Sandstone churches, a blockhouse and big open skies
At Adventure Included, we love exploring, when the opportunity presented itself to visit a few brokers in the Free State with a friend we were happy to tag along on what would be a quick road trip but would hopefully present some photo opportunities. After an early start, we stopped headed towards our first town known as Vrede, a small yet scenic spot in the North-Eastern Free State, infamous for the Astina Dairy saga but we need not go there! It is situated in a large farming area and draws its name from the resolution of a dispute amongst the founders Vrede translates to “Peace” in English. The town is steeped in history and easy to walk around, there are numerous memorials, an interesting cemetery and the centrepiece is the beautiful imposing sandstone church. The town is fully equipped with all the basic shops and even a few restaurants- after a hearty breakfast, we set off to our next destination Bethlehem where we would also overnight. It’s a largish “dorp” with a lot of character, large enough to feature a casino and a mall. One of the highlights was the concrete boat which is a restaurant on the Loch Athlone dam. The town draws its name from the biblical Bethlehem for its fertile soil and abundance of wheat. It is one of the larger towns in the Free State and worth visiting for the historical old buildings and quirky character. From observing the youngsters walking around rugby seems to be very popular. The town is neat and tidy and as in Vrede, we found the locals to be extremely friendly. We stayed in a very comfortable hotel and had dinner that evening at the casino. The next day we set off to Harrismith for the last round of meetings. It is a small town slightly off the beaten track although it used to be a popular spot en-route to Durban in the old days. It does feature a massive Engen service station with numerous restaurants and kiddies play areas- we had lunch there before our departure. The town lies in the shadow of an imposing mountain known as Platberg which hosts an annual endurance race as well as MTB trails. There is a lot to see and do in the area in terms of outdoor activities, as well as the botanical gardens, nearby battle sites and blockhouses as well as watersports and fishing at the Sterkfontein Dam (3rd largest in South Africa). We explored the town area and loved the town hall precinct with its memorials and architecture.
After numerous attempts aided by Google and a GPS which took us in totally the wrong direction we eventually located the famous Boer War Blockhouse situated in a nature conservancy just outside of the town , it was worth the drive as it is a very well preserved example of a blockhouse, during the Anglo Boer War blockhouses formed a key part of the British strategy against the Boer commandos, initially they guarded key points and routes but as the war moved to a close together with barbed wire the served to limit the Boer movements.
This blockhouse served to guard the town as well as limit movement from nearby areas such as Colenso and Ladysmith.
Day visit opportunities include the Royal Natal Park, the base of the Drakensberg Sentinel, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Basotho Cultural Village, Boer War battlefields and hiking trails.
After lunch, we set off back to Jozi arriving just in time to beat the rush hour traffic. It was a hectic two days but a worthwhile road trip. Until the next one.