This town, set among waving fields of grain, is the commercial centre of the Eastern Free State and dates from 1864. The Bethlehem region produces some 65 per cent of South Africa’s wheat crop. The name, Bethlehem, is derived from the Hebrew word “Beit Lechem”, which means “House of Bread”. The Jordaan (Jordan) River flows through the town, and its banks form part of the Pretoriuskloof Nature Reserve, a lovely bird sanctuary and recreational area.
Adventure And Sport
Air ventures: The National Hot Air Balloon Championships and air shows are held here annually. Contact the Tourism Bureau for information about air flips and hot air balloon trips.
Angling, boating and swimming: Anglers frequent the three dams in the vicinity: Gerrand, Saulspoort and Athlone Dams, as well as the Jordaan River and Loch Athlone. These are ideal venues for angling, boating and swimming and the town also boasts an Olympic size swimming pool.
Christian festival: The town hosts an annual Christian festival attended by believers from all over the country.
Cycling: Cycling is a popular pastime in this area and many cyclists participate in the annual Hoogland Classic Auto Cycle Race that is held here every October.
Golf: The town boasts an immaculate 18-hole golf course.
Hiking: There are several hiking trails in the Bethlehem area such as the Camorhi, Blesbok and Waterbok Trails and the 2-day, 19-km Wolhuter’s Hiking Trail that traverses the Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve.
Pony and horse-riding: Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve lies on the road to Fouriesburg and offers pony and horse-riding trips. A 10-km long horse-riding trail starts at the entrance to the reserve.
Art And Crafts
Art Galleries: There are two art galleries in town. One, the Weathervane Art Gallery, is situated at 18 Broster Street and the other, Strachan’s Art Gallery, is located in the Metropolitan Centre.
Entertainment And Shopping
Floating restaurant: The mail ship, Athlone Castle, lies moored along the banks of Loch Athlone. It is a popular tourist attraction and floating restaurant.
Fauna And Flora
Camorhi Game Ranch: Camorhi Game Ranch, situated about 16 km north of the town, offers hunting and game watching opportunities. It is renowned for its lions, especially the scarce white lion, and also offers sightings of the “Big Five” (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino).
Pretoriuskloof Bird Sanctuary: Enjoy the songs of several different species of birds as you walk through the Pretoriuskloof Bird Sanctuary on the banks of the Jordaan River. The river meanders through the town.
Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve: The wide-open spaces of Wolhuterskop Nature Reserve are ideal for game watching. A popular hiking and horse-riding trail, approximately 10 km in length, starts at the entrance to this reserve. The reserve boasts large numbers of different species of antelope, as well as zebra and black wildebeest.
History And Architecture
Baartman Wagon House Museum: The Baartman Wagon House Museum displays an impressive collection of old farming equipment, kitchen utensils and woodcarvings.
Basotho Stone Mound: During the gold rush, it was the custom of the Basotho labourers to place a stone at a specific spot before going to work. This act, together with a prayer to the ancestors, was supposed to prevent any ill from befalling them during the day. At night, they returned with another stone – this time to thank their ancestors for allowing them to return safely. Eventually, this became quite a sizeable mound of stones.
Battle of Bethlehem Monument: A monument commemorating the Battle of Bethlehem, which took place between the Boers and the Basotho in 1866 during the Basotho War, can be seen at the Dutch Reformed “Mother” Church.
Bethlehem Museum: The history of the town is documented with the help of exhibits such as wagons, furniture, horse carriages, farming implements and an old steam locomotive, among others. The museum is located in Muller Street.
Nazareth Mission Church: The Church houses a cultural history museum that displays articles such as local costumes, needlework, furniture, porcelain and antiques.
Ox wagon Monument: Hospital Hill is the site of yet another unique monument, the ox wagon built out of stone.
Sandstone Hiking Trail: The town is well known for its legacy of fine old sandstone buildings. Follow the Sandstone Trail to view these lovely old buildings many of which are now proclaimed National monuments. Look out for the Meisies Seminar, the Wooden Spoon Restaurant, the Mother Church in Church Street, the Wagon House in Landdros Street, the Strapp Building, Town Hall and St Augustine’s Anglican Church. An interesting sandstone gate can be seen at Goble Park.
Agricultural Tours: There are several agricultural tours in the district that open up the world and the science of agriculture to visitors.