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The Free State is a province in South Africa, located in the central parts of the country. It might not be as attractive as many other parts of the country, but it has a charm of its own. It is a land of vast open skies and hilly or even flat areas full of sunflowers. The western portion is quite mountainous though, especially the area along the border with Lesotho. The Free State is a rural province of wide horizons and blue skies, with farmland, mountains, goldfields and widely dispersed towns. This tranquil land of the windmill is famous for its warm South African hospitality and a mix of culture which is clearly evident in street names, public buildings, monuments and museums.
The Free State is situated on a succession of flat grassy plains sprinkled with pastureland, resting on a general elevation of over 1,000 metres, only broken by the occasional hill or kopje. The rich soil and pleasant climate allow for a thriving agricultural industry. With more than 30,000 farms, which produce over 70% of the country's grain, it is known locally as South Africa's breadbasket.
The province is high-lying, with almost all land being 1,000 metres above sea level. The Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains foothills raise the terrain to over 2,000 metres in the east. The Free State lies in the heart of the Karoo Sequence of rocks, containing shales, mudstones, sandstones and the Drakensberg Basalt forming the youngest capping rocks. Mineral deposits are plentiful, with gold and diamonds being of particular importance, mostly found in the north and west of the province.
Unusual for South Africa, The Golden Gate National Park doens't charge an entry fee, and you can drive through it hassle-free. The park is famous for its sandstone cliffs, and beautiful scenery, although don't expect to see too many animals on route.
The Vredefort crater is the largest verified impact crater on Earth, more than 300 kilometres across when it was formed. What remains of it is located in the present-day Free State Province of South Africa and named after the town of Vredefort, which is situated near its centre. Although the crater itself has long since eroded away, the remaining geological structures at its centre are known as the Vredefort Dome or Vredefort impact structure. In 2005, the Vredefort Dome was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its geologic interest. The asteroid that hit Vredefort is estimated to have been one of the largest ever to strike Earth (at least since the Hadean Eon some four billion years ago), thought to have been approximately 5-10 kilometres in diameter. The crater's age is estimated to be 2.023 billion years (± 4 million years), which places it in the Paleoproterozoic Era. It is the second-oldest known crater on Earth, a little less than 300 million years younger than the Suavjärvi Crater in Russia.
The big upcoming event on the South African horizon is of course the FIFA World Cup beginning on the 11th of June 2010. One of the most prestigious and popular world sporting events, the World Cup 2010 promises to bring throngs of passionate supporters from around the globe. Held once every four years, it's a football tournament (known as soccer in South Africa) where 32 world nations vie for the famous golden trophy.
Bloemfontein will be hosting some of the World Cup matches at the Free State Stadium, which has a capacity of 48,070.
The Free State experiences a continental climate, characterised by warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. Areas in the east experience frequent snowfalls, especially on the higher ranges, whilst the west can be extremely hot in summer. Almost all precipitation falls in the summer months as brief afternoon thunderstorms, with aridity increasing towards the west. Areas in the east around Harrismith, Bethlehem and Ficksburg are well watered. The capital, Bloemfontein, experiences hot, moist summers and cold, dry winters frequented by severe frost.
Shosholoza Meyl has the following trains across the Free State, stopping Bloemfontein:
If you would like to travel around by car, there are numerous car rental companies available from the airports and downtown locations. Just make sure that you have sufficient insurance to cover you if the need arises. Some of them offer the possibility to reduce excess (the amount you pay when involved in an accident) for a daily fee. Car hire companies include Avis, Imperial, CABS, First Car Rental as well as many other international and local ones. Usually, the local ones are cheaper but don't have the same standard as the international ones, which have more branches throughout the country and therefore are able to help you more quickly if needed.
If travelling by car, be sure to plan your routes carefully to insure that there are sufficient places to fill the tank with petrol as some towns are located quite a distance apart with no filling stations in between. It's a good idea to fill up with fuel when you have about half a tank left if possible.
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