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FREE STATE

FREE STATE
The Free State is a rural province of wide horizons and blue skies, with farmland, mountains, goldfields and widely dispersed towns. This tranquil land of the windmill is famous for its warm South African hospitality and a mix of culture which is clearly evident in street names, public buildings, monuments and museums. Dressed sandstone buildings abound the highlands, while beautifully decorated Sotho houses dot the grasslands. Some of South Africa’s most valued San (Bushman) rock art is found in the Free State.

Embraced by several of South Africa’s provinces and sharing a border with the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, the Free State lies in the heart of the country, between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south.

BETHLEHEM
The town of Bethlehem was founded in 1864 (other sources claim 1869). It is nestled in the Maluti Mountains in the Free State Province and is one of the towns that grew rapidly after it was founded. The rapid growth was due to the town being connected to Johannesburg, Harrismith and Bloemfontein by rail. The town’s name is of Hebrew origin and means “house of bread”. It is so named because the town boasts fertile land where wheat grows in abundance.

Today the town is a leading tourist attraction. One of its most famous sights is the stone mound found just outside the town. The mound was created when miners used to throw stones as an act of gratitude to their ancestors for keeping them safe on their way to and from work in the mines.

BLOEMFONTEIN
Bloemfontein - the City of Roses, serves as something of an oasis, lying as it does plum in the middle of the Free State The only major city for miles around, it is also the sixth largest city in the country, the Judicial Capital of South Africa, and it lies on the N1 between Johannesburg and Cape Town, often functioning as a stop off to break the major journey between the two cities.

Naval Hill, a little nature reserve of 192 odd hectares, set right in the city, is worth a drive through. Set on a hill as it is, it not only provides a welcome respite from all things city, but also gives a bird’s eye view over the city. And the extremely modern Orchid House, which lies at the western foot of Naval Hill in Hamilton Park, lays claim to the world’s largest collection of orchids. There is also a fragrance garden for the blind close to Orchid House.

Despite being situated in an area of dry grassland, Bloemfontein more than lives up to its name - spring of flowers. Thousands of rose bushes line the city; more than 4000 rose trees have been planted in the rose gardens in Kings Park, and many homes, still minus the ubiquitous six metre wall of other major cities in South Africa, boast colourful gardens littered with flowering plants and trees. Bloemies, as the locals fondly call her it, is a city of little stress and very few residents buy into the rush, rush syndrome typical of a major city. The city centre is lined with historical buildings, including the beautiful tree-lined President Brand Street - a national monument - its pavements home to several graceful museum buildings, right in the centre of the CBD.

The city, sixth largest in the country, the Judicial Capital of South Africa and located on the N1, Bloemfontein serves as something of an oasis, as it lies both in the middle of the Free State and country. With Johannesburg and Cape Town at great distances from each other, Bloemfontein provides the perfect stop off to break the major journey between the two titan cities.

GOLDEN GATE & CLARENS
The Golden Gate National Park is a Free State Nature Reserve in South Africa, located in the north eastern part of Free State and derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. The area is famous for its captivating scenery, invigorating climate and the accommodation offered in hotel rooms, rondavels (round huts) and self-catering chalets.

Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north-eastern Free State lies the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
The park is a real highlight for visitors to the Free State. Popular attractions include the vast, colourful sandstone formations, which shine golden-yellow in the evening sun, and from which the area derives its name. Vegetation in the Golden Gate Nature Reserve consists mainly of wooded ravines, gullies and grasslands.
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.

This 11 600 hectares of unique environment is true highland habitat, providing home to a variety of mammals including black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbuck,and Burchell’s zebra - and birds, including the rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the equally rare bald ibis, which breed on the ledges in the sandstone cliffs.

Ribbokkop, the highest point in the Golden Gate park, reveals a breathtaking tapestry of red, yellow and purple hues as its warm shades merge with the cool mountain shadows towards evening.

Cool highveld summers with the possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon and cold winters with occasional snow transform the Golden Gate National Park into a white wonderland.

Activities include Short nature trails varying from 1 hour to 5 hours (no bookings required), game viewing at leisure in own vehicles, guided excursions, night drives, video shows and lectures during school holiday periods.

CLARENS the jewel of the Eastern Free State
The village of Clarens is situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in close proximity to the Golden Gate National Park and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Clarens is an Artists haven with many well known artists either living in or frequenting the village on a regular basis with many art galleries scattered around the village square. The tranquil village ambience combined with scenic views and a mild climate makes for the ideal weekend getaway for city dwellers from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban. These cities are all approximately 300km from Clarens or a comfortable 3 to 4 hours drive away.

The town that first enjoyed a revival when it became something of an artists’ haven during the early nineties is now premium second home property. It helps that it lies in a particularly scenic spot, surrounded by Rooiberge and the Maluti Mountains a little further southeast; its tree-lined streets and enticing restaurants, art galleries and boutique style stores a reason to amble away the weekend in the town’s square.

There is no shortage of accommodation in Clarens in the form of guest houses, self-catering establishments, lodges and B&Bs in the area, and nature-loving activities in particular are what attract those who enjoy the great outdoors. There is horse riding, hiking, fly fishing, abseiling, white water rafting and golf.There are caves to visit, San paintings to explore, rocks to climb, and local restaurants offer live music over weekends.

The village has become know as the “Jewel of the Free State” - rich in beauty, with an aura of peace and tranquillity. Clarens is endowed with more trees than most other Free State towns - the fresh, light green willows and colourful blossoms of the many fruit trees are an unforgettable sight in spring time; whilst the magnificent autumn shades of the lombard poplars attract artists, photographers and nature lovers. The town is known for the many Art and Craft hops which offer the visitor a wide range of curios and original artwork. Another feature which adds to the picturesque atmosphere of the village is the many sandstone buildings. The popular Golden Gate National Park is located in the near vicinity of Clarens, and the area attracts many visitors.

HARRISMITH
Harrismith is named after Sir Harry Smith, a large town in the Free State province of South Africa. It is situated by the Wilge River, on the N3 highway approximately midway between Johannesburg and Durban. A rather charming example of a typical Free State town, Harrismith is probably best known by South Africans as the ‘halfway house’ - half way, that and for years it has served as the midway stop to tank up both on fuel and food.
Suffice it to say that Harrismith has remained in obscurity pretty much until recently. Harrismith lies just off the N3, roughly 314 kilometres from Johannesburg and 315 kilometres from Durban, and the N5 from Bethlehem comes to an end in the middle of the town, which serves as the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in the country.
The town hall in Harrismith, a national monument, is a graceful sandstone and brick building built in 1907. This and the Harrismith Wildflower Gardens, founded in 1967 as a botanical garden, with some fine examples of the Drakensberg region’s flora and a wonderful picnic spot, are reason enough to visit Harrismith. The town also serves as something of a gateway into the Drakensberg Mountains and people use Harrismith to stock up on last minute items or to make speedy reconnaissance trips for dwindling supplies.

 

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