Ficksburg is a beautiful town situated on the west bank of the Caledon River at the foot of Imperani Mountain. The earliest inhabitants of the Ficksburg area were San hunter-gatherers, followed by the Tlokwa people. The Reverend James Allison, a Methodist Missionary, was the first European to settle in the area in 1834, closely followed by a Mr Moolman, one of the first Voortrekkers to start farming in the area. However, when the town was established in 1867 it was named after General Johan Fick who had led the Boers in a skirmish against the Basotho during one of the Basotho Wars. It is the only town in South Africa in which a border post (with neighbouring Lesotho) is part of the town. Ficksburg is situated in a model stock, dairy and crop farming area where maize, wheat, deciduous fruit and asparagus are cultivated. In South Africa, the words Ficksburg and cherries have become synonymous – it is the largest cherry producing area in the country. Spectacular cherry orchards surround the town and the annual Cherry Festival is an experience not to be missed. The Ficksburg area is also renowned for its sandstone formations: stone quarried here was used to build the Union Building in Pretoria.
Adventure And Sport
Adventure sport: Abseiling and rock climbing, mountain-biking and even ox wagon rides are available in the town and surrounding district. Adventure youth camps are offered to school-going children on the farm Moolmanshoek and in Hoekfontein Nature Reserve.
Air ventures: Aerial flips over the Maluti Mountains and Khatse Dam can be arranged. However advance booking is essential.
4×4 trails: Try the four 4×4 trails at Visierskloof, a private game reserve in the Ficksburg area. Accommodation for 24 people is available at the Langesnek Camp for those who wish to extend their stay. Also try out the off-road route at Imperani Nature Reserve, 5 km from Ficksburg.
Golf: The town has an excellent 18-hole golf course.
Hiking: The ideal way to explore Ficksburg and its surroundings is via the several hiking trails in the area. The Porcupine Nature Trail stretches over 26 km and includes an overnight stay on one of the farms in the area. The 23 km Imperani Trail takes approximately 7 hours to complete, but may be lingered over for longer. This trail takes the hiker past the impressive Imperani Mountain and takes in some San rock art sites on the way.
Horse trails: Many of the privately owned farms have horse trails, such as the 29 km Franshoek Mountain trail, where riders can overnight in a cave. Franshoek is situated approximately 25 km north of Ficksburg on the Fouriesburg Road. Contact African Hoofbeats for horse-riding excursions in and around Ficksburg.
Meulspruit Dam Resort: The resort is situated some 5 km from Ficksburg and has camping and caravan facilities.
Polo: The local club has two provincial polo fields and Franshoek Mountain Lodge boasts a polo school.
Sport: The town’s sports complex has several tennis courts, two floodlit rugby fields, a hockey field, an athletic track, two cricket pitches, netball, badminton and squash courts, a swimming pool and a shooting range. There are two bowling greens on the slopes of Imperani Mountain.
Water sport: Meulspruit Dam is an ideal spot for angling, power-boating and water sports, such as skiing and windsurfing.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Late Iron Age Sites: The farm Hoekfontein in the vicinity has some Late Iron Age sites. These stone-walled settlements of early Sotho-Tswana speaking farmers are well preserved and date back to the time of the Difiqane or “Crushing” when most of the tribes in the interior were shattered or dispersed by Shaka and his Zulu armies.
San Rock Art: San rock art can be found at different sites in the vicinity of Ficksburg, for example on the farms Moolmanshoek, Hoekfontein and Boschfontein.
Art And Crafts
Art galleries and Art Collections: Visit the Eikelaan Gallery in Eike Avenue and Highlands Arts and Crafts in Voortrekker Street. The SH Pellissier Art Gallery at the local Primary School houses a large collection of paintings by renowned South African artists and is noted for its Pierneef frieze. Visits to the Gallery are by appointment only.
Mohair Weavers: The Wormwood and Honey Mohair Weavers invite visitors to visit and observe the process of sorting, combing, spinning and dying raw mohair before weaving it into wall hangings or mats. Orders can be placed and buyers can choose their own designs and colours.
Proudly Ficksburg Curios and Tourist Centre: Buy unique hand-made products from the Ficksburg area such as sandstone sculptures, mohair rugs and tasty cherry and asparagus eats.
Cherry Festival: The annual Cherry Festival, the longest-running agricultural festival in South Africa, has been held in Ficksburg for some 60 years. The cherry season runs from about the last half of October to the end of November and the festival is normally held in the third week of November. The festivities include various Cherry and Asparagus Tours, cruises on Meulspruit Dam, a golf classic, a half marathon road race, equestrian events and many other interesting events, such as live demonstrations of cherry “mampoer” (moonshine) distilling and baking competitions. The food and wine festival introduces visitors to locally made cherry wine and liqueurs and other wonderful dishes using local produce such as cherries, asparagus, deciduous fruit and goats’ milk cheese, to name but a few. Whiskey-tasting, a beer festival and a cooking workshop will keep the gastric juices flowing.
