Free State birding route
Did you know?
The eastern Free State is home to at least 10 endemic bird species.
The Free State birding route capitalises on all this province's main attractions: its dramatic landscapes, scenic and peaceful back roads and of course, its birds.
With more than 450 recorded bird species in the Free State, including more than 100 southern African endemics and near-endemics, it's a must-see destination on your South African birding safari.
Spanning the entire length and breadth of the province, the route covers a vast and naturally diverse area, allowing you to pick the spots you most want to visit. Pack a map, your binoculars and field guide and head out onto the open road for a laid-back birding experience.
Start out in the northern region, beyond the boundary of the Vaal River. There are a number of pools and pans in the area that sustain a growing water bird population, including two species of flamingo. Here you can also visit the Vaal Dam, many historical Boer War sites and the Vredefort Dome, a World Heritage Site.
As you move further west, so the landscape changes to accommodate drier, semi-arid vegetation punctuated by thornveld. Look out here for species like the Kalahari scrub-robin and tinkling cisticola.
The route then moves south towards the Karoo and confluence of the Orange and Caledon Rivers. Another semi-arid region, this area is dominated by rocky hills, open plains and the Gariep Dam. Listen out for the distinctive calls of the resident Karoo robins, greybacked cisticolas and African rock pipits.
The eastern region is an absolute must. Not only is it home to some of the province's most impressive natural attractions, including the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, but as it swings north, also some of southern Africa's most important birding areas, including the wetlands of Memel.
vultures over the eastern cliffs, and pipits, larks, Southern bald ibis, wattled crane and white-winged flufftails in the wetlands, grasslands and forests to the north.
There's plenty to see and do on this exciting route, so take your time. When not watching birds, you can admire the big sky scenery.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Birdlife South Africa:
Tel: +27 (0) 11 789 1122
Free State Tourism:
Tel: +27 (0) 51 411 4300
How to get here
Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities to Bloemfontein Airport. If you’re driving; from Johannesburg and Cape Town take the N1 south and north respectively to Bloemfontein. From Durban, take the N3 out of KwaZulu Natal, and pick up the N5 at Harrismith to Bloemfontein.
Best time to visit
Spring to autumn (September to April). Summer days get very hot, while winter days are mild, with cold evenings. Snow regularly falls on the eastern highlands. Autumn is particularly lovely, with pink and white cosmos flowers lining the roads all over the province.
Tours to do
Tour Winnie Mandela House in Majwemasoeu; do the self-drive tourism routes (Battlefields, Friendly N6, Diamond and Wine, BBT Heritage, Maloti and Goldfields); the National Museum in Bloemfontein; the Basotho Cultural Village; the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Length of stay
Anything from a weekend to a full week.
Philippolis Witblits Festival in June (features traditional home-brewed alcoholic spirits); the Cherry Festival at Ficksburg in November; and the Bloemfontein Show (agricultural and entertainment festival) in April, the Free State Food Fair in October, and the Macufe Mangaung African Cultural Festival in October, all in Bloemfontein.