South Africa’s Free State province boasts some of the most impressive rock features in the world. It is most renowned for the mighty sandstone cliffs that tower above the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the hills at Vredefort that form part of a pre-historic meteorite impact crater.

Did you know?

The Free State geological attraction, Vredefort Dome, is the world's largest and oldest known meteorite impact site.

The Free State has many geological wonders to be explored. Shaped by time, these striking features are as visually awesome as they are significant to the history of the world. Two of the Free State's top geological attractions are the cliffs of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the Vredefort Dome.

The geological wonders of the Free State were formed anything from millions to billions of years ago.

The northern Free State's Vredefort Dome is the impact site of a major meteorite, believed to have struck earth two billion years ago. Scientists gauge that the meteorite was 10km in diameter, larger than South Africa's Table Mountain.

It is estimated the impact vaporised 70 cubic kilometres of rock, leaving a 300km-diameter crater. This crater is now represented by a ring of hills, northwest of the impact point, called the Vredefort Hills. They are all that remain of the crater, the other peaks formed by the meteorite impact have since been covered by age-old sediment.

Visitors can hike the hills, or abseil, horse ride and canoe the area around the Vredefort Dome, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

South of Vredefort, in the eastern Free State, are the geological wonders of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This protected area is renowned for its impressive sandstone features, most notably The Sentinel buttress.

The Sentinel is the most northern point of the Drakensberg mountains and an iconic symbol of this national park. The Sentinel hiking trail takes visitors 3 000 m above the Drakensberg Amphitheatre, affording spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

The area is filled with other interesting sandstone formations including caves, overhangs, rock shelters and cliffs, such as the peculiarly named Gladstone's Nose and Titanic.

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park rests at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, which are geological wonders themselves, and which provide a dramatic backdrop to the beautiful eastern Free State.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Free State Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)51 411 4300
Email: info@freestatetourism.org

SANParks reservations
Tel: + 27 (0)12 428 9111
Email: reservations@sanparks.org

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 May). Summer days get very hot, while winter days are mild, with cold evenings. Snow regularly falls on the eastern highlands.

Tours to 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.

What to eat

Traditional boerekos (farmers’ food) and potjiekos (pot stew) in most towns and villages; authentic African cuisine at the many African cultural villages; the Free State’s famed corn on the cob and juicy cherries.

What's happening

Philippolis Witblits Festival in June (a festival featuring traditional home-brewed alcoholic spirits); NAMPO Farm Show (agricultural show) at Bothaville in May; the Bloemfontein Show (agricultural and entertainment festival) at Bloemfontein in April; the Free State Food Fair and Macufe Mangaung African Cultural Festival, both at Bloemfontein in October; the Cherry Festival at Ficksburg in November.