With South Africa boasting the largest tourism industry in the continent and with the developed transport and communications infrastructure, it comes as no surprise that the country continues to record increasing number of foreign tourist arrivals annually. According to Business Monitor ‘International Tourism Business Environment’ rating for Middle East and Africa, South Africa ranks second after Egypt but higher than the likes of Turkey and UAE. The country ranks number 3 under regional rankings.
South Africa will be hosting the FIFA 2009 Confederations Cup and FIFA 2010 World Cup and Bloemfontein (a city within Motheo district in the province) is one of the host cities for both events. The Free State province is strategically positioned as it is close to the transport transit routes to other parts of the country. The province borders on six (6) of the other eight (8) provinces - Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, North West, Mpumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng. The province also shares a border with the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The Free State Province, known for its warm hospitality, is fast becoming a tourist destination and it is estimated that the sector contributes about 3% to the province’s economy representing about 5% of South Africa’s tourism market.
As far as tourism is concerned, the Free State is divided into five regions, namely:
- Central region (Motheo)
- Eastern Free State (Thabo Mofutsanyana)
- Goldfields region (Lejweleputswa)
- Northern Free State (Fezile Dave)
- South western region (Xhariep)
The Central Free State, with its undulating plains, hills and koppies, and woody spruits and river beds, contains the historical and cultural cradle of the province. It houses the seat of government of the province and it makes the largest contribution to the provincial GDP. Bloemfontein the capital of the province, is known as “flower fountain” or “City of Roses. Places of interest include historical monuments and museums (SA Military, National, Anglo-Boer War) as well as Art Gallery’s and Botanical gardens. A visit to Bloemfontein would not be complete without attending a cultural event at one of the many theatres in town.
The Eastern Free State, with its picturesque mountain ranges provides a backdrop to numerous quaint towns, hide-aways and trails meandering through valleys and gorges. This area contains the site of the Bushmen paintings. Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Moutains, lies the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Renowned for its scenery and excellent accommodation in either hotel rooms or self-catering chalets and rondavels, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park has become a holiday draw card in its own right.
The Basotho Cultural Village and The Sentinel are located within the Qwa Qwa National Park. The Sentinel is a full day hike up the back of the Drakensberg amphitheatre. Other sites of interest within the park include historical sites and a bird hide at the Langtoon Dam.
The well known Sterkfontein Dam is located at Harrismith and is the third largest dam in South Africa. The dam is surrounded by a vast nature conservation area and is a place of rare scenic beauty. For the holidaymaker, the area offers an unrivalled outdoor vacation and an opportunity to get back to nature with long walks and hikes through the beautiful landscape, a variety of watersports and excellent fishing.
The towns of the Eastern Free State display a rustic charm, with towns such as Clarens with its Swiss-like appearance boasting a concentration of artists, and Bethlehem with its sandstone buildings. The well known Cherry Festival is hosted annually in Fickburg with some 20,000 visitors visiting the festival every year. The festival hosts cherry and asparagus tasting sessions, tours, picnics and music festivals.
The Goldfields region contain some of the world’s richest gold bearing reefs. Despite the rapid growth of many of the towns following the discovery of gold, most have maintained the picturesque beauty and splendour of the wild. Virginia – with the Sand River flowing through the centre of the town and a game farm on the outskirts – is known as the Goldfields Nature Paradise and must for lovers of the outdoors. In Welkom , Virginia and Theunissen one can take a mine tour of some of the deepest mines in the world. The ultra modern Phakisa racetrack for motorcycles and racing cars is situated between Welkom and Odendaalsrus, a venue for many an international event.
Bothaville hosts the renowned NAMPO Harvest farm and Festival which is the second largest private agricultural show centre in the world. Bothaville is also the host for the annual Food and Witsblits Festival, drawing visitors from all over South Africa.
The Northern Free State, bounded by the Vaal River in the north is situated in close proximity to the Gauteng area and offers excellent week-end getaways within tranquil and rural areas. The Vaal Dam is considered to be the inland water mecca of South Africa, offering boundless opportunities for all types of water sports. Excellent accommodation facilities and game farms and camping sites cater for the adventure junkies.
Here one can also challenge the white waters of the Vaal Dam in a raft or canoe. Around the dam are four yacht clubs and various boat chandlers, boat builders and repair yards, while powerboat junkies regularly ply the waterways of the Vaal, Wilge and Vals Rivers.
The Vredefort Dome, being 200kms in diameter, is the third largest meteorite site in the world and a declared World heritage site. Rock climbing and abseiling can be arranged while a visit to view the untouched San paintings and the ruins of settlements of people who lived in the area before the iron age are to be seen on these trails.
The South-western region has vast spectacular plains that house quaint villages and the Orange and Gariep Dam, one of the largest dams in South Africa. This area has huge potential to become a major tourist attraction in the future.