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TThere are few wild places close to towns where you can view animals and birds and explore the landscape by hiking, on horse trails or mountain bikes. The 1 200-hectare Wolhuterskop Game and Nature Reserve offers this in the eastern Free State's grasslands.
Before the time of fences and farmlands, what is now the Wolhuterskop Game and Nature Reserve was on the game migration route between what is today the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Great herds would head to KwaZulu-Natal for the winter, and in summer they would return to graze on the sweet grasses of the Free State.
Then came the fences and farmlands.
The land around the town of Bethlehem, which was founded in the mid-1800s, proved ideal for growing wheat. Hence the town was named Bethlehem, which means ‘house of bread’ in Hebrew.
As the farms expanded, the wildlife and indigenous landscape started disappearing. By 1983, when the Wolhuterskop Game and Nature Reserve was declared, there was little pristine veld left around Bethlehem.
‘We created the reserve to conserve a small part of the eastern Free State's grassland, with its sandstone ridges, and to bring in the game that used to occur here naturally, including springbok, eland, black wildebeest and blesbuck,’ explains Peter Reed, who helped develop the reserve.
Apart from the larger game, the reserve offers a wide range of species, including the water mongoose, cape clawless otter, caracal and large-spotted genet.
Today Wolhuterskop Game and Nature Reserve is a retreat where visitors can experience this part of the eastern Free State as it once was.
There are three circular routes through the reserve for day drives. Visitors can also hike, mountain bike or take a horse trail. Horses are kept on the reserve by local horseman, Blackie Swart, who leads the trails.
‘For the birders, about 120 species have been identified, including the signature bird of Africa, the fish eagle, and plenty of waterbirds on the Barber Bay Dam in the reserve, which originally supplied Bethlehem with water,’ says Reed.
For those interested in plants and trees, the reserve offers a wide range, including the jackalberry, white olive and grass aloe.
No overnight facilities are available at this stage, but visitors have a choice of accommodation and dining in nearby Bethlehem.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)58 303 5732
Free State Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)51 409 9900
How to get here
Bethlehem is 260km from Johannesburg and 250km from Bloemfontein. Follow the N5 to Bethlehem, then take the R26 to Fouriesburg for 2km and you will find the Wolhuterskop Game and Nature Reserve.
Best time to visit
All year round. Winters (June to August) are chilly, summers (November to January) are hot.
Around the area
About 8km from Bethlehem is a historic cairn of rocks. Sotho people, on their way to the gold mines in Johannesburg to find work, would place a stone on the pile and ask their ancestors to protect them. On the way back they would do the same to thank their ancestors.
In your own vehicle; or on foot, horseback or mountain bike.
What will it cost?
Less than R100 per person for a full day in the reserve.
Length of stay
Spend 2 days in this area.
What to pack
Pack your own food and refreshments for the reserve as there are no catering facilities.
Where to stay
There is no accommodation at the reserve at present, but Bethlehem has a wide choice of places to stay.
What to eat
Bethlehem has several restaurants and supermarkets.