First off, I have to warn you… I am going to be extremely biased in this article. I love the Free State, I grew up in the Free State and I believe it to be one of the most beautiful regions in the entire world. I am therefore overjoyed to attend the NAMPO Harvest Day in Bothaville annually as part of my day job.
Where the heck is Bothaville?
In the North Western part of the Free State, close to the North West Province’s border, lies the maize capital of South Africa, aptly named because of the massive amounts of maize annually harvested in this region. If you are travelling by air, you have to fly to either OR Tambo International or Bram Fischer International Airport and then drive to Bothaville which will take you nearly two and a half hours.
The Free State landscape has more or less three distinct regions. The gorgeous golden Eastern Free State which is characterised by towns such as Clarens, Ficksburg and Bethlehem. The Bloemfontein / Kimberley area, including towns such as Koffiefontein, Petrusburg and Jagersfontein tends to look more like the Northern Cape with Soetdoring bushes and little to no hills or mountain ranges. To the North is the Bothaville, Parys, Kroonstad area. This area is known for its agricultural practices and good rainfall.
The stuff of road trip dreams
Do you still remember the way that road trips used to be? We packed boiled eggs, boerewors, sandwiches and coffee for the road. We didn’t stop at huge filling stations, we used the little white roadside tables and my mother always had a blanket for us to sit on.
This is still the way it’s done in the Free State. The little towns that you pass might have a small coffee shop (where chances are good that they’ll pour you a cup of Ricoffy), but other than that, you’ll not easily find anything to snack on. An expert tip, though, is to stop at the butcheries in each of these towns; they definitely have the best biltong and droewors in the entire country.
The roads up north are not as great as those in the Western Cape. Doing some research before you head off into the sunset is crucial! We drove between Hertzogville and Boshoff, and the tar road just disappeared into a dirt road. Ironically enough, the dirt road was far better than the tar road riddled with potholes. If at all possible, try to drive a vehicle with a higher ground clearance because of the state of the roads.
A huge perk of travelling in the Free State is the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Because the landscape is so flat, you can literally see kilometres ahead and the sunsets are usually a canvas of oranges, pinks, blues and greys. During summer you’ll almost always have afternoon showers lasting anything from a few seconds to hours at a time. The smell of the dirt as it moistens in the summer Free State heat is the most amazing smell on earth and I wish I could make a candle from it!
If you have no idea what NAMPO is, no worries; it is just the largest agricultural exhibition in the whole of Africa and the second largest in the southern hemisphere. Although very business focused, this trade show is a subtle celebration of the farming industry, specifically in South Africa. And each year you’ll find NAMPO in the middle of maize country in the Free State where the infrastructure has been laid to support a show of this magnitude.
Temperatures during this period often venture below zero, but that does not stop agri-enthusiasts from every corner of the country (and the world, for that matter) from flocking to the small town of Bothaville. Any time during this NAMPO week, you’ll find the local Spar and butchery filled with people excited about South African agriculture – young and old, male and female.
Our office usually takes a team of ten or so colleagues to experience NAMPO in all its glory. It is the ultimate team-building event as we sit around the fire every night with the beautiful Free State as backdrop and reflect on the day’s events. We are privileged to work in an office of young professionals that are all very enthusiastic about marketing and media (and that’s why we always have great photos of our outings).
The conclusion of this love letter to the Free State, which I love so dearly, is that maybe next time you head North, take a roadtrip and skip the airports. Experience the scenery changing from the Western Cape, to the Karoo and into the Free State. Admire the flat distances as a contrast against the mountainous Cape and most importantly fall in love with our country’s different landscapes because, to me, it is the most beautiful country in the world.
*Images by my friend and colleague, Ruan S Myburgh, and they feature the Lumico team.