Outdoor South Africa
The Free States lie in a summer rainfall area. Predominantly flat, the landscape to the east and south gives way to undulating hills. However, the escarpment to the far east of the province is dominated by strikingly coloured sandstone cliffs.
Various nature walks have been established along the banks of the larger dams in the area, where images of semi-desert landscape with large herds of springbok may appear as occasional reflections in the water. In these desolate areas nature is seen in all its vagaries, particularly in the role it plays in reconciling severity with benevolence.
The eastern escarpment, where sculptured sandstone formations in urban and rural communites create a singular character, presents a different profile. From Witsieshoek in the north to the Transkei border in the south, the mountains offer unforgettable vistas. The Rhebok Hiking Trail between the yellow and red striated cliffs of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park leads through valleys and hills, crossing streams and ravines up to the summit of the mountains. Here zebra, blesbok, black wildebeest and red hartebeest are to be seen, as well as many smaller mammals and birds such as the bearded vulture or lammergeyer and the black eagle.
Fouriesburg is the stopover before heading out to see the vicinity's florally rich sandstone ranges.
Route: A five day circular route near Fouriesburg, through the high ravines and valleys of the Maluti, Rooi and Witteburg mountains.
Length & Duration: 68 km 5 days
Accommodation & equipment: Sleeping either in open caves or in some of the beautiful sandstone farmhouses along the way. Hikers must bring standard equipment plus a light mattress and cooking facilities.
Max. Trail Capacity: 30
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
In the foothills of the Maltui mountains. When you approach this park at sunset, the cliffs of the western edge glow a warm golden red. Hence the name. Hike the 26-km Rhebok trail and there's a good chance you'll actually see the Rhebok, a kind of mountain antelope.
Route: A circular route from Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, to the highest mountain top in the park.
Length & Duration: 30 km 2 days
Accommodation & equipment: Hut equipped with beds. Hikers must provide their own food, cooking utensils, first-aid equipment and sleeping bags. No bathroom facilities.
Max. Trail Capacity: 18
Maria Moroka National Park
Where Thaba 'Nchu (black mountain) makes a natural amphitheater. Moroka features two hiking trails; which one you take probably depends on how spry you're feeling. The Volstruis takes a couple hours and leads you through a wooded ravine. The Eland wanders through the same ravine, but then ventures steeply up.
QwaQwa Conservation Area
74,000 acres in the foothills of the Maluti moutains and the Drakensberg. There are many superb hiking trails here.
Tussen Die Riviere Game Farm
Where the select few hunters go . . . but you can hike here, too. More species of animals roam here than any other reserve in the Orange Free State. Fashion Tip: Wear orange. Bright orange.
Tussen-Die-Riviere Game Farm
Route: Walks near Bethulie and Aliwal North.
Length & Duration: Various routes from 6 to 18 km
Accommodation & equipment: No accommodation. Open between 1 September to 30 April each year. No reservations are necessary.
Max. Trail Capacity: No restriction
Stokstert Hiking Trail System
This is the best way to explore the Caledon River Conservancy Area, where 60 farmers have gone in together on adopting conservation-minded techniques. The area covers 740,000 acres, and is historic as well as scenic and environmentally interesting.
Special thanks to the South African Tourist Board (SATOUR) for helping GORP develop South Africa park & hiking trails information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication