Thabo Mofutsanyana

The following information was made available by the Free State Department of Tourism Web site.

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The Free State Province disposes of an extensive system of parks and reserves, including one national park (Golden Gate) and more than 80 provincial, municipal, and privately owned nature parks, nature reserves, game reserves, and game farms. Activities include bird and game viewing, trophy and biltong hunting, hiking, horseback riding, biking, 4X4 off-road driving, camping, climbing and spelunking.

Thabo Mofutsanyana

With its beautiful snow-capped mountains providing a backdrop to numerous romantic hide-aways, this untouched, pristine area with its breathtaking scenery, possesses a grandeur of majestic proportions. Hiking trails meander through densely vegetated valleys and wild gorges created by centuries of wind, water and fire, while Bushman paintings evoke images of lost civilizations and ancient myths - truly an area where the magic and mystery of the Free State can be experienced at first hand. The Eastern Free State is truly one of the essential must-visit areas for any foreign visitor to South Africa.

Almost out of place in the stubbornly gentle topography of the Free State, the better part of the eastern section of the province is starkly rugged and mountainous. The Drakensberg and Maluti Ranges peer over the Free State to the left and Lesotho to the right like schoolmasters. Separated by these sandstone walls, the Basotho people have defended themselves as one against invaders for centuries, refusing to step down from their lofty strongholds. The 'difaqane', the migration of foreigners from the north and the east, which forced people into cannibalism and starvation, found an unconquerable match in the never ending peaks and troughs. The Basotho first came into contact with European settlers in the 19th century resulting in a number of wars, fought along the caves and slopes next to the Caledon River.

The towns of the Eastern Free State display a notable rustic character, with for instance a town such as Clarens with its Swiss-like appearance and concentration of artists having truly a charm to be found nowhere else. The commercial centre of the region is Bethlehem, with an attractive array of sandstone buildings throughout the town. Harrismith on the N3 between Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal is also a key industrial centre. In Qwa-Qwa further to the west Phuthadtitjhaba houses a modern industrial area managed by the Free State Development Corporation.

From a scenic point of view, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Qwa-Qwa National Park and Witsieshoek Mountain Resort offer some of the cream of the crop in the province. The magnificent views over the nearby Drakensberg Amphi Theatre and Devil's Tooth are simply unsurpassable. The massive Sterkfontein Dam outside Harrismith is not only ideal for watersports, but is also a primary source of water for the Vaal Dam, which in turn is the main supplier of water for Gauteng Province as South Africa's industrial heartland. The Salpeterkrans sandstone overhang near Fouriesburg is a bizzare example of wind erosions. The bird watching mecca of Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve near Memel constitutes a wetland with RAMSAR status and is surrounded with private game and holiday farms.

Cities/Towns: Arlington, Bethlehem, Clarens, Clocolan, Cornelia, Excelsior, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg, Harrismith, Hobhouse, Kestell, Ladybrand, Lindley, Marquard, Memel, Paul Roux, Petrus Steyn, Phuthadijhaba/Qwa-Qua, Reitz, Rosendal, Senekal, Steynsrus, Tweespruit, Vrede, Warden.

Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the north-eastern Free State lies the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The park derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park's sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, keeping vigil over the main rest camp. Renowned for its superlative scenery, invigorating climate and excellent accommodation in either hotel rooms or self-catering chalets and rondavels, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park has become a tremendous holiday draw card. This 11 600ha of unique environment is true highland habitat, providing home to a fantastic animal habitat.

Within Qwa-Qwa National Park the Basotho Cultural Village is simply a must to visit. South of nearby Phuthaditjhaba is the car park for The Sentinel. This is a full day hike which takes you up the back of the Drakensberg amphi theatre and is highly recommended. Other sites to visit in the Park : The Van Reenen family graveyard, the impressive Brandwag buttress rock formation and a bird hide at the Langtoon Dam. Interesting lookout points and viewpoints: Zuluhoek lookout point, Generaalskop viewpoint, Oribi basin and Drakensberg view. Other facilities: Bowls, tennis, table tennis and snooker. Picnic site for day visitors has ablution and barbeque facilities.

Handy hints : Remember to bring a hat, walking shoes, sun block, camera, binoculars and wildlife reference books. Hikers on day and overnight trails must always carry sufficient water. Take cool and light clothing for summer and warm clothing for winter as area is prone to sudden weather changes.

Must-sees in the eastern Free State

Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve in Bethlehem
Titanic Rock at the northern entrance of Clarens
Korannaberg Hiking Trail at Excelsior
Cherry Festival annually in November at Ficksburg
Bushman rock art at 27 farms near Fouriesburg
Factories and craft shops near Harrismith
Sandstone NG Church at Kestell
Claerhout Art Gallery at Tweespruit
Mountain bike trails at Marquard
Basuto Cultural Village at Qwa-Qwa
Sandstone Farming Estate and Tractor Museum near Ficksburg
Sterkfontein Dam

It is evident to the beholder why the Eastern Free State holds that magical allure. Whether it be trout fishing in one of the many atmospheric rivers, attending the Cherry Festival of Ficksburg or simply relishing the magnificence of the area by visiting any of the towns, you are certain to reach only one conclusion: This is soul country.

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