Did you know?
The world-renowned Fauresmith Endurance Ride equestrian event covers 200km over 3 days.
When you travel the southern Free State’s Horizon Route it helps to know the legends and back-stories of the dusty little towns you pass through.
Take Springfontein, just off the N1, for instance. During the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) it housed the largest field hospital in the southern hemisphere. Railway routes from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London all converged here and went north to Johannesburg.
You see this military blockhouse we’re sitting in, overlooking the highway traffic between Johannesburg and Cape Town? Well, renowned war correspondent, newspaper editor and author Edgar Wallace once sat in just such a blockhouse in Springfontein.
And tonight, as we sit down to dinner at Graeme Wedgwood’s Springfontein House, the former London Stock Exchange broker will bring you up to speed on historic matters of his adopted town. And once you meet Black de Swardt of the nearby Prior Grange Guest Farm, you will never see Springfontein in the same light again.
And so it is with Jagersfontein, which we visit the next day. Who would have said that this dusty old settlement once produced diamonds worn by the likes of infamous gangster Al Capone? Indeed, if you owned a ‘Jagers diamond’ just more than a century ago, you were in world-renowned company indeed.
Less than 15km to the west of Jagersfontein lies Fauresmith, with its retired locomotive resting on tracks running through the centre of town. Today, Fauresmith is a quiet farming town, but wait until the winter month of July and you’ll see it come alive as it stages the annual Fauresmith Endurance Ride. Said to be one of the toughest horse races around, the ride attracts equestrians from all over the world.
Our next stop is Koffiefontein and yes, that is indeed a massive metal coffee pot hoisted up at the entrance to the town, spouting water into a pond.
A nearby fountain was the stopover spot (called an ‘outspan’ in Afrikaans) for the transport riders between the old Transvaal and the Cape. This is where they liked to drink their coffee and eat their rough-baked rusks.
A diamond was discovered here in 1870, and suddenly people came to Koffiefontein for more than a coffee break. Within a decade a fully fledged mining town was declared.
You can also visit the old internment camp, which is right by the prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, all dating back to World War II. Hardliners like former South African prime minister John Vorster did their time at the internment camp for supporting the Nazi regime, while just nearby a group of Italian prisoners (who fought under the banner of Mussolini) passed their days creating cement friezes.
The Italian POWs who were held in South Africa added vastly to the country’s cultural wealth – and road systems.
At Jacobsdal, our last stop on the Horizon Route, we visit the local winery. The canal system brings water from the Mother River (Orange River) and the land is lush around here.
I love the white muscatels from Jacobsdal, but you might prefer something in a Chardonnay, perhaps. And we can all toast the wonders and people of the Horizon Route, its ‘little places and open spaces’…
Note: the Horizon Route is a route created by the non-profit tourism organisation Open Africa, which has created dozens of off-the-beaten-track routes in southern Africa.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Springfontein lies 145km south of Bloemfontein and 80km north of Colesberg on the N1.
Best time to visit
Travel the Horizon Route in early summer (October/November) or autumn (April/May) if you can.
Around the area
You can go on a day trip to the Gariep Dam.
Driving yourself is the best option because it gives you mobility.
What will it cost
Accommodation along the Horizon Route is very affordable.
Length of stay
Set aside two days and one night for your trip.
What to pack
Pack informal, comfortable travel garb.
Where to stay
Recommended are Springfontein House and the nearby Prior Grange Guest Farm.
What to eat
Good, wholesome Karoo food is on the menu – well presented and delicious. Karoo lamb is a specialty in this area.
Check the listed Fauresmith website for details of events in the area.