Free State

The Heart of SA

  • by onRoute
  • Jun 14, 2017
  • 916

Delightful Dorpies

Gariep Dam

Many motorists travelling through the Free State pass this gem by without giving it a second thought, but anyone who has woken up to the sunrise from the De Stijl Hotel, which overlooks the dam, will forever understand why this inconspicuous village is a must! The many islands and bays are reminiscent of a Mediterranean archipelago, made all the more spectacular against the backdrop of the Free State’s plains.

Bordering six of the country’s nine provinces (including the Kingdom of Lesotho) the heart of the country beats with scenic beauty and rural tranquillity. Also the legislative capital of SA, it offers a clutch of charming small towns and some thrilling natural wonders…

Things to do:

The de Stijl Gariep Hotel: This hotel is now the Upper Karoo’s most stylish hotel. It overlooks the Gariep Dam, giving breathtaking big sky views. The atmosphere is ideal for long lazy weekends!

The Tigers of Tiger Canyons: Not only a hugely successful conservation project, it’s also the chance for you to get up close to free ranging wild tigers in the African bush.

Go on a Dam Wall Tour: One of South Africa’s most celebrated civil engineering projects on the country’s biggest dam. Local guides take visitors on interesting tours of the Gariep Dam wall through passages and down to the bedrock. If you’re lucky, they might open the sluice gates while you’re there.


Drive along the northern part of the Free State and you will find the delights of Parys along the Vaal River. This little dorp is located within the oldest and largest meteorite impact site in the world, the Vredefort Dome, formed some 2 023 million years ago. An asteroid, roughly the size of Table Mountain, collided with earth, so you can only imagine the impact of that!

Things to do:

Visit one of the mountains in the area and get a 360-degree view of the humbling Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site. Once you’re done, you can paddle the Vaal or if you’re more inclined towards consumer ‘sports’, then you must check out the glut of antique shops on Breë Street - Parys’s ‘high street’. Serenely infused with country charm, it’s perfect for a stroll. Don’t forget your wallet as it’s littered with antique shops, art galleries and bistros - the contents of which all scream, ‘Buy me!’ Also look out for the Bon-Af Berry Farm & Tea Garden signboard, located just off the R59. Here you can pick and take home over 80 different varieties of berries – gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, elderberries, black nightshade and many more – all for just R30 a punnet.

Plaas Life: Stay on a Working Rosehip Farm

The Old Mill Drift offers rustic, but comfortable self-catering accommodation. It’s definitely where to go for a good dose of authentic farm life. The big cottage boasts a cosy farm kitchen – complete with an old Dover stove – giving it a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ ambience. Its primary business is as an organic rosehip farm. The Old Mill Drift offers a delicious respite from civilisation, a mere seven kilometres off the beaten track, and only 57 kilometres from Ficksburg.

Did You Know?

Bloemfontein, also known as ‘The City of Roses’ is the birthplace of both the National Party and the African National Congress (how’s that for a contrast?) as well as the world-famous fantasy writer JRR Tolkien. If you're a flora fanatic, be sure to visit Bloemfontein’s Botanical Gardens, home to some 400 plant species; the Orchid House, which houses the largest collection of orchids in the country and the historic King's Park which features more than 4 000 rose bushes!

The Vulture Restaurant at Golden Gate National Park

Millions of years ago, the area was a swampy delta ruled by dinosaurs. Today in the foothills of Lesotho's Maluti Mountains, The Golden Gate National Park offers unforgettable hikes through extraordinary landscapes with an abundance of caves and shelters. For a real thrill, a 300-metre hike will take you to a the very neat and functional bird hide known as the ‘vulture restaurant’ to provide hours of entertainment – given that there are fresh carcasses of course! If you are lucky, the Cape Vulture and the endangered Bearded Vulture can be seen scavenging; a sight that will leave you breathless. And you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some interesting jackal and raven antics too. 

Tip: It’s recommended that you go in the mornings, as this is the most popular time for the vultures to feed!

Events worth Travelling For!

Free State Flower Festival - Parys (November)

A brilliant flower parade takes to the streets with dancers, massive floats and giant flowers puppets in a fantastic Disney-like flower story.

Craft Beer Festival – Clarens (February)

Join SA's most loved breweries in the tranquil village of Clarens, where top dedicated micro-breweries return to the majestic foothills of the Maluti mountains for a weekend filled with fun, flavour and great entertainment. 

Manguang Rose Festival – Bloemfoentien (October)

Enjoy the biggest selection of roses in the Free State! Walk through an expo of Green Businesses, sanctuaries of vivid colours, water and soothing greenery and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.  

Cherry Festival – Ficksburg (November)

Catch Cherry Fever in what is known as the Cherry Capital of the World. A highlight event on the South African tourism calendar!