Cultural hotspots including the Oliewenhuis Art Museum & Gallery and the Sand Du Plessis Theatre.
- Museums galore – the Anglo-Boer War Museum, the Choet Visser Rugby Museum, the SA Armour Museum, the Fire Station Museum, the National Museum (which houses the famous Florisbad skull), the Queen’s Fort Military Museum and the National Women’s Memorial.
“Kasie” Tourism in Botshabelo
A visit to the Free State is not complete without experiencing “Kasie” (lokasie/location) tourism and a visit to a “Chisa Nyama” (traditional barbeque) or “shebeen” (bar). While you are in Botshabelo, pay a visit to the Moroka Chiefs Monument and some places of entertainment in the area. A number of buildings still stand as a reminder of the township’s role in the struggle against apartheid, and there is a connection between facilities in Botshabelo, Thaba Nchu and Bloemfontein. Some of these connections are found in places such as:
- The Free State Youth Martyrs’ Monument.
- The house of Me Moipone Mohlakoana (Free State President of the ANC Women’s League and a member of the 1952 Defiance Campaign).
- Ramkraal Prison (where many freedom fighters were incarcerated).
- Paradise Hall (the gathering place for the 1952 Defiance Campaign).
- Mapikela House (Ulundi Khaya).
Thaba-Nchu’s Rich Heritage
Thaba Nchu is named after the 2,138m-high Thaba Nchu mountain where the Barolong nation was centred in the 1830s. On a visit to the Chief’s Kraal you might even catch a glimpse of traditional tribal court proceedings. Ratlou Location in Thaba Nchu is the birthplace of Dr JS Moroka, President of the ANC from 1949-1952. His home, Moroka House, is now a national monument. Nearby are the Maria Moroka National Park and the Rustfontein Dam and Nature Reserve.
Reserves & Resorts
Franklin Game Reserve – Central Bloemfontein. No accommodation. Tel: 051 412 7016
Maria Moroka National Park – Thaba Nchu. Tel: 051 873 2427
Rustfontein Dam Nature Reserve – near Thaba Nchu. No accommodation. Tel: 051 528 2926
Fire Brigade: 051 406 666
Traffic: 051 409 0444
Tourism Contact: Ms Boitumelo Molema – 051 405 8328
Every bit as majestic as the eagles that glide over the Northern Drakensberg peaks, the Eagle Route is a little piece of heaven for tourists. Whether you’re in the mood for a quiet retreat in the countryside or an invigorating taste of local life and culture, you’ll find the Eagle Route in the Thabo Mofutsanyane district a true feast for the senses.
Following the Free State’s southern border with Lesotho, the Eagle route runs from Ficksburg to Harrismith through some of the most picturesque landscape in the country. Activity highlights include cherry picking, seeing dinosaur fossils and rock paintings, arts & craft shopping, skiing in the winter slopes, horse riding and 4X4 trips.
The towns to explore on the Eagle route are:
- Visit a host of natural wonders, including The Stables (a huge rock shelter used by the Boers to stable horses during the 1858 Basotho War) and the Cave Church (a hollow sandstone outcrop where Anglican missionaries worshipped, and where Africanist churches make pilgrimages).
- Modderpoort (Lekhalong la Mantsopa) and the grave of the legendary BaSotho prophetess Anna Mantsopa Makhetha.
Fun in Clocolan
- Fish at the 2 hectare Amohela Ho Spitskop dam and adjacent deep water quarry for rainbow trout, black bass and carp.
- Catch the unforgettable Vintage Tractor Fair each March.
- Take a peek at the prestigious Prynnsberg Heritage Home.
- Don’t miss a visit to Highlands Essential Oils, the Angora Rabbit Farm and the Ben Nevis Cherry Wine Farm.
Ficksburg – Cherry Capital of the World
You can’t visit Ficksburg without going to the Ionia Cherry Farm and tasting the famous Ionia Cherry Liqueur. The highlight of the year is the world-class Cherry Festival, which takes place each November. Other Ficksburg attractions are:
- The Gumtree – SA’s tallest sandstone building.
- General Fick’s monument.
- The White Mischief Cruise boat.
- Organic industries at Green Goose Organics and Ember Down.
- Meqheleng Township in Ficksburg, where many Basotho from Lesotho come to shop.
Natural Beauty in Fouriesburg
- Visit the mystical Motouleng Cave, a traditional ancestral worship site, and take a drink from the sacred spring.
