The Free State’s appeal lies in its scenic beauty and natural attractions. This province is in the heart of South Africa – it borders six of the nine South African provinces, as well as the kingdom of Lesotho.
The Vredefort Dome is the impact site of a meteor that struck the Earth about two billion years ago, leaving a crater 300km in diameter. The area has been declared a World Heritage Site. The Vredefort hills and crater are ideal for adventure seekers: visitors can climb and abseil its rock faces, while the rapids of the Vaal River, which flows through it, make for great rafting. Image © Júlio Reis
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
The golden sandstone cliffs of this popular park are a geological attraction. Its Brandwag buttress is an iconic symbol of the park, and its hiking trail takes visitors kilometres above the Drakensberg Amphitheatre for breathtaking views. The park, the only grasslands park in South Africa, is great for exploring on foot, bike or on horseback. It’s great for birding – rare bearded vultures nest there – and game viewing.
Recognised as the jewel of the Free State, this little artists' town is a popular weekend getaway for South Africans. Not far from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Clarens has great views. There’s plenty to do, like strolling through the art stores and galleries, restaurant-hopping, birding, game drives, and trout fishing. History buffs will find plenty to do: they can go fossil-hunting, or visit the Clarens Museum and South African War sites nearby.
The Free State is rich in fossil sites, especially from early Jurassic-era dinosaurs. One of the most exciting South African dinosaur fossil discoveries in recent years was that of a 210-million-year-old sauropod that was found in the Ladybrand district. Fossil-hunting safaris are offered in several parts of the Free State, including in Clarens and the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Near the town of Bethulie are the vast waters of the Gariep Dam – the largest dam in South Africa – whose waters are said to cover thousands of fossils embedded in rock.
The autumn months of April and May are cosmos season in South Africa. The eastern Free State, particularly, is the perfect place to experience the riot of pink and white blooms. A great place to see these flowers is the 35km route between Clarens and Fouriesburg; or a visit to the Sandstone Estates farm outside Ficksburg, where on certain days of the year, visitors are allowed on to the grounds of the heritage farm and can ride a locomotive through the cosmos.
The province was originally known as the Orange Free State, and was an independent republic in southern Africa. Later, it kept the name Orange Free State, and became one of four provinces of South Africa after the Union of South Africa in 1910. Today, it's the Free State province, without the word Orange.