One of South Africa’s hidden gems; a bit of the beaten track is the third biggest province, right in the middle of the country. Because of its largely agricultural landscape, the Free State is often called the “breadbasket” of South Africa.
For travelers to South Africa who prefer to be away from the bright lights, it is really worth spending some time exploring the expansive beauty of its wide open spaces and meeting the very interesting people who inhabit this sparsely populated area.
For those who are interested in statistics: The Free State province covers an area of 129 464 km and has a population of 2, 8 million, only 6, 4% of the national population. This province produces over 70% of the county’s grain on 30 000 farms. And it is only two or three hours drive from Johannesburg.
Adventure Sport on Mountains, Rivers, and Dams
It pays to look beneath the bucolic surface in the Free State. Because of all the open spaces – mountains, rivers and dams – this province is a paradise for sport of all kinds especially the more adventurous like polo, gliding, mountain biking, fishing, 4 x 4 action, golf, hot air ballooning and almost any outdoor activity you can imagine.
Golden Gate National Park and Clarens
One of the highlights of the Eastern Free State is the Golden Gate National Park. Do not expect to see the Big Five here but be prepared for breathtaking scenery of the Maluti Mountains (the Drakensberg Escarpment). Just a three/four hour drive from Johannesburg and from here in the Free State it is easy to arrange a trip of the highlands taking in Sani Pass and Lesotho as well.
Nearby is the interesting Basotho Cultural Village and Phuthaditjaba. The sleepy town of Harrismith is about an hour’s drive away.
White River Rafting in Clarens
To the west of Golden Gate is Clarens, known as an artist’s community with great guesthouses and cafes as well as horse riding excursions into the mountains. For the more adventurous, how about white water river rafting on the Ash River?
Vredefort Dome, Meteor Impact Structure
The Vredefort Dome lies in both Northwest and the Free State Provinces. This Unesco World Heritage site is an attraction that any visitor to the region needs to experience, simply because it is totally unique.
The UNESCO Website describes it as: “The Vredefort Dome is the oldest, largest, and most deeply eroded complex meteorite impact structure in the world. It is the site of the world’s greatest single, known energy release event.”
At the Dome, visitors will get a feeling of the timelessness and mysteries of our universe when they stand at the site where the biggest meteor crashed into the earth. It is about 120 km southwest of Johannesburg just off the N1 at Vredefort (near Parys)