The grassy plains are where more than 70% of South Africa's grain consumption is produced. The Free State is also rich in mineral wealth, representing for 20% of the world's total gold production.
The Free State Province disposes of an extensive system of parks and reserves, including one national park and more than 80 provincial, municipal and privately owned nature parks, nature reserves, game reserves, and game farms. Activities range from bird-watching to 4x4 off-road driving, and even exploring caves.
Probably the most scenically striking of all the nature reserves in the Free State is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Two spectacular sandstone mountains face one another across the valley hence the name of the national park.
With it's wealth of historical and cultural attractions and excellent facilities, Bloemfontein (the city capital) is the ideal place to start a tour of the Free State. North of Winburg, the William Pretorius Game Reserve is the Free State's major provincial reserve, offering a wealth of wildlife, excellent fishing conditions and a wide range of sports facilities. Kroonstad has all you need for a relaxing break, including an excellent holiday resort. Loch Athlone, one of the major attractions of Bethlehem, is a magnet for anglers and those who enjoy pottering around in boats. No visit to the Free State is complete without following the renowned Higlands Route, where you will find the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. In the South-West, the Gariep Dam resort offers an extensive range of leisure activities including water sports, tennis, bowling, horse-riding, golf and 13 nature reserves.
Bloemfontein is also an important education and judicial centre. South Africa's highest courts, the Appellate Division and the Constitutional Court are both situated here.
The province covers an area of 129 464km and has a population of 2,8 million which is 6,4% of the national population. 71% of the province's population (about 2 million people) live in urban settlements. Although the Free State is physically the third largest province in South Africa, it has the second smallest population the second lowest population density.
The Free State borders on the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, North-West, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Province and also shares a border with Lesotho. Hence many people say it is the heart of the country. The biggest part of the Free State is the undulating plain at between 1000m and 1500m. However, the eastern and southern region, which borders Lesotho, is hilly to mountainous, which scattered flat-topped hills or 'kopjes'. The Orange River forms the southern boundary of the Free State and this is where you will find the Gariep and Vanderkloof Dams, which are the largest dams in the country. The northern Free State is drained by smaller rivers, which are, as is the Orange River, extensively utilised for irrigation.
The Free State is a summer rainfall region, with summers being hot (average 23ºC) but experiencing most rainfall (between 600mm and 750mm in the east to less than 300mm in the west). Winters can be extremely cold (average 7.7ºC but as low as -9ºC) with heavy frost over most of the province. Snow is often recorded on the eastern mountains and occasionally over the rest of the region. The western and southern areas are semi-desert.