The Free State Province disposes of an extensive system of parks and reserves, including one national park (Golden Gate) and more than 80 provincial, municipal, and privately owned nature parks, nature reserves, game reserves, and game farms. Activities include bird and game viewing, trophy and biltong hunting, hiking, horseback riding, biking, 4X4 off-road driving, camping, climbing and spelunking.
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About the Free State
Wedged between the magnificent Orange and Vaal Rivers lies a region blessed with such beauty and grace that for scores of years thousands of pioneers paid the ultimate sacrifice for the honour and privilege of calling it their home. Embraced by several of South Africa’s provinces, the Free State assumes its rightful place at the heart of the country. Today, visitors and inhabitants alike are rediscovering their souls through the majesty of this land and the moulded spiritual ethos of its people.
The Free State is a rural province of wide horizons and blue skies, with farmland, mountains, goldfields and widely dispersed towns. The land of the windpomp and krummelpap is peaceful, with a high quality of life, good infrastructure and a low crime rate. The province covers an area of 129 464 km and has a population of 2,8 million – 6,4% of the national population. 71% of the province’s population – about 2 million people – live in urban settlements. Although the Free State is the third largest province in South Africa, it has the second smallest population and the second lowest population density.
The Free State border on the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, North-West, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Province and also shares a border with Lesotho. The biggest part of the Free State is an undulating plain at between 1 000 m and 1 500 m. However, the eastern and southern region, which borders Lesotho, is hilly to mountainous, with scattered flat-topped hills or ‘kopjes’. The Orange River forms the southern boundary of the Free State and includes the Gariep and Vanderkloof Dams, which are the largest dams in the country. The northern Free State is drained by smaller rivers, which are, as is the Orange River, extensively utilised for irrigation.
The Free State is hot in summer, when most of the rain falls (between 600 mm and 750 mm in the east to less than 300 mm in the west), but it can be very cold in the winter, with heavy frost over most of the province. Snow is often recorded on the eastern mountains, and occasionally over the rest of the region. Seasons: Summer: December – February / Winter: April – July / Spring: July – September / Autumn: January – March. Average winter temperature: 7.7ºC ; average summer temperature: 23º C.
The population profile consists of 84% African, 13% White and 3% Coloured. Sesotho is the most dominant mother tongue (57%), followed by Afrikaans (15%), isiXhosa (9%), Setswana (6%), isiZulu (5%) and English (2%). Sesotho is the mother tongue for 64% of all Africans, while Afrikaans is the predominant language among the whites (88%) and Coloureds (90%). In a national context, 57% of all Sesotho speaking people live in the Free State.
The capital of the Free State is Bloemfontein, having a well-established institutional, educational and administrative infrastructure and housing the seat of the Provincial Government as well as the Supreme Court of Appeal. Other important centres include Welkom, the heart of the Goldfields and one of the few completely pre-planned cities in the world; Bethlehem, capital of the Eastern Free State; Sasolburg, which owes its existence to the world-renowned petrol-from-coal installation established there; Ladybrand; a thriving town on the border with Lesotho; Parys, an attractive town on the banks of the Vaal River; Phuthaditjhaba, situated in Qwa-Qwa and well-known for beautiful handcrafted items produced by the local people; and Botshabelo, some 60 km south east of Bloemfontein the most populous centre in the Free State. Many of the towns display a mix of culture clearly evident in street names, public buildings, monuments and museums. Dressed sandstone buildings abound on the Eastern Highlands, while beautifully decorated Sotho houses dot the grasslands. Some of South Africa’s most valued San rock art is found in the Free State.
The province is well connected to the rest of the country by road and railways. The Bloemfontein Airport also provides frequent and regular flights to the major centra in South Africa. The major industrial areas like Bloemfontein, Welkom, Sasolburg and Harrismith offer modern commercial facilities including advanced telecommunication systems, a number of tertiary educational institutions and medical facilities. The main N1 (Gauteng-Cape), N3 (Gauteng-Kwazulu Natal) and N5 (Bloemfontein-Maseru) routes pass through it, as well as main railway lines from East London and the Cape to Gauteng. It is the third most well-off province in the country in terms of access to safe water (94%), sanitation (87%), electricity (68,8%) and telephones (30,8%).
Generally the road network is extensive and well signposted. Main routes are tarred but some of the smaller routes are connected by gravel roads. Surfaces are generally in good conditions but caution should be taken when driving on gravel roads. Filling stations for fuel (leaded/ unleaded/ diesel) are plentiful and are mainly located along main roads and country roads. Trading hours in smaller towns is 08:00 – 17:00. In bigger towns, fuel is available 24 hours a day. Various car rental companies operate throughout the province.
Bloemfontein Airport, situated 14km from the city centre, is linked to the other major airports in South Africa, while various other centres in the province do have smaller airports.
The telecommunication system in the Free State is almost fully automatic and is linked to all other small towns in SA and abroad. Public phones accommodate both phone cards and coins. Fax and Internet facilities are available everywhere.
Banking facilities are available in all our towns. Where there are no branches, there are ATM’S. Normal banking trading hours in all towns are from 09h00 to 15h00 weekdays and 09h00 to 11h00 on Saturdays. Major credit cards are generally accepted. Facilities are well indicated by signs.