The Free State is the central province of South Africa and its capital city is Bloemfontein. The province borders six of the eight remaining provinces in South Africa as well as Lesotho. The area is known for its rich agriculture and a strong mining industry, which is the largest employer in the area.
The province’s popularity among tourists may be attributed to the Khoisan Rock Art found in the area, native sandstone buildings, a national park and destinations along the Vaal River such as Parys. Visitors to the area come to relax at one of the rivers in the area, see the great Drakensburg Mountains and experience the artistic and creative atmosphere of some of its towns.
This province is the only one to have not undergone any border changers after the transition to the post-Apartheid government in 1994. The area was known as the Orange Free State prior to 1994, and before that it was called the Orange Free State Boer Republic.
The Free State has two universities, as well as several other tertiary institutions and is the home of some of South Africa’s renowned football and rugby teams.
Free State Demographics
Land size: 129,825 square kilometers
Population size: 2,786,800 people
Population race breakdown: 87.6% black African, 8.7% white, 3.1% coloured, 0.4% Indian/Asian
Languages spoken: 64.2% Sotho, 12.7% Afrikaans, 7.5% Xhosa, 5.2% Tswana, 4.4% Zulu
Top 3 Nature & Game Reserves in the Free State
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park
The 340 square kilometer national park is the most popular destination in the province and is named after its most notable feature: golden eroded sandstone cliffs and outcrops. The area has numerous caves displaying San Rock Art and it is a popular place for hiking. There are several resorts in the area where visitors stay to enjoy the environment and home to a diverse species of wildlife including zebras, wildebeest, Eland and Blesbok. Bird watching is also popular with tourists trying to spot the Cape Vulture, Blue Crane and Verreaux’s Eagle.
The Sterkfontein Dam Reserve
The Sterkfontein Dam Reserve is a popular venue for camping, hiking trails, mountain biking and game viewing. It spans over 18,000 hectares and is the home to various types of buck and a wide variety of flora. The reserve is situated around the Sterkfontein Dam, 23 kilometers from the town of Harrismith and nearby the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Tussen die Riviere Game Reserve
The name “Tussen die Riviere” literally means “between two rivers” in Afrikaans as the game reserve is situated between the Orange River and the Caledon River. It is the most accessible game reserve in the Free State and was developed to cater for experienced hunters. As a result of the hunting season, hiking does not take place in the winter but there are several hiking trails available during the other months of the year.
Top 3 Places to go to in the Free State
Parys is the Afrikaans translation for Paris; the town was named after the French capital because of its romantic, artsy and tranquil atmosphere. It lies along the Vaal River, making it an ideal destination for adventure seekers who can take part in activities such as river rafting and quad biking along the banks of the river. The town also has numerous shops and art galleries, placed in a setting of Art Deco style buildings.
Clarens is a small art town situated outside the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and nearby bordering Lesotho. The town is a picturesque centre of art galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants and is the ideal place to visit for a day of art viewing, shopping and relaxation, which is why it is a popular stop for tourists travelling to and from the Drakensburg Mountain resorts.
Bethlehem was named after the town in Israel. The name means “house of bread” symbolizing the area’s agricultural wealth and wheat growing tradition. It is situated along the Liebernsbergs River. Bethlehem has several provincial heritage sites including buildings which date back to the establishment of the town in 1864. Some of South Africa’s most valuable San (or “Bushmen”) Rock Art is located in Bethlehem.
The Free State’s central location makes it ideal to visit en-route to other destinations in South Africa when travelling by car. It is a rich area with old and modern art, natural wildlife and vegetation, and beautiful landscapes to explore.