- Experience indigenous bird life amidst the sandstone cliffs and caves of Meiringskloof Nature Reserve.
- See the Surrender Hill Battle Site (where 4,000 Boer soldiers surrendered during the Anglo-Boer War) and a monument to fallen British soldiers.
Art, Craft and Adventure in Clarens
Famous as an artists’ and crafters’ paradise, Clarens is also a dream-come-true for outdoor enthusiasts. Here are a few reasons why Clarens is called the “Jewel of the Free State”:
- 18 art galleries, and dozens of arts & crafts shops.
- The famous Clarens Brewery.
- Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
- The oldest dinosaur nesting site ever found.
- Sports activities galore, including white water rafting, abseiling, 4X4 or quad bike safaris and golfing.
Bethlehem Big Cats
- At Bethlehem you’ll find Lions Rock, an extraordinary wildlife rehabilitation and breeding centre that has rescued more than 60 big cats from all over the world.
- Also visit the monuments at Sol Plaatje Dam and the Old Nazareth Mission Church.
Sotho Culture in Phuthaditjhaba
- See Wetsi’s cave, where Chief Wetsi of the Makholokhoe tribe hid cattle stolen from the Boers.
- Walk to the top of the 850m-high Tugela Falls on the Sentinel Hiking Trail.
- Visit the Basotho Cultural Village (Tel: 058 721 0300) and experience Sotho life dating back to the 16th century.
- Drive up to the Witsieshoek Mountain Resort and visit the legendary Vulture Restaurant.
- Visit the historic Deborah Retief Gardens and see a 250 million-year-old, 33m-high petrified tree.
- Relax at the beautiful Sterkfontein Dam Resort and Nature Reserve.
Surrounding the town of Memel is the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve, a 30sq km wetland which has international RAMSAR status. At certain times of the year, thousands of water birds congregate here, making the area a true birding paradise.
Reserves and Resorts
Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve and Resort – 23km from Harrismith. Tel: 058 622 3520
Golden Gate Highlands National Park and Resort – 17km from Clarens. Tel: 058 255 1000
Meiringskloof Nature Reserve – 17km from Fouriesberg. Tel: 058 223 0067
Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge – Phuthaditjhaba. Tel: 058 713 6361/2
If you want a taste of everything that is typically “Free State”, the Lion Route has it – from culture to nature to history.
The towns along the Lion Route are:
Deneysville – SA’s Inland Riviera
Situated at the wall of the Vaal Dam, Deneysville is just an hour’s drive from Johannesburg. Known as SA’s “Inland Riviera”, Deneysville is famous for:
• Water sport of all kinds, from power boating to laid-back pontoon boat trips and fishing charters.
• The annual “Round the Island” Yacht Race – South Africa’s biggest inland regatta.
• The Deneysville Croc Ranch which has about 2,800 crocodiles and also farms emus.
Sasolburg – More Than Just Oil
Sasolburg is most well known for its unique oil-from-coal installation, but it has plenty else to see and do:
• An Olympic size swimming pool and world-class athletics facilities.
• The Ettienne Rousseau Theatre which hosts a wide range of Afrikaans and other artists.
• Gallery 88 which houses a stunning collection of contemporary South African art.
• A bird sanctuary with up to 70 species of Highveld birds.
• The Riemland Museum and Riemland Wine Route at Heilbron, an hour’s drive away.
Parys – Your Free State Paradise
The beautiful town of Parys is situated on the banks of the Vaal River, and has become a firm favourite for both art and adventure lovers. With so many attractions, you’ll find it’s the perfect paradise for you.
- 42 restaurants and a wide variety of arts & crafts shops.
- Play a round of golf on Golf Island in the middle of the Vaal River.
- Pick berries off the bush at Bon-Af Berry Farm and see SA’s only black raspberries.
- Interact with the big cats at the Dell Cheetah Centre.
- Visit Tumahole township just outside Parys – birthplace of Free State Premier, Mr Ace Magashule.
- Head for the Vaal River or the mountains of the Vredefort Dome and enjoy nature from land, water and sky.
Vredefort’s Big Bang
The small town of Vredefort is the gateway to the world’s oldest and largest crater, the Vredefort Dome. Recently named a World Heritage Site, the 300km-wide crater was created when a meteorite the size of Table Mountain-sized struck the earth 2,000 million years ago. Attractions include:
• Spectacular rock formations, including the world’s only pink granite.
