Transgariep Journey | 530km

Bloemfontein at Dusk by Holiday InnBloemfontein at Dusk by Holiday Inn

BLOEMFONTEIN

Visit Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State, on your South African holiday. The city was originally known to the Sotho people as Mangaung, a name meaning 'place of the cheetahs'. Founded in 1846 by Major Henry Warden, the British Resident in Griqua territory, the settlement was named after the abundance of flowers that grew around a spring. Since 1910, as the seat of the Court of Appeal, the city has been the judicial capital of South Africa. Bloemfontein 3 occupies an important place in the country's history: here, in 1912, the South African Native National Congress (renamed in 1923 as the African National Congress) was formed.

One of the best ways to appreciate the city's many historic treasures is to follow the Rose Walk, which consists of two routes. Among the places of interest are the Tweetoringkerk (1880), the only twin-spired Dutch Reformed Church in the country, the Presidency (1886) - the official residence of the last three presidents of the Free State - and the First Raadsaal. Built in 1849 as a school, the modest building, with its thatched roof and floor of smeared dung, became the first meeting chamber of the Free State Volksraad, or Parliament.

The Fourth Raadsaal, completed in 1893, is a magnificent sandstone and red brick building with an entrance porch resembling a Greek temple. Also of interest is the Edwardian-style Supreme Court (1906), the National Women's Memorial, erected in memory of the Boer women and children who died in the South African War, and the adjoining War Museum. Highlights of the National Museum are a reconstruction of an early 1900s Bloemfontein street scene, an extensive archaeological collection - including the 250 000-year-old Florisbad skull - and the country's largest collection of fossil ammonites.

Take a walk in The Free State National Botanical Garden on your South African holiday. It lies north of the city and covers 7 ha of cultivated gardens, lawns and walkways, while the natural highveld vegetation in the remaining 63 ha has been left undisturbed.

EDENBURG

...is an important centre for the cattle and sheep farms of the surrounding district. The town was established on the farm Rietfontein, bought in February 1862 to build a church. The Free State Volksraad (Parliament) turned down the first application for the town's recognition, but permission was, however, given in March the following year. The town's name is variously said to be a corruption of Edinburgh, the Scottish capital and birthplace of the Reverend Andrew Murray - for many years the only minister in the Free State - or a reference to the biblical Garden of Eden.

TROMPSBURG

It was initially named Jagersfontein Road and Hamilton, after the British Governor of the Orange River Colony from 1902 to 1910. Trompsburg was laid out on the farm Middelwater, owned by the brothers Jan and Bastiaan Tromp, when the railway line reached here in 1891. It subsequently became known as Trompsburg.

SPRINGFONTEIN

...is an important railway centre at the junction of the lines from the Eastern Cape and Gauteng and the branch line to Koffiefontein. The town was established in 1904 on part of the farm Springfontein, named after a strong artesian spring that surfaces here. The town's history is closely linked to the South African War, and among the reminders of the war are the concentration camp (704 people, mainly children, died here), the camp cemetery and the separate cemetery where unbaptised children who died in the concentration camp were buried. Several blockhouses erected by the British along the railway line can still be seen.

GARIEP DAM

The town of Gariep Dam dates back to the 1960s when it was built to house the 3 500 people involved in the construction of South Africa's largest dam. Originally named Oranjekrag, it was redeveloped into a holiday resort when the dam was completed in 1969. Covering a surface area of 374 km2 when full, the dam has a capacity of 5 346 million m3. Spanning 914 m across the course of the Gariep (Orange) River, the water backs up for 100 km behind the 88-m-high dam wall and reaches a width of up to 24 km in places. The dam forms part of the Orange River Development Scheme, which includes the Vanderkloof Dam downstream and an 82,5-km-long tunnel linking the Gariep River with the Fish River in the Eastern Cape.

The dam is popular with anglers and water-sport enthusiasts. Guests on a South African holiday should also visit the Gariep Nature Reserve along the dam's northern shores. It can be explored along a 25-km network of game-viewing roads. The 13 500-ha reserve consists predominantly of grassland, and is habitat for black wildebeest, blesbok, red hartebeest, springbok, mountain reedbuck and grey rhebok.

BETHULIE

...may hold the distinction of having had the most names of any South African town. It had its origins in a mission station established by the London Missionary Society in 1829 at Moordenaarsgat to work among the San. After the mission was taken over by the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society in 1835 it was named Caledon, presumably after the river of that name. To avoid confusion with Caledon in the Cape, it was subsequently renamed Verheullpolis, Bethulia (a biblical name referred to in Judith 4:6 and 7) and Heidelberg, before the name eventually reverted to Bethulie.

Proclaimed in March 1863, the town is located in a sheep and cattle farming area that also enjoys distinction for its saddle horse stud farms. Among the places of interest in and around the town is Pellissier House, built in 1835 by the Reverend Jean-Pierre Pellissier, a missionary of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society. One of the oldest surviving buildings in the Free State, it now houses a museum dedicated to local history. Also of interest is the Horse Monument, the stately Dutch Reformed Church dating back to 1887 and the graveyard and monument marking the site of the largest British concentration camp used during the South African War.

TUSSEN-DIE-RIVIERE NATURE RESERVE

Tussen-die-riviere Nature Reserve, a few kilometres east of Bethulie, covers 22 000 ha of land at the confluence of the Caledon and Gariep (Orange) Rivers. The reserve's network of roads and three trails allow visitors on a South African holiday to see white rhino, eland, gemsbok, red hartebeest, blesbok, black wildebeest, springbok, impala and Burchell's zebra. Because the reserve also caters for hunters, it is closed to non-hunters during the hunting season, which usually runs from May to August. Among the 225 species of birds recorded in the reserve are no less than 26 raptors, as well as several lark and chat species. One of the reserve's special attractions is a field of eroded dolerite blocks balancing precariously on top of each other. Also known as the Klipstapels (Rock Piles), these intrusions were exposed millions of years ago when the softer sedimentary rocks of the Beaufort Series were eroded away.

SMITHFIELD

The laying of the foundation stone of a church by Sir Harry Smith, Governor of the Cape Colony, on the farm Waterval in 1848 did little to boost the growth of this town. When erven were placed on the auction block in December 1848, buyers were deterred by the scarcity of water in the area, and in the following year the town was moved to the farm Rietpoort, 24 km northeast of the original site. The Basotho War Memorial in front of the City Hall serves as a reminder of the turbulent frontier wars in which the town also played a role. The Caledon Museum contains a display on the life of Christiaan De Wet, the famed Boer general of the South African War, as well as Grietjie, a ship's cannon used in the Free State wars against the Basotho, and an 18th-century kitchen. Outside Smithfield is the farm Leeukop, where De Wet was born in 1854, the remains of the Traacha Wool Washing Works, established in 1874, and the farm Beersheba, the site of a former French mission station.

REDDERSBURG

...developed around the Dutch Reformed Church built on the farm Vlakfontein, purchased in 1859. The Afrikaans name means 'Saviour's town' and the town is said to have been named in honour of Jesus Christ. The village contains beautiful sandstone churches of the Reformed and Dutch Reformed churches and a memorial to men from the district killed during the South African War. The obelisk in the main street is a memorial to General De Wet, who attacked a British garrison of about 600 men on 3 April, forcing them to surrender after a 24-hour engagement.

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