Many people are familiar with South Africa’s biggest cities and tourist destinations; Cape Town and Johannesburg. In fact South Africa in general is becoming an increasingly popular destinaiton amongst international travel enthusiasts, whther they be backpackers or more seasoned holiday makers.. However, the country does have some lesser known gems. Central South Africa is perhaps one of the more laid-back areas of the country, but surprisingly there is much to do and see in that part of the country as well. The Free State is a province in central South Africa with the capital city of Bloemfontein. Bloemfontein is also the country’s judicial capital.
The Free State is the country’s bread basket with flat open plains. The province has over 30 000 farms, producing about 70% of the grain produced in the country. It is an elevated part of the country at 1000 metres above sea level. In the eastern Free State the Drakensberg Mountain range begins. In the west and north of the province are diamond and gold mines.
Besides the farms and mines the province also has some wildlife. In the northern part of the province there are zebra, wildcat, white rhinoceros, eland, the African wildcat and wild dogs in the Soetdoring Nature Game Reserve close to Bloemfontein. In the animal reserves in the South there are springbok and black wildebeest.
The climate in the Free State can best be characterised by a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. In the east of the Free State, particularly in the Drakensberg Mountains there is snowfall in the winter. The winters are extremely dry and rainfall taking place in the summers. The summer months are November to February. The winters are June to August.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located in the north east of the province. Most visitors to the Free State come particularly for this park. Its beauty is created by sandstone cliffs which shine a golden hue when cast with sunlight. In the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the Brandwag stone (or the Sentinel Rock) which is an imposing figure which lends to the regalness of the area. The sandstone that is found in the area is used in constructing beautiful stone buildings. Some of the best preserved San rock paintings in the country can be found in this area. Towns to visit in the north east Free State include Ficksburg, Wepener, Ladybrand, Bethlehem and Clarens. ( image by Jonathan Gill )
About two billion years ago a 10km wide meteorite hit the earth. It struck about 100km south west of Johannesburg, in the Free State. The result is a huge impact crater. This area is known as the Vredefort Dome. At Unesco’s 29th World Heritage meeting in 2005 the dome was named South Africa’s 7th World Heritage Site. The size of the meteor is astounding (it is bigger than the world famous Table Mountain). The impact resulted in a thousand-megaton explosion of energy. This may have resulted in an increase in oxygen levels on the plant, which made it feasible for multicellular life to develop. Of all the crater impacts in the world, the Vredenfort Dome is the largest and oldest one that is visible. This dome is even older than the Chixculub in Mexico which is said to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs. The present result of the Vredenfort crater is a beautiful hills near Vredefort and Parys.
In Clarens one can take Hot Air Balloon rides. These require at least 4 passengers. The entire flight lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Trips are scheduled for the mornings and are followed by breakfast.
In central South Africa there is the Koppies Dam Nature Reserve. It is located on the Renoster River and has large buffalo herds and white rhino. There are also various kinds of bird species, including waterfowl. The reserve also has a dam which can be fished. Species of fish found include mudfish, yellow fish and barbell. One can also windsurf and sail on the waters.
Close to Johannesburg is the Vaal River. It is a popular weekend holiday location for locals. There are numerous resorts along the banks of the river. It is mostly used for various water sports such as water-skiing, river-rafting, paragliding and wind-surfing.
Getting to the Free State is easy as connecting flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are available. However, the province neighbours Gauteng, where Johannesburg is located. A drive between Johannesburg and Bloemfontein is just 4 hours. There are also major bus operators between these cities. However, once in the Bloemfontein public transport is near impossible to get, specifically for excursions into the country side, so car hire is an absolute requirement.
Header Image by scottnramsay