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FREE STATE REGION

The province, whose name derives from its origins as a fiercely independent Boer (Afrikaner) homeland, covers the eastern segment of the South Africa's interior plateau.

For the most part the countryside is visually rather bare, the great, undulating, often windswept grasslands sweeping away to the horizons with not so much as a tree in sight. But towards the east the land rises, gently at first and then dramatically in a jumble of starkly eroded sandstone hills.

Among the most spectacular of the landscapes can be seen in the Golden Gate Highlands National park, close to the Little Caledon River and overlooked by Lesotho's high Maluti Mountains. Here the massive outcrops have been weathered and stained (by a mix of iron oxide and sandstone) into an array of multi-coloured, often bizarre shapes remniniscent of the Arizona's Monument Valley.

The Free State is one of South Africa's wealthier provinces, endowed with a splendid variety of natural assets.

  • The sweet grasses of the western plains sustain huge numbers of sheep and cattle,
  • the soils of the east are fertile, yielding generous crops of wheat, maize, sunflowers, fruit and vegetables.
  • Diamonds, gold, platinum and coal are mined in the northern areas,
  • the coalfields feed the giant Sasolburg synthetic fuel plant near the Vaal River; tourism is a growth industry.

 

Far to the south, on the Gariep River (until recently known as the Orange River), is the massive Gariep Dam, which extends across 370 square kilometres, feeds hydroelectric power into the national grid and, its waters channelled through one of the world's largest continuous water tunnels, irrigates the orchards of the Eastern Cape's bountiful Sundays River valley.

The capital of the Free State (and South Africa's judicial capital) is Bloemfontein, which means 'spring of flowers' in Afrikaans.

The city, located on the north-south N1 national highway in the centre of the province, is noted for its historic buildings, its museums and gardens (the trees of King's Park are magnificent; the roses quite lovely), for the National Women's Memorial that commemorates those who died in the British concentration camps of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), and for nearby Naval Hill, from which there are fine views of Bloemfontein and the surrounding veld.

Other major Free State centres are the gold-mining town of Welkom; Harrismith in the far east; Bethlehem (one of the country's coldest places in winter); and Kroonstad and Parys in the north.

 

Bethlehem
Bloemfontein
Clarens
FS Eastern Routes
Goldfields
Kroonstad
Ladybrand
FS Northern Routes
Parys
FS Popular Routes
Trans Gariep Routes
Welkom

         
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