The Transgariep and Goldfields region of the Free State is bordered in the South by the Orange River and Gariep Dam, in the East by the Lesotho border and in the West by the Northern Province border. Goldfields occupies the northern half of this Freestate region but it was not until 1938 that gold was discovered in the region when a borehole being sunk on the farm St Helena struck a continuation of the reef that was being mined in the Witwatersrand. Soon prospectors and miners were flooding into the region known now as goldfields and allied industries sprung up in the region. Today the Free State goldfields are rivaled only by those of Gauteng, and Welkom's residents enjoy an income second to none in South Africa. Above the ground the countryside is rich with endless fields of maize.
The Transgariep occupies the southern part of this region, which is a mass of vast open grassy plains. In the south the plains are fed by the 2000 kilometre long Orange River which rises in the far northeast of Lesotho, circumnavigates that country and eventually flows into the Atlantic Ocean. On the Orange River (now called the Gariep) was built the Gariep Dam, which was opened in 1972 and covers 36500 hectares. Together with an 11250 hectare game sanctuary on its northern shore this makes up the Free State's largest nature reserve.
Bloemfontein is the Capital of the Free State and the judicial capital of South Africa. Its Tswana name is Mangaung which means "the place of the spotted cat", which is a name derived from times of old when cheetahs and leopards roamed the region at will. Bloemfontein originated back in 1840 when a Voortrekker farmer named Johannes Brits built himself a house alongside a spring surrounded by flowers. Bloemfontein is home to a great number of museums, including the National Museum, dotted about the city giving the visitor to this beautiful city a wide choice of subjects. Outside the centre of the city is the Free State National Botanical Garden, home to more than 400 species of indigenous flora.
Welkom is the second largest city in the Free State. It was laid out in 1947 on the farm. Welkom, became a municipality in 1961 and a city on 14 February 1968, making it South Africa's newest city. The city was planned by the chairman of Anglo-American and is a garden city with a commercial centre built around a central square, and more than one million trees planted. The mines in and around Welkom are very deep and flooding of the shafts is an ever-present threat. Enormous quantities of brackish water have to be pumped to the surface daily where they are collected in evaporation pans. Bird life on these pans is prolific. Species include flamingo, the sacred ibis, Egyptian goose, Muscovy duck, Marsh Owl, and many seagulls. Some of the water from the mines is desalinated and used for domestic purposes.
By far the oldest town in the Transgariep and Goldfields region of the Free State is Philippolis, founded in 1823 by the London Missionary Society for the benefit of displaced Khoikhoi and San. The streets of the town are lined with quaint Karoo houses with 19th Century front doors and stoeps. Many of these houses have been declared as National Monuments.
The Kalkfontein Dam Nature Reserve in the far southwest of the province is one of the few fishing dams where yellowfish are plentiful. The land area around the dam is too small to support wildlife and the dam has become a favourite venue for weekend picnickers, campers and fishermen. The reserve is open daily and visitors may camp overnight.