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Gadding About Lesser Known South Africa
Free State

The Free State Province, which is roughly in the centre of the country, can be divided into five regions, each with its own character.

Xhariep has grassy plains and endless vistas, which is actually a fair description of the majority of the Free State, as it is mostly flat. On some advertising billboards it is shown as the place where you discover your soul, and that is also fairly accurate.

The Gariep Dam is in the southern most corner of the region and is the largest nature reserve of the region; it is situated between Bloemfontein and Colesburg. Zastron is at the end of the Highlands Route and is famous for the "eye of Zastron" a hole about 9 metres in diameter in one of the cliffs of the Aasvoelberg. There are also several historical monuments, some sandstone architecture and wonderful opportunities for hiking by the caves in the mountains and where you can see Bushmen paintings.

Motheo is roughly the central area and contains Bloemfontein, the capital of the Province. There is the Free State National Botanical Garden around the north west fringes of Bloemfontein that contain over 400 species of plants. The best time to go is in summer between November and March, when everything is in full bloom. In Bloemfontein, itself, there is a Zoo and the National Museum, both worth a visit.

Lejweleputswa, means, "grey stones" in SeSotho and is a reference to the mining that goes on in this region. Lejweleputswa is in the mining and agriculture belt of the Free State. It is home to the Goldfields, named for the rich vein of gold that runs through it. A lovely little town to visit is Chistiana, known for its hot water springs and prehistoric rock engravings. Another town worth mentioning, purely because the writer comes from there, is Welkom. It is a mining town by nature but over the years has become self-sufficient and fairly industrialised. It seems to grow silently and on the sly without anyone realising it and suddenly you notice that the borders stretch a lot further than they used to.

Thabo Mofutsanyana is a very mountainous region filled with hiking opportunities and Bushmen paintings. It has what is probably the loveliest and most picturesque little town in all of South Africa, Clarens. Clarens is nestled in between the sandstone Rooiberge and the Maluti Mountains and is often referred to as the "Jewel of the Free State". It is close to the Golden Gate Park and Lesotho. Clarens is an arty little town with many little coffee shops and galleries and beautiful houses and cottages to look at. It's small enough to walk around in an afternoon and has plenty of B&Bs so that you can stay overnight and have a go at one of the outstanding hiking trails in the area. Golden Gate Park is the border where the Free State and Lesotho meet. It's a nature reserve and the mountains made of sandstone form natural sandstone sculptures that draw people from far and wide. Ficksberg is another popular town, agricultural in nature; it carries grain, livestock, asparagus and cherries. It is particularly famous for its cherries and has an annual cherry festival.

The Northern Free State is the major agricultural region of South Africa; the primary crop is maize. Parys and Frankfort are two very popular holiday destinations, Parys in particular as it is right on the Vaal River and has a lovely resort.

North West Province

The North West Province is as its name says, is situated to the northwest of Gauteng and can be divided into 4 regions.

Bojanala Region consists of natural bush veld vegetations and contains the Magaliesberg Mountains. It also has the very famous holiday resorts, the Lost City and Sun City, where there is infinite fun to be had for children and adults alike, whether you like water sports, a little action at the casino, or just relaxing in the sun. It is also home to Pilanesberg Game Reserve where you can find the Big 5, as well as, being home to the Cradle of Humankind.

Hartebeespoort Dam is a lovely area and a good spot for out of the way tourist sight seeing. Rustenburg is one of South Africa's most thriving cities and is growing at a rapid rate of knots.

Bophirima Region and Vryberg in particular is South Africa's agricultural district. Taung is famous for the discovery of the Taung Skull, which is of great archaeological importance.

Central Region, Mafikeng is the Capital of the province and is reputed to be the "city of goodwill". It is a rapidly growing, increasingly modern city with an interesting history. The climate is dry and the landscape flat and arid with some scrub bush. There is game view on offer, including the Big 5, Anglo-Boer war sites, excellent guest farms – for a slightly different over night experience, fishing etc.

Southern Region is somewhat different from all the others; it is a green maize area and a yellow sunflowers area, with Olive and Umbrella thorn trees. It offers hiking, mountain biking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, canoing and abseiling.

Northern Cape

Northern Cape Province occupies the largest space and has the smallest population. It has a desert and semi-desert climate.

The Northern Cape is most famous for the Namaqualand in springtime, when all the flowers first bloom and the ground is carpeted in colour. Next it is famous for the Kalahari Desert and the San people, the original people of Africa, who strongly retain their traditions and language. The Northern Cape is rich in fossils and rock art. It was rich in diamonds, now diamonds are only to be found in certain areas. The most famous diamond town is Kimberley and its most famous attraction is The Big Hole, which is the largest man made hole in the world. The Orange River runs along the border of the Northern Cape and Namibia, there are lots of adventure resorts, white water rafting etc to be found. There are also several National Parks and Nature Reserves in the Province.

Mpumalanga is called "the land of the rising sun" in SiSwati. It is home to the Kruger National Park, as well as the Sudwala Caves, high up in the mountains, where there is a breathtaking view before you disappear into the caves for an interesting tour into the deep. There is an interesting little town called Pilgrim's Rest, which has kept its quaint vintage feel and look and where you can buy curios of any kind. In Mpumalanga nature puts on a spectacular display in numerous varieties, there are the Mac Mac pools and Falls to see, the Sabie Falls, Blyde River Canyon and God's Window. There is also a little rain forest that has a guided tour. Views are abundant and always different so one never tires of them. It is one of our most beautiful Provinces and if you are only going to see one, this is probably the one that you should see.

South Africa is a country of beauty and splendour, all of it easily accessible to the average tourist. All one really needs is a car and those are easily accessible too. It is worth it by far to take the time to drive around our vast country and see the lesser known sites and smaller towns. After all the best way to get to know a country is to sample the hospitality of its people, not its tourist hot spots. That way you get a real taste of its culture and of what is going on. That way you can earn the title "seasoned traveller".
About the Author
Sandra wrote this article for the online marketers Thrifty holiday car hire South Africa one of the most economical and accessible car rental agencies in SA.
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