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TThe 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 2-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 70km³ 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 000m 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 Maloti 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)51 409 9900
SANParks Golden Gate Highlands National Park reservations
Tel: + 27 (0)58 255 1000
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.
Things to do
There are a number of hiking trails in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, ranging from 1 hour to an overnight 28km hike. Horse-back riding, canoeing and abseiling are all available in the park, as well as swimming in natural rock pools.
Self-drive loops are offered in the park.
A visit to the Basotho cultural village includes a guided museum tour or herbal wilderness trail. There is also a day-long guided cultural route that traces the footsteps of the first occupants by visiting cultural sites in QwaQwa.
In nearby Clarens, sporting activities include golf, shooting, white water rafting, quad and motor bike trails, zip lining and fly fishing. In the winter months, snowboarding or skiing are available.
What to pack
Be sure to pack a sunhat and sunscreen. Apply liberally and regularly! Bring along a costume for cooling off in mountain pools while hiking, and of course, pack your walking or hiking shoes to protect your feet. Insect repellent is also a must-pack to protect you against pesky mosquitoes.
What to eat
Whilst in the Free State, traditional boerekos (farmers’ food) and potjiekos (pot stew) is available in most towns and villages; authentic African cuisine at the many African cultural villages; the Free State is also famed for corn on the cob and juicy cherries.