• A wealth of plant, bird and animal life.
• Water sport on the Vaal River.
• A nearby Lion Breeding Programme.
Walk Through Time in Kroonstad
Kroonstad was the first town established after the Orange Free State became independent. Situated on the banks of the beautiful Vals River, a tributary of the Vaal, it is rich in history and outdoor opportunities. Historical sites include:
• A concentration camp and blockhouse from the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902).
• The Bloemspruit Monument for concentration camp victims.
• A Garden of Remembrance for Allied victims of the two world wars.
• Prehistoric stone corbelled huts.
• San rock art and fossils..
Outdoor Activities Include:
• Golf on an 18-hole golf course.
• Interaction with lion and tiger cubs.
• Fishing on the Vals River or the Bloemhoek Dam.
• Boating on the Serfontein Dam.
• Horse riding, gliding, hiking and more.
Reserves and Resorts
Koppies Dam Nature Reserve and Resort – 71km from Kroonstad. Tel: 056 777 0927
Tourism Contact: Ms Victoria Moloi – 016 970 8600
The Flamingo Route runs through the Lejweleputswa District, an important agricultural and gold-producing area. This combination makes for a variety of leisure activities – exploring a local gold mine, game viewing and visiting key historical sites. And for lovers of the fast lane, the Free State’s own Phakisa Freeway Race Track is a must-see.
The route includes the following towns:
Bothaville – A Small Town With a Big Heart
The small town of Bothaville is famous for the world’s second largest private agricultural show: the NAMPO Harvest Festival, held each May. Places of interest include:
• The Doornkraal Monument – honouring the Boers killed during the Battle of Doornkraal.
• Hiking, birdwatching and watersport opportunities.
• Sadat and Middelbult farms, which breed Arabian horses.
• Middelbult and Slots Rose Farm, which have hundreds of rose hybrids.
• The Tarentaalbosch Christmas Market – a large art and craft market held annually at the end of October.
Welcome to Welkom
One of South Africa’s youngest cities, Welkom was established after the discovery of gold in the area in 1947. Welkom’s many interesting tourist attractions include:
• The Gold Museum – a fascinating history of gold mining and the origins of Welkom.
• Underground mine tours through a modern mine.
• The Phakisa Freeway Race Track – one of the fastest tracks in the world.
• The Harmony and Sibanye gold mines.
• The Welkom Flea Market event, held every second week of the month.
• The challenging and well-kept Oppenheimer Park Golf Course.
• Klippan Farm, featuring a variety of animals and traditional Free State farming equipment.
• Aandenk Monument, where the first borehole was drilled in search of gold.
• Thabong Township, where most migrant workers on the Welkom Mines lived.
The tiny town of Ventersburg has a colourful history. Here you can see:
• The ruins of the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe’s Kraal.
• The country’s only fully-restored Police Museum.
• The remains of the Voortrekker hospital.
• The Skanskraal Monument.
• The graves of children who died in the measles epidemic of the 1830s.
• The well-preserved ruins of a prehistoric settlement.
• The Sand River Monument.
If you’re looking for a fun family outing, visit the popular Aldam Resort or the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve overlooking the Allemanskraal Dam.
Virginia’s Heart of Gold
A beautiful town with a strong gold mining heritage, Virginia is the home of the famous Virginia Jewellery School (tel: 057 904 4364). Visitors can also enjoy boating, fishing and water-skiing on the Sand River, or hiking and birdwatching along the river banks. The nearby Tikwe Lodge Nature Drive offers 40 species of buck, zebras and giraffes, as well as cruises along the Sand River.
Winburg – A Window on the Voortrekkers
The oldest proclaimed town in South Africa, Winburg is home to the Free State’s Voortrekker Monument and also the Voortrekker Museum. The Voortrekkers (“pioneers” in Dutch/Afrikaans) moved by ox wagon from the Cape Colony into the interior in the 1830s-40s. The nearby Erfenis Dam Nature Reserve offers great fishing and game viewing.
Brandfort – Who Would Have Thought?
The small town of Brandfort was where Nelson Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, spent nine years under house arrest for terrorism from 1977-1985. You can still see her former home in the township of Majwemasweu. Another interesting piece of history is the Florisbad archaeological site at Soutpan, 45km from Brandfort. See where the skull of a 260,000 year-old hominid and other fossils have been found, then visit the renovated Florisbad Resort for some R&R. You can also see graves dating back to the concentration camps of the Anglo-Boer war.
