24 July 2014 by Lynnette Johns

Freedom and fun in the Free State

Wednesday night’s #TravelChatSA was all about the Free State: big-sky country in the heart of South Africa and amazing tourist attractions.

The Free State is a fascinating province, home to the Basotho people and filled with tourist attractions. Image courtesy of Coda

Surrounded by six South African provinces and the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Free State is in the heart of South Africa. On Wednesday night this fabulous province was the subject of #TravelChatSA.

It is big-sky country, with scenic beauty and tranquility, sandstone rock formations, traces of people who lived during the Iron Age, a World Heritage Site and grasslands – all of which make for the perfect getaway. It is also where the African National Congress was formed on 1912.

The province has a rich history, and tourists will be drawn to exploring museums, buildings, memorials and the art scene.

The Free State is closely associated with the South African (Anglo-Boer) War, which was fought between Boers and Brits from 1899 to 1902. In this regard, history buffs may be interested in visiting a number of memorials, statues and museums dedicated to the war.

The Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein pays homage to people like Emily Hobhouse, the British activist who alerted her countrymen to the horrific treatment and living conditions of Afrikaner women and children in concentration camps during the South African War, as well as to Mahatma Gandhi, the then-secretary of the Natal Indian Congress, who motivated that Indian volunteers be stretcher-bearers for the British.

Visitors are encouraged to explore Bloemfontein by foot to take in the many beautiful buildings.

The town of Clarens, also known as the 'Jewel of the Free State' has become an extremely popular tourist destination. It is also home to many artists and art studios, and well worth a visit.

Clarens is renowned for its artists, restaurants and scenic surrounds. Image South African Tourism Clarens is renowned for its artists, restaurants and scenic surrounds. Image South African Tourism

For something slightly different, try the Basotho Cultural Village in QwaQwa, close to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, which gives visitors a true taste of South African hospitality.

The village shows off beautifully painted traditional houses, and visitors can buy a range of items, including pottery, fabrics and beadworks. Visitors are also offered beer brewed on site, and traditional food.

Along the Vaal River, in the Northern Free State, you will find a playground for water sports and adventure. The town of Parys offers river rafting, and is also home to many artists, craftsmen and antique dealers.

The province is also home to the Vredefort Dome, a World Heritage Site – it is the impact site of a meteor that struck the Earth about two billion years ago, leaving a crater 300km in diameter

The province also boasts San rock painting and the remains villages where Iron Age people lived. 

The Maloti Drakensberg Route in the Eastern Free State is an idyllic meander through picturesque mountains. You can stop and visit villages and towns along the way, walk in the footprints of dinosaurs, buy arts and crafts, fly-fish, visit renowned rock-art sites or just soak up the breathtaking scenery. For the more adventurous, there are ski slopes, horse trails, and 4x4 and hiking trails. Accommodation along the route includes graded hotels, luxury lodges, self-catering cottages and homely B&Bs.

The spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park is in the scenic north-east of the Free State. The ochre and gold sandstone cliffs gave this park its name and the area is rich in San rock art; a number of dinosaur eggs and skeletons have been found here. 

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Image South African Tourism The Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Image South African Tourism

Other attractions in the province include the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve (home to a wealth of animal, plant and birdlife); the Free State National Botanical Garden in Bloemfontein; the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve; Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve (renowned for more than 230 species of birds as well as zebra, blesbok and other plains game species); and the Franklin Game Reserve in Bloemfontein – one of only two reserves in the world situated in a city (the other is in Hong Kong).

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