Are you thinking of a South African holiday and do not want to visit the usual attractions in Cape Town or Durban? Then you should give Free State a try.
The province boasts five routes named after popular South African animals and birds, offering a range of attractions that would make your holiday worthwhile.
The Cheetah Route, home to Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu, is filled with historical, cultural and natural attractions that will keep travellers occupied for days.
According to the Free State Tourism website, the ANC and author JRR Tolkien were born in Bloemfontein. The city, known as the provincial and the legislative national capital, boasts attractions like the Cheetah Experience. The registered non-profit company offers hope to many endangered and threatened species including cheetahs, leopards, male lions and a Siberian tiger.
While in the city, visit the Free State National Botanical Garden, which has 400 species of plants, 144 bird species, 54 reptile species and about 32 mammal species.
Visitors can set up picnics, enjoy braais or admire the lush views.
Other places to add to your Cheetah Route itinerary include the Naval Hill Precinct, where the iconic 6.5m tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela stands, and Loch Logan Waterfront.
If you are looking for a more immersive experience, visit Botshabelo, a place where culture comes alive. With its vibey shisa nyama spots and township tours to the Moroka Chiefs monument, Botshabelo never disappoints.
The Eagle Route passes through Ladybrand, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg, Clarens, Bethlehem, Phuthaditjhaba, Harrismith and Memel. The route offers some of the most picturesque views in the province.
Ladybrand is a quaint town famous for its Stables, a rock shelter used by the Boers to stable horses during the 1858 Basotho War, and the Cave Church, a hollow sandstone outcrop where Anglican missionaries worshipped.
Clocolan is for explorers. You can fish at Amohela Ho Spitskop dam or enjoy a cherry tour at Ben Nevis Cherry Farm as well as Ionia Cherry Farm. Ficksburg, which is known as the cherry capital of the country, hosts a festival every November.
Be sure to spend a few days in Clarens. Clarens boasts everything from adventure activities, arts and crafts, hiking spots and good food. Places to visit include Clarens Brewery and Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Phuthaditjhaba gives a glimpse into the area’s culture. A Basotho Cultural Village depicts the lifestyle and habits of the Basotho people during the 17th to 21st century. The Wetsi cave is the famous place where Chief Wetsi of the Makholokoe tribe hid cattle stolen from the Boers.
The Lion Route comprises Deneysville, Sasolburg, Parys, Vredefort and Kroonstad. Situated at the wall of the Vaal Dam, Deneysville is an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.
Deneysville is renowned for watersports and the Deneysville Croc Ranch, with over 2 800 crocodiles. Parys is packed with activities for the entire family. You can interact with the big cats at Dell Cheetah Centre, play a round of golf on Golf Island in the middle of the Vaal River and visit Bon-Af Berry Farm, South Africa’s only black raspberries farm.
The town hosts the annual Free State Madeira Flower Festival that draws travellers from all over the country.
The Vredefort Dome is the world’s largest and oldest known meteorite-impact site. The meteor, believed to have struck Earth two billion years ago, is estimated by scientists to have been 10km in diameter, larger than South Africa’s Table Mountain.
The site is an hour-and-a-half drive from Johannesburg. Visitors can enjoy an array of activities including hiking, horse riding, abseiling and canoeing around Vredefort Dome.
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The Flamingo Route includes Bothaville, Welkom, Ventersburg, Virginia, Winburg and Brandfort.
Bothaville is the ideal town to rest and take in nature. The town offers hiking, birdwatching and water sport opportunities. Welkom, established after the discovery of gold in the area in 1947, is famed for the Gold Museum, the Phakisa Freeway Race Track named one of the fastest tracks in the world and mining tours.
Although it’s tiny, there’s plenty to see and do in Ventersburg. Visitors can see the ruins of the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe’s kraal, the Sand River monument and the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve that overlooks the Allemanskraal Dam.
Brandfort was where Nelson Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, spent years under house arrest for terrorism from 1977-1985 and is worth a short visit.
The Springbok Route, which connects the Free State with the Northern Cape, comprises Jacobsdal, Koffiefontein, Jagersfontein, Bethulie, Gariep Dam and Philippolis.
Jacobsdal is part of the Diamond and Wine Route. Diamonds were discovered in the area in 1867 while grapes have been grown since 1972. Indulge in a wine tasting at Landzicht and Wilreza wine cellars in Jacobsdal.
Gariep Dam is home to the province’s largest nature reserve, Gariep Dam Nature Reserve.There are many resorts and activities in the area to entice you to book a holiday.