Reserves and Resorts
Willem Pretorius Nature Reserve and Resort– 30km from Ventersburg. Tel: 057 651 4003/4
Sandveld Nature Reserve and Resort – 126km from Bothaville. Tel: 053 433 1701/2/3
Erfenis Dam Nature Reserve – 30km from Winburg. Tel: 057 733 2125
Soetdoring Nature Reserve, Resort and Predator Park– 45km from Bloemfontein. Tel: 051 433 1167 (reserve)
Tourism Contact: Ms Khali Njobe – 057 391 8995
The Springbok Route, which connects the Free State with the Northern Cape, winds through the scenic farmlands and nature reserves of the Xhariep District. A wealth of cultural and historical attractions en route include battle sites, San rock engravings, game farms and diamond mines.
The towns along the Springbok route are:
Diamonds and Wine at Jakobsdal
The town of Jakobsdal is part of the Diamond and Wine Route which extends down to the diamond mine hole at Jagersfontein.
- Diamonds were discovered in the area in 1867.
- Grapes have been grown in the area since 1972. Be sure to visit the Landzicht and Wilreza wine cellars in Jakobsdal.
- The town played a major role in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. The Magersfontein Battlefields and Museum are 20km out of town.
Transport riders used to outspan (unharness) their horses here in the 19th century, and the story goes that their taste for coffee gave the town its name – and its distinctive coffee pot fountain. Other places of interest include:
- An Open Air Museum dedicated to the prisoners of war who were held in the area during World War II.
- San rock art.
- The Diamond Game Farm.
- A bird park and the 9-hole Koffiefontein Golf Club.
- The grave of South African author Etienne le Roux.
- The Burger Monument, the Great Trek Monument and the famous Paardeberg Battlefield near Fauresmith, en route to Jagersfontein.
Jagersfontien Big Rocks
The humble town of Jagersfontien produced two of the biggest diamonds ever discovered. The open-pit Jagersfontein diamond mine was dug by hand between 1870 and 1909 and measures 760m from one side to the other (and is nearly as deep). With a top area of 19.65 hectares, it is 2.65 hectares bigger than the Big Hole in Kimberley! Other historic sites include:
- The Jagersfontein Graveyard where many Anglo-Boer war heroes were buried.
- Original water pumps which still stand in the town’s streets.
- The Moth Museum which features memorabilia from the Anglo-Boer War, the Namibian Border War and both world wars.
- Several Anglo-Boer War blockhouses en route towards Bethulie, near Springfontein.
A bit of Everything at Bethulie
- The 1.2km-long DH Steyn Bridge which connects the Free State to the Cape.
- Tussen-die-Riviere Reserve.
- Klaversfontein Angora Rabbit Farm.
- The 185-year-old Pellissier House Museum and other historical monuments.
Gariep Dam, the Free State’s Youngest Attraction
Only registered as a municipality in 1994, the town of Gariep Dam was voted the Volksblad Tourism Town of the Year for 2010. What makes it so special?
- Site of the first hydro-electric power station built by Eskom.
- 13km of passages and halls within the Gariep Dam wall.
- Fishing and water sport on the dam.
- The annual Gariep Dam Water Sport Festival every February.
- The Free State’s largest nature reserve – Gariep Dam Nature Reserve.
Tigers in the Free State
Take a trip up past Philippolis to visit the tigers at Tiger Canyons on the Van Der Kloof Lake in the Karoo. The Laurens van der Post Memorial Centre, the Emily Hobhouse Memorial and the Old Jail are other attractions worth seeing.
Reserves and Resorts
Tussen Die Riviere Nature Reserve and Resort – 15km from Bethulie. Tel: 051 763 1000/1/2
Gariep Dam Nature Reserve and Resort – Gariep Dam and Bethulie. Tel: 051 754 0048
Caledon Nature Reserve – Near Smithfield. Camping only. Tel: 051 583 2000/1/2
Kalkfontein Nature Reserve – Between Koffiefontein and Jagersfontein. Camping only. Tel: 051 723 1028/7
Tourism Contact: Ms Kelebogile Molatedi – 051 713 9300
Free State Tourism Interesting Facts
The town of Bothaville hosts one of the largest agricultural festivals in the world, NAMPO, every year during May. Attendance of the 2011 festival set a new record of 73 552 people over the four-day period. The town is also the head office of Maize South Africa.
