The Free State forms the middle of the country and many people whiz through it looking neither left nor right while dashing along the N1 highway. But itís worth stopping over for a few days and exploring this most decidedly underrated destination.
The Free State is used to be the fertile lowlands of Lesotho, then Basutoland, when the Orange Free State Republic forcibly occupied it in 1865. History aside, itís a beautiful area with loads of picturesque towns, great mountain scenery, rock art, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking and horse trails. The numerous urban escapees whoíve settled here in towns like Clarens and Marquard have added a touch of contemporary style and greatly increased the number of cappuccino machines. This is also cherry farming country, and there are a number of farms who offer tastings and sales of cherry wine. Don't miss the cherry festival in the small town of Ficksburg every November.
Xhariep, in the south west, is named after the Orange, or Gariep, River which forms its border with the Northern Cape. Attractions here include the majestic Gariep Dam, a tiger sanctuary and the Free Stateís only wine farm.
The northern part of the province, known as FizileDabi, extends to the Vaal River, across which lies the North West Province in the west, Mpumalanga in the east, and Gauteng in the middle. There is gentle white water rafting on the river near Parys, and loads of other water sports upstream on the Vaal Dam. Extending across the river to the North West Province is the phenomenal Vredefort Dome, which is a world heritage site, offering numerous interesting outdoor activities.
Download the provincial map of Free State by clicking on the area you're interested in, or download the full map below.