Cherry and Asparagus Tours: “Taste and See” tours can be undertaken to Deemster, the oldest asparagus farm in South Africa, from September to December, and to Paspalm Farm, where demonstrations on the cultivation and production of asparagus are given. Taste and see how cherries are cultivated and jams, liqueurs and cherry wines are produced at Iona, the largest cherry farm in Africa, from October to November. Other cherry farms that may be visited include Ben Nevis and Loskop Cherry farms. Advance booking for these tours is essential. You can also visit the Glace Cherry factory and GP Asparagus Factory in Ficksburg.
Entertainment And Shopping
Dam Leisure Tours: Spoil yourself with a leisurely cruise around Meulspruit Dam on the “White Mischief”, Africa’s only floating cigar bar! View the game in Thaba Imperani Game Reserve from the deck.
Khatse Dam Wall Tour: Guided tours can be undertaken to the Khatse Dam Wall in Lesotho, with its breathtaking views of Lesotho and the surrounding area. The Khatse Dam wall is considered to be one of the highest in Africa.
Fauna And Flora
Cherry Trees: Visit Braamhoek, 15 km south of the town on the Clocolan Road to see how cherry trees and other fruit trees are grown. An added bonus is the magnificent gardens on the estate.
Game-viewing: There are several private game and holiday farms in the vicinity, where white rhino, hippo and other large animals may be viewed either from comfortable hides or during game drives. These include Thaba Imperani Game Reserve with its unique location – bordering Meulspruit Dam; Thaba Thabo, a local hunting lodge, renowned for its scenic setting, 22 km from Ficksburg, offering rustic accommodation and bird- and game-watching opportunities, and Tempelhof, a privately owned game farm 15 km from Ficksburg on the Rosendal Road.
Hoekfontein Nature Reserve: This private nature reserve not only offers game- and bird-watching opportunities but also boasts a unique ox wagon camping site that allows visitors to experience life in the times of the “Voortrekkers by sleeping in an ox wagon, eating traditional “Boerekos” (food prepared in Boer fashion), going on an ox wagon game-viewing excursion in an area where San rock art and a Late Iron Age archaeological site can be viewed and learning to play traditional games and “boeresport” such as “jukskei”.
Kenyana Game farm: The farm is only 3 km from the town and has the only pair of breeding rhino in the area. Visits are by appointment only.
Mpharane Nature Reserve: The reserve was named after the nearby Mpharane Mountain and was formerly a mission station. Missionaries planted willow cuttings taken from Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave on the island of St. Helena on this property. The cuttings grew into a profusion of willow trees and the reserve doubles as a forestry station. Mpharane is ideal for game-viewing and visitors are sure to spot many different species of antelope, such as eland, hartebeest, kudu and springbuck, as well as zebra.
History And Architecture
All Saints Anglican Church: This church, dating back to 1891, is noteworthy for its beautiful stained glass windows, which were created by Helen Tennent, a talented local artist. The windows depict the natural fauna and flora of the Free State in blazing colours.
Fick Memorial: General Fick and his wife lie buried at the foot of the Fick Memorial.
Ficksburg’s Old Cemetery: The cemetery holds the graves of several British and Boer soldiers who died during the Anglo-Boer War as well as the graves of three Frenchmen who fought on the Boer side. However, the two most notorious graves belong to two men who were convicted of spying during the war and who both died maintaining their innocence. One of the men, Arthur Pond, was buried with his tombstone facing the wrong way and, even though his innocence was proved 15 years later, the alignment of his tombstone remains unchanged.
Ficksburg Jail: The first president of the Republic of South Africa, President CR Swart, was once incarcerated in Ficksburg Jail. He was imprisoned in 1914 on suspicion of having aided and abetted the Boer republican rebels of General Christiaan de Wet and released the day before he was to have been executed. The jail is in Brand Street.
Ficksburg Museum: The museum depicts the history of the town and gives an overview of the town’s cherry industry.
Firearm Museum: The Pinedene Small Arms Museum is located on the farm Kromdraai, 22 km north of Ficksburg on the Fouriesburg Road. A collection of antique military weapons, such as matchlock, flintlock and bolt action rifles, are some of the weapons on display.
Sandstone Buildings: The town has its share of historical old sandstone buildings, such as the Reformed Church, Methodist Church (1896), Old Magistrate’s Court, Old Post Office and Town Hall (1897). Of special interest is the impressive old sandstone Dutch Reformed Church that was built to the design of Dr JD Kestell, who served as minister of the church from 1903 to 1912. The tallest sandstone building in the area, an old mill, can be seen at Gumtree between Ficksburg and Clocolan. The Sandstone Way Tour takes visitors to all these and other sandstone buildings in the town.
Steam Train Collection: A large collection of privately owned steam locomotives and rolling stock is kept at Sandstone Estates, north-east of the town. The farm also boasts a large collection of vintage tractors and other farming equipment.
Tunnon Museum: This museum, on the farm Tunnon, displays a collection of carriages and wagons.
Mount Mautse: Since the early 1970s the caves at Mount Mautse have been a place where fervent prayers are offered to both God and the ancestors. Many African people come here to pray and partake in a combination of Christian and traditional African religious practices. The site is very important to the Basotho people who believe that the ancestral spirits find their final resting place here in the mountains.
Some of the caves contain statues of Mary and Jesus and others are used by traditional healers. Visitors are welcome, but are requested to show the necessary reverence.