5 Free State routes to add to your bucket list

Written by Lizanne Esplin

October 3, 2019


Are you thinking of a South African holiday? Give the Free State a try where you can follow five routes named after popular South African animals and birds; Cheetah Route, Eagle Route, Lion Route, Flamingo Route, and the Springbok Route, which offer a range of attractions that would make your holiday worthwhile.


Free State offers plenty of activities, sightseeing opportunities and cultural experiences. The Cheetah Route offers many adventures. Picture: Cheetah Experience.


Curious about the historical roots of the Free State? Then follow the Cheetah Route, which includes Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu. Its historical, cultural and natural attractions will capture anyone’s imagination.

It is said that the political party ANC and author JRR Tolkien were born in Bloemfontein. Bloemfontein, the provincial and legislative national capital, for instance, offers the Cheetah Experience. The registered non-profit company gives hope to endangered and threatened species including cheetahs, leopards, male lions and a Siberian tiger.

Don’t miss the Free State National Botanical Garden, which has 400 species of plants, 144 bird species, 54 reptile species and about 32 mammal species, nor the Naval Hill Precinct, where the iconic 6.5m tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela stands, and Loch Logan Waterfront.


The Eagle Route passes through Ladybrand, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg, Clarens, Bethlehem, Phuthaditjhaba, Harrismith and Memel. The route offers some of the most picturesque views in the province.

Be sure to spend a few days in Clarens. Clarens boasts everything from adventure activities, arts and crafts, hiking spots and good food. Places to visit include Clarens Brewery and Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

Ladybrand is a quaint town famous for its Stables, a rock shelter used by the Boers to stable horses during the 1858 Basotho War, and the Cave Church, a hollow sandstone outcrop where Anglican missionaries worshipped.

Clocolan is for explorers. You can fish at Amohela Ho Spitskop dam or enjoy a cherry tour at Ben Nevis Cherry Farm as well as Ionia Cherry Farm. Ficksburg, which is known as the cherry capital of the country, hosts a festival every November.

Phuthaditjhaba gives a glimpse into the area’s culture. A Basotho Cultural Village depicts the lifestyle and habits of the Basotho people during the 17th to 21st century. The Wetsi cave is the famous place where Chief Wetsi of the Makholokoe tribe hid cattle stolen from the Boers.


The Lion Route comprises Deneysville, Sasolburg, Parys, Vredefort and Kroonstad. Situated at the wall of the Vaal Dam, Deneysville is an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.

Deneysville is renowned for watersports and the Deneysville Croc Ranch, with over 2 800 crocodiles. Parys is packed with activities for the entire family. You can interact with the big cats at Dell Cheetah Centre, play a round of golf on Golf Island in the middle of the Vaal River and visit Bon-Af Berry Farm, South Africa’s only black raspberries farm.

The town hosts the annual Free State Madeira Flower Festival that draws travellers from all over the country.

The Vredefort Dome is the world’s largest and oldest known meteorite-impact site. The meteor, believed to have struck Earth two billion years ago, is estimated by scientists to have been 10km in diameter, larger than South Africa’s Table Mountain.

The site is an hour-and-a-half drive from Johannesburg. Visitors can enjoy an array of activities including hiking, horse riding, abseiling and canoeing around Vredefort Dome.


The Flamingo Route includes Bothaville, Welkom, Ventersburg, Virginia, Winburg and Brandfort.

Bothaville is the ideal town to rest and take in nature. The town offers hiking, birdwatching and water sport opportunities. Welkom, established after the discovery of gold in the area in 1947, is famed for the Gold Museum, the Phakisa Freeway Race Track named one of the fastest tracks in the world and mining tours.

Although it’s tiny, there’s plenty to see and do in Ventersburg. Visitors can see the ruins of the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe’s kraal, the Sand River monument and the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve that overlooks the Allemanskraal Dam.

Brandfort was where Nelson Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, spent years under house arrest for terrorism from 1977-1985 and is worth a short visit.


The Springbok Route, which connects the Free State with the Northern Cape, comprises Jacobsdal, Koffiefontein, Jagersfontein, Bethulie, Gariep Dam and Philippolis.

Jacobsdal is part of the Diamond and Wine Route. Diamonds were discovered in the area in 1867 while grapes have been grown since 1972. Indulge in a wine tasting at Landzicht and Wilreza wine cellars in Jacobsdal.

Gariep Dam is home to the province’s largest nature reserve, Gariep Dam Nature Reserve.There are many resorts and activities in the area to entice you to book a holiday.

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