Eastern Free State – Thabo Mofutsanyana, South Africa
The Eastern Free State borders Lesotho and is characterized by the folding foothills of the Maluti Mountains that form the border between the Free State and the Independent Sotho Kingdom of Lesotho. Maluti is the Sotho name for Drakensberg, and the Maluti Mountains, or ‘Malutis’ as the range is also called, is part of the large Drakensberg Mountain Range that runs through the interior of South Africa from the Eastern Cape Highlands through Natal, Lesotho and into the Limpopo Province.
The Maluti foothills region is very rural, with miles and miles of beautiful undeveloped landscapes, often bizarre looking sandstone outcrops and ‘lone mountains’, poplar trees, fields dotted with sheep and cows, covered in cosmos flowers in summer, wheat-fields, cornfields, roses and sunflower fields, the majestic mountains dominating the eastern and south-eastern vistas – particularly beautiful in winter when they are clad in white. To the south toward Bloemfontein, the farmlands stretch to the Korannaberg Mountains, where you will find the small rural towns of Marquard and Clocolan. Summers are mild, and winters can dust the region with snow in many areas.
The Maluti foothills of the Eastern Free State offer many opportunities for hiking, horse trails and other outdoor pursuits – from landscape photography to fly-fishing, to camping and game viewing, to kite surfing on the Sterkfontein Dam. The beauty and solitude offered by the area makes it particularly attractive to artists and photographers, and many have made their homes in the delightful little town of Clarens – often described as resembling a Swiss mountain village, and a favourite weekend break for city-dwellers from Durban and Johannesburg –each just 3 hours drive away. Close to Clarins is the majestic scenery of beautiful Golden Gate National Park, which beckons hikers, campers, archeologists and honeymooners, and which also incorporates the Basotho Cultural Village – a living museum where you can learn about the indigenous Basotho people.
Much of the undulating landscape is also home to asparagus farms and fruit orchards, particularly apple and cherry and these produce the abundance of superb quality cherries that flood the South African and export Market each year. All things Cherry are celebrated, eaten and imbibed in the famous Ficksburg Cherry Festival, one of South Africa’s best rural ‘fests’ and a tourist attraction in its own right, held annually in mid November.
The towns are characterized by buildings and homes built form the readily available sandstone, many of the Victorian period pieces and more than a few Herbert Baker creations. The outlying areas offer opportunities for viewing San Rock Art, and like many areas in South Africa, memorials to the Anglo-Boer War and colonizer vs. indigenous tribes give insight into South Africa’s unique past and heritage.