|The central Free State
metamorphoses from grassland combined with small granite outcrops
in the west to wonderful sandstone hills in the east.
The capital of this province is Bloemfontein, a
striking but unattractive town which has some surprisingly good
museums, including the National Afrikaans Literary Museum, the National
Museum, the old Fourth Raadsaal (parliament) of the old Free State
Republic, and the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery. By far the most fascinating
is the National Women’s Memorial and War Museum, telling the
unsettling story of the Boer War and the British concentration camps
(where 26,370 children and women died) from the Afrikaans perspective.
Outside Bloemfontein, the southern Free State is home to the Gariep
Dam, a massive 374 square kilometres (144 square miles)
reservoir, built for irrigation and hydroelectric power. However,
the State’s most appealing scenery lies in the eastern highlands,
on the Lesotho border. From Bloemfontein, hills rise steadily as
1 heads past Thaba’nchu, the old seat of the Basotho kings,
to Ladybrand, the main route into Lesotho.
North from here are Ficksburg, which has a yearly
cherry festival in spring and the new age settlement of Rustler’s
Valley, which also hosts a yearly music festival in autumn. Further
to the northeast is the Golden Gate National Park, verging on the
KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, characterised by huge weathered sandstone
cliffs tinted a multitude of shades of red, yellow and orange.