The longest bridge in South Africa is the D.H Steyn bridge at 2 993 meter on the outskirts of the town Bethulie in the Xhariep district.
Centre point of SA
Emmaus, the centre point of South Africa, is located 20 km from the town of Petrusburg in the Xhariep district.
The annual Cherry Festival held in Ficksburg (Setsoto Local Municipality) is the oldest crop festival in South Africa. A little known fact is that all of South Africa’s glazed cherries are produced in Ficksburg. The 45th anniversary of this festival will be celebrated in 2012.
Commercial Plane Crash
Spitzkop, a koppie near Memel, was the site of South Africa’s first commercial plane crash. On 15 May 1948 a Skyliner (a version of the well known DC3) belonging to Mercury Airways, crashed into Spitzkop, killing all 13 people on board. The crash was, at the time, regarded as South Africa’s biggest air disaster.
The largest dam in South Africa is the Gariep Dam in the Xhariep district.
The world’s oldest dinosaur eggs, 200 million-year-old prosauropod dinosaur embryos, were found in the Golden Gate National Park in the Thabo Mofutsanyane district in 1978.
Fauresmith is the only town in South Africa, and one of only three in the world, where the railway line runs down the centre of the main road.
The largest grain silo’s in the world is found at Wesselsbron.
Founded in 1870, Jagersfontein (Xhariep district) is the world’s oldest diamond mining town and the first place where diamonds were discovered in its mother stone or blue ground, or as it’s now known, Kimberlite. Of the ten biggest diamonds ever found, two came from the Jagersfontein mine.
Highest town above sea level
Petrus Steyn is the Free State town highest above sea level at 1702 meters.
The largest indoor arena in the southern hemisphere is in Parys. The Parys Indoor Arena is a first in South Africa and includes a sand warm-up arena in the Shute and a grass arena for flat work and lunging. The SA Boerboel championships, horse shows and cattle shows are regularly hosted at the arena. There are approximately 460 indoor stables, private boxes for spectators and it has its own restaurant and bar.
Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area
The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area is a trans-boundary initiative in Lesotho and South Africa. It includes a conservation area and World Heritage Site, which was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in December 2000. The conserved areas include the Ukhahlamba World Heritage Site, Golden Gate National Park, QwaQwa National Park, Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, and conserved areas within Lesotho.
Olive Tree Forest
The largest wild olive tree forest in South Africa is located at 20 km outside Parys near Venterskroon.
The 1914 Rebellion started in Memel three and a half years after the establishment of the Union of South Africa. In 1914, when war broke out between Britain and Germany, the South African government’s announcement that its indeed to invade German South West Africa (today’s Namibia), fighting broke out between former Generals of the Anglo-Boer War and government forces.
The Maloti Route is the longest signed tourism route in South Africa. It starts in Harrismith and proceeds through the Free State to the Orange River after which it crosses the Eastern Cape to the N2 on the Wild Coast. It also includes Lesotho from the north to the south. In the Free State it passes through Ladybrand, Hobhouse, Wepener, Vanstadensrus and Zastron on the R26 Route.
The Vredefort Structure in the Vredefort/Parys area has been declared South Africa’s 7th International World Heritage Site and is recognized worldwide as the oldest and biggest meteorite impact site.
Free State Climate
Almost uniformly at about 1,300m above sea level, the Free State climate is typical of the interior plateau with rain falling in summer, cold winters and lots of sunshine. The Free State is hot in summer, when most of the rain falls (between 600 mm and 750 mm in the east to less than 300 mm in the west), but it can be very cold in the winter, with heavy frost over most of the province. Snow often is recorded on the eastern mountains, and occasionally over the rest of the region. The average winter temperature is 7.7ºC and the average summer temperature, 23º C. The seasons in the province look as follows:
Summer: December – February
Winter: April – July
Spring: July – September
Autumn: January – March
Areas in the east experience frequent snowfalls in winter, especially on the higher ranges, whilst the west can be extremely hot in summer. The south brings hot, dry summer days and long, cold winter nights. This semi-desert area also brings fluctuations of temperature from day to night. The west is warm and cold in equal measure, its inhabitants making use of the many man-made water recreation facilities to endure the heat as much as using heating facilities in winter’s low temperatures.