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Free State, South Africa: Kroonstad, Bethlehem, Harrismith - a Travelogue

Martie Coetser is a freelance writer from South Africa. She has a keen interest in a variety of topics.

Kroonstad to Bethlehem to Harrismith

Kroonstad to Bethlehem to Harrismith

Free State Province

The Free State Province in the middle of South Africa cannot be ignored. Traveling from north to south, from south to north, from west to east, from east to west, the traveler will find himself at one point or another in the Free State.

Not that the Free State is a free state per se! Being one of the nine provinces of South Africa, it has no special allowances regarding freedom.

This region between the Orange- and Vaal River was named Orange Free State in 1854 by Dutch settlers who had fled the British-ruled Cape Colony since 1836. The 'Orange' referred to the House of Orange which was (and still is) an important dynasty in the history of the Netherlands from where many of the forefathers of Dutch settlers migrated during the second half of the 1600's. Knowing the history of the Free State makes journeys through this little province an unforgettable experience. Most of the towns are roughly 50 km (31 miles) from each other - the distance that could be ridden in a day on horseback.

Our destiny was the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.


Traveling through the Northern and Eastern Free State

Traveling from Klerksdorp (my hometown in the North West Province) to enjoy a holiday in KwaZulu-Natal, we chose the provincial road that took us through the Northern and Eastern Free State, instead of the alternative to Johannesburg where the N3-highway is the most popular and fastest route to Durban.

Klerksdorp to Harrismith

Our route from Klerksdorp to Harrismith

Our route from Klerksdorp to Harrismith

Free State regions, South Africa

Free State regions, South Africa

The Vaal River

Only 13 km (8 miles) from Klerksdorp is the little mining town, Orkney, located on the banks of the Vaal River which forms the border between the North West Province and the Free State. We crossed the bridge, looking forward to our journey.

The route we took through the northern and eastern Free State, compared to the mountains, valleys, ocean and beaches of KwaZulu-Natal, is quite boring, unless a traveler delights in grazing cattle on stretched-out grasslands, crops of all sorts and windmills.

Vaal River at Orkney

Vaal River at Orkney, North West Province, South Africa

Vaal River at Orkney, North West Province, South Africa

Northern and Eastern Free State

As far as we drove, we saw thriving crops of sunflowers and maize (the main staple food in SA), as well as groundnuts, and potatoes. Although we didn't see them, we knew the region also produces soy beans, sorghum, and wheat.

Large and small herds of cattle and sheep, and indicators to stud farms and game ranches convinced us that the tranquility we sensed was misleading. Farmers and their employees were working where we couldn't see them.

This region also produces gold, uranium, diamonds, coal, calcite, iridium, muscovite, pyrophylite, rutile, uranite, and isoferroplatinum.

In mid-February it is almost the end of South Africa's summer. The bright blue sky, green of all shades, yellow sunflowers and pink flamingos are the dominant colors.

Game farm in the region of Kroonstad

Game farm, Kroonstad, Free State, South Africa

Game farm, Kroonstad, Free State, South Africa


Established in 1855 by the Irish pioneer Joseph Orpen, Kroonstad is today the Free State's third largest city hosting approximately 198,000 people. While "kroon" means "crown", the kroon in Kroonstad was the name of a horse that had drowned in a nearby ford. The tragedy made such a deep impression on Orpen, he decided to call his settlement Kroonstad,

Most, if not all, of South Africa's towns were established on the banks of a river. The river at Kroonstad is the Valsrivier (False River) - a tributary of the Vaal River.

We spent some time at the Kroonstad Concentration Camp Cemetery - one of eleven concentration camps that was erected in the Free State by the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). In this camp alone, 1,268 of the ± 2500 women and children died between April 1901 and April 1902.

First languages spoken in Kroonstad are Sotho (73.3%); Afrikaans (15.8%); English (3.1%); Xhosa (2.5%); Other, such as Greek, Portuguese, Indian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Mandarin, and other Asian languages (5.3%).


Between Kroonstad and Bethlehem is a tiny farming town, or rather a hamlet, called Steynsrus, named after Martinus Theunis Steyn - the sixth and last president of the Boer Republic, the Orange Free State (which was conquered by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1989-1902.)

Steynsrus was founded in 1910. Today its church, town hall, and primary school serves less than 10,000 people, including farmers.

A beautiful sand stone Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1928, invites the traveler from a distance to leave the main road in order to have a closer look.

First languages spoken in Steynsrus are Sotho (89.5%); Afrikaans (5.5%); English (1.7%); Other (3.3%).


Between Kroonstad and Bethlehem, on the banks of the Vals River, and surrounded by hills, is another small town - Lindley. It was founded in 1878 by an American missionary named Daniel Lindley, who was the first ordained minister to the Voortrekkers in Natal.

Before Lindley was destroyed by the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1902), it was the seat of power of the Republic of the Orange Free State.

'Lindley is a typical South African town, with a large central market-square and four or five broad unpaved streets radiating therefrom. There is a small clean-looking hotel, a substantial gaol (jail), a church and a school-house. But the two largest buildings are the general stores.' - Winston Churchill (1901)

Today Lindley hosts about 12,000 people.


Bethlehem was originally founded by the Voortrekkers in the 1840’s, and proclaimed as a town in 1864 by Armand du Plessis – who was most probably an ancestor of Mr South Africa 2015.

Because the climate in the region allowed the production of wheat, the town was named Bethlehem after the biblical town Bethlehem. which means "House of Bread".

The Liebenbergs River, also known as the Liebensberg Vlei, accommodates the Sol Plaatje Dam, where a disaster had occurred on May 1st, 2003. A disorientated bus driver drove into the dam, killing himself and 50 passengers.

First languages spoken in Bethlehem are Afrikaans (66.7%); Sotho (19.4%); English (7.2%); Zulu (2.7%); Other (4%).

Old willow tree at Sol Plaatjes Dam



Between Bethlehem and Harrismith is another small maize farming town with a population of approximately 8,300. Kestell was established in 1905 on the farms of Adriaan and Johannes Bezuidenhout.

We took the off-turn to snap some pictures.

Harrismith's mountain - Platberg - becomes visible

View on Platberg and neighbor-butte en route from Bethlehem to Harrismith, Free State, South Africa

View on Platberg and neighbor-butte en route from Bethlehem to Harrismith, Free State, South Africa


En route to Durban, Harrismith is the half-way station where many travelers from all corners stop to refuel their vehicles and have a bite to eat.

Harrismith is the center of one of the five wool producing districts in Southern Africa. The Wilge River (Willow River) - one of the many tributaries of the Vaal River - flows west of the town. One of the Wilge's tributes - the Nuwejaarspruit (New Year's Creek) - accommodates the third largest dam in South Africa, the Sterkfontein Dam (Strong Fountain Dam).

Harrismith is surrounded by buttes and mesas (large and small table hills). The closest and most imposing butte is the Platberg (Flat-topped Mountain).

Platberg, Harrismith, Free State

Platberg, Harrismith, Free State, South Africa

Platberg, Harrismith, Free State, South Africa

Wilge River

Wilge River, Harrismith, South Africa

Wilge River, Harrismith, South Africa

Wild Horses Lodge, Sterkfontein Nature Reserve

Wild Horses Lodge, Nature Reserve, Harrismith, South Africa

Wild Horses Lodge, Nature Reserve, Harrismith, South Africa

First languages spoken in the Eastern Free State

NB: The remaining percentage are languages spoken by Indians, Asians, Portuguese, etc.












































KwaZulu-Natal, the Garden Province

We were ready to cross the Drakensberge (Dragon Mountains), which is the gateway to the province of KwaZulu-Natal - a province totally different from the Free State.

Read about this in my hub Kwazulu-Natal-the-Garden-Province-of-South-Africa-a-travelogue

© 2017 Martie Coetser


Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on May 10, 2017:

Hi Shauna! So wonderful to see you! I wish I could take you in person to all the beautiful places in SA, and then go home with you to see all the beautiful places in the USA. Lol! Let's dream on....

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 09, 2017:

I enjoy touring your country with you, Martie. You've got some interesting architecture.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 14, 2017:

Shyron E Shenko – Those sunflowers are a feast for the eye. I have also added pictures of the beautiful cosmos flowers that frame the roads during March and November all over the country.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on April 13, 2017:

Martie, this is such beautiful country, thank you for the tour. My favorite picture is the sunflowers.

Blessings my friend

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 12, 2017:

MsDora – I wish I could draw and paint, and spend my entire life doing it. Unfortunately, I can only take pictures – and not even like a professional photographer. Nevertheless, creating these travelogues with the pictures I have taken plus what I manage to find and add, keeps me happy. The next phase will be a surprise.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 11, 2017:

Thanks for the historical and cultural information on the Free State Province (though different than the name suggests). Sees that the nature scenes may sometimes help residents to focus on something beautiful.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 10, 2017:

Hi Peggy W! I am so glad you enjoyed this part of our journey to the South Coast of KZN. In the northern region of the Free State is another very interesting site - the largest impact crater on earth - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its centre is known as the Vredefort Dome. I have already introduced this region in my hub “From Klerksdorp to Pretoria”, but plan to make it a hub on its own. Thank you so much for accompany me on this tour :)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 10, 2017:

Hi Martie,

Your photos of that part of South Africa are stunning! Some of them would be great subject matter for wonderful paintings. I loved all the pastoral scenery between the towns. That photo of the sunflowers was spectacular! The history of the different towns was also interesting. That drowned horse must have been much loved to actually have a town named after it. Thanks for writing this!

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

kallini2010 – I remember during the most recent tornado in Texas – or was it another storm of a kind - I used Google effectively to check on Nellieanne’s house. However, the street view of my house was taken some years ago. So, I’m not sure what is real time and what not. The air view could be real time. Or not? I have not yet seen an air view of a place where it’s supposed to be pitch black night.

The video in your comment only shows the semi-desert areas of the Northern Cape and southern Free State – an area known as The Karoo, and then the beautiful Western Cape with its ocean and vineyards. I am in the North West Province close to the Vaal River.

Here is a nice video of SA, comprising footage of all nine provinces. There is a short silence in the video between the provinces that may give you the idea that you have reached the end of the video.


Here is a video of the small portion of Klerksdorp, quite close to my house - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNQt9kcHzvo

Some time ago one of your friends took me via Skype for a walk in Toronto. I took a lot of snap shots. I remember there was a lot of snow. I should find it and publish it on YouTube.

Game farms - https://www.property24.com/articles/south-africas-...

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on April 09, 2017:

Wow have a great trip on the South Coast.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

Nadine May – “Orkney Snork nie”, was the name of the series – about the lives of a typical Orkney-family. There are not many of them left. Most of the mines in the region are no longer in production, and the rest are mostly manned by blacks. Orkney Snorkie was one of the few Afrikaans series I enjoyed. I hate those that portrait Afrikaners in a negative light, as if every other Afrikaner has the IQ of an idiot.

Zuma intend to demolish all ‘scars of Apartheid’. I honestly hope he doesn’t regard our beautiful towns with their precious old Gothic and Victorian buildings as ‘scars’. And he wants to reduce the size of all farms in order to return land to their “rightful owners.”

Nadine, you are going to enjoy the rest of this journey to the South Coast of KZN even more. Stay on the bus. I plan to publish every Friday afternoon/evening.

kallini2010 from Toronto, Canada on April 09, 2017:

I have trouble imagining things - so I looked up Free State on youtube.


I have to admit that South Africa looks breathtaking - plus this musical score is fantastic.

I was also sidetracked by looking up Klerksdorp - the earth view - it doesn't give much if I don't know the exact location - it's like looking up Toronto from space - it's a bit too big.

But I looked at my building from space - amazingly, it's here, and my old place where I lived in Russia - full view.

So, I had a customized itinerary - "Svetlana Out of Focus".


What are game farms?

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on April 09, 2017:

Oh you make me proud and feeling so fortunate to be living in South Africa after reading your article. I seem to remember a TV series about the people from little mining town, Orkney.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

FlourishAnyway – Just call me when you’re ready for a holiday in SA. Me and Mr. B would love to take you to the best resorts and attractions while avoiding tourist traps. The time of the year - the season - determines the part of the country to be explored. For example, during summer one avoids the hot-as-hell regions :))

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

AliciaC – Thank you so much for taking the time to enjoy my travelogues. I belief mine are more satisfying – more of a virtual holiday – compared to travelogues offered by traveling agencies.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

mckbirdbks –I appreciate the option to thumbnail photos, as it allows me to upload many photos that can be enlarged or ignored. Photos expose truths that are difficult to put into words. I hope that my relatives and I will never be forced to leave town/country. I’m grateful for still being free and able to enjoy SA’s beauty.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

marcoujor – The next instalments of this particular journey are more beautiful. The largest part of KwaZulu-Natal has lots of mountains and valleys and the awesome Indian Ocean. Thanks for staying on board. (PS: I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms due to not taking my usual dose of toxic politics. Lol!)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

always exploring – During the second Anglo-Boer War, thousands of woman and children had died in British concentration camps. This is one of the saddest events in the history of SA, and one of the most embarrassing in the British’s - http://www2.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/bccd/

Hugs to you!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 08, 2017:

I would really like taking a trip through your country, especially with the wildlife preserves. A remarkable trip!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 08, 2017:

It was lovely to read a new travel article created by you, Martie! I always enjoy exploring your country by looking at your photos and reading the information.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on April 08, 2017:

Hi Martie - I enjoy your travelogues. The photo journalistic touch is just right. I hope you are mapping the quickest routes out of town, out of the country, etc.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on April 08, 2017:

I truly feel as though I'm on holiday with you - this is a series I greatly look forward to, dear Martie.

I love and appreciate your renewed resolution - as well as the beauty of your countryside.

Hope you are having a peaceful weekend. Love, mar

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 08, 2017:

Your hub is beautiful. I particular liked the pink flamingos and the Steynsrus church. I was completely unaware that England had concentration camps in Africa. Very educational. Thank you for sharing...Hugs.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 08, 2017:

billybuc – Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Focusing on the beauty instead of the ugly is my renewed resolution.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 08, 2017:

Beautiful country for sure, Martie! Thank you for sharing it with us...great pics!

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