Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Free State
The vast Free State and bordering province of Mpumalanga in the northeast of South Africa, are rich in scenic beauty. Mpumalanga means “the place where the sun rises,” and here travelers can explore lush forests, mountains, rivers, and waterfalls.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
At the foot of the Maluti Mountains, near the little tourist town of Clarens, Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a land of rolling green valleys and sandstone rock outcrops with spectacular views from their peaks. Iron oxides impart a rosy blush to the bizarrely shaped sandstone rocks, which contrast beautifully with the lush valleys, cloaked in green.
The park’s namesake Golden Gate consists of two 100-meter crags flanking the road, which shimmer in gold at sunset. In earlier times, Bushmen occupied some of the hill caves, and during the Boer War, the caves sheltered many Boer families seeking to avoid the British concentration camps.
Today, the park also shelters antelope, zebras, warthogs, and 100 different species of birds, including the majestic bearded vulture and the black eagle. Sightseers can explore the park on the many hiking and horseback riding trails.
Official site: http://www.sanparks.org/parks/golden_gate/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Free State
Not surprisingly, cheetahs are the star attraction at this much-loved non-profit wildlife sanctuary about 12 kilometers from Bloemfontein. Here, visitors can spend quality time at close range with these graceful creatures, cuddling cubs, and learning about their behavior from the passionate volunteers. Servals and caracals are often also in the mix, and the park also protects lions, leopards, and wolves.
This is a fantastic place to score close-up photographs of the big cats. Tours include a safety presentation and last between 60 to 80 minutes. Advance bookings are essential.
Address: 1 Maluti Avenue, Bainsvlei, Bloemfontein
Official site: http://www.cheetahexperience.com/
Bagamoya Wildlife Estate
About 30 kilometers from Bloemfontein, Bagamoya Wildlife Estate offers fun game drives and close-up encounters with big cats. Bottle-feeding lion, tiger, or cheetah cubs is a highlight here, and visitors can help feed the adult lions. The park is also home to a small zoo with jackals, bat-eared foxes, and even wallabies, but guests can also embark on a game drive around the property to see classic African game such as zebra, ostriches, giraffe, antelope, and more.
Self-catering chalets accommodate guests who want to stay overnight and extend their wildlife experience. Call to check the feeding schedules and opening times before visiting.
Official site: http://www.bagamoyawildlifeestate.co.za/
Bloemfontein’s Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens
Called the “City of Roses,” the Free State’s capital, Bloemfontein, is home to the beautiful Free State National Botanical Garden, as well as the superb Oliewenhuis Art Gallery. The gardens blend natural landscapes of indigenous woodland with perfectly preened picnic spots, and the lake here is a lovely spot to pause and see some of the garden’s many species of birds. Scenic self-guided wilderness trails weave through the bushland and gardens, and highlights include a traditional Sotho hut with a herb garden and an ancient settler’s cottage.
Housed in a Cape Dutch mansion, the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery takes visitors on a journey through the history of South African art. The permanent collection ranges from the old masters to more recent works, and includes paintings and sculpture. Featured artists include Pieter Wenning, Willem Coetzer, and Thomas Baines. The gardens here offer an inspiring taste of alfresco art with sculptures of South African historical figures and a colorful carousel displaying European and African mythological flourishes in a nod to the country’s multicultural roots.
Anglo Boer War Museum
The Anglo Boer War Museum, one of Bloemfontein’s top attractions, details the history of South Africa’s Anglo-Boer War, which was fought between the British and the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State between 1899 and 1902. The war museum tells the story of the war and how it affected the entire country in some way or another. It uses a mix of dioramas, exhibitions, and a unique article collection to do so. The museum also outlines the dark story of the suffering endured in the concentration and prisoner-of-war camps.
Address: Monument Road, Bloemfontein
Official site: https://www.wmbr